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Sticking to a budget can be really difficult, especially when you’re first starting out. It can be confusing, hard to maintain, and in need of a lot of tweaking as you find out what works for you. Our budget today looks a lot different than it did 4 years ago. 4 years ago, our “budget” was more like a general overview. It wasn’t nearly as planned and purposeful as it is now.
Our journey to being what I lovingly call “Super Budgeters” started 2 years ago. We had just gotten married, and Ethan had just purchased a Lincoln MKZ on a loan. We weren’t what either of us would call “bad” with money. But we were definitely spending, and we weren’t saving. In April of 2012, I read The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey. This put us on a path to pay off over $30,000 in debt in less than two years, including our car and all of our credit card debt. We now only have student loan debt, which we are working through, but at a slower pace.
The Dave Ramsey plan set us in motion to be a lot smarter with our money. I’d like to note that we do not follow Dave Ramsey’s plan to a tee, but we did during the time that we were putting all of our extra money towards debt. Do what works for you. We’ll talk a lot more about the things we did on the Dave Ramsey plan in the posts ahead, but today, I want to focus on the budget. Here are some budget tips that will help you get the ball rolling on your own budget.
1. Open and close EVERY month. Sit down with everyone in your family that spends money and PLAN YOUR MONTH. On the 1st, we sit down, write out our budget, and plan where our money is going. At the end of every month, we sit back down and review what we’ve done. Every month is different, so don’t skip a month!
2. Put it on Paper. Putting things on paper makes them much more real that typing them into a spreadsheet. Ethan had always used an excel spreadsheet to work his budget. I also had my own way. But sitting down and looking at what Ethan had done didn’t make the budget feel real to me, and vice-versa. Do it together, and write it down. When you put it on paper, it’s there forever. There’s no delete key on a bad month when you write it down!
3. Find tools that work for you. We went through a few different types of calendars, and a few different ways of organizing what we did each month. It took us a while to find what worked for us, which was a basic monthly calendar along with a small notebook for making additional notes.
4. Write down your mistakes. There will be months where you feel like you just ruined everything that you planned. It happens. But when you make budgeting a habit, you’ll be better financially prepared for those unplanned times. Writing down where you’ve slipped up will help you be more prepared for next month. You can make adjustments, cut back on things to make up for those “oops” moments, and get yourself right back on track.
5. Budget in FUN. When we first started budgeting and paying down debt, it was really difficult not to want to put every last penny towards our end goal. Remember that you have to give yourself some fun money, even if it’s just a little. Budget in a date night once a month, or a new outfit. Having a little fun will make your budget a lot easier to accept.