Last night my husband and I sat down and made up a budget for the month of June. As much as I love finance, calculations and planning, I have never wanted to do a budget until now. It feels restrictive and like it would be very hard to predict all the ways you could spend your money a month in advance. I spent the afternoon yesterday preparing for it by looking around online and in books for the right form to suit our needs. Let me tell you, there is no shortage of options out there. We settled on this one, put together by Dave Ramsey’s team. Dave Ramsey is local to the town in Tennessee where we temporarily live and actually attends our church–so I have been more interested in his stuff than usual. We were also given one of his books and encouraged to form a budget by our real estate agent friend who is helping us prepare for when we buy a house in the future.
In our search for the right tool, we toyed around (and wasted far too much time) with an app called HomeBudget, which was really neat because we could both have it on our phones and update it in real time and the changes would show up on the other person’s device. I liked it for its handheld, adaptable quality, but it wasn’t well organized for our purposes and we ended up deleting it.
Dave Ramsey’s method is to start with your monthly take home pay and make a list of your expenses until every dollar is accounted for. In other words, you subtract each item from your income until the outcome is zero. This is harder than it sounds! Well, unless you have debt, in which case any excess would probably go there. For us, we really struggled knowing what to do with the remaining figure. I was upset knowing we had this amount leftover every month, but somehow it never felt that way. Where did it all go?
We left it alone last night after it got too late to talk about it anymore and I played around with the numbers some more this morning and managed to find areas where the money could work for us. The things that surprised me most about this process were that it feels really good to have a plan in place, not restrictive like I always thought. Plus, if you are debt free and earn a decent living, you can be generous in certain categories where you want to be, which takes some pressure off the, “but what if I’m window shopping and see this cute thing, and it’s on sale and I won’t be back in this area again” thoughts. (Tell me I’m not the only one with this kind of excuse in her head.) I also learned that it is not nearly as hard to plan ahead for purchases as I imagined. Now this is something specific to my personality type, but I usually know in advance when I want to get something for the house, or for our son or myself. And what a great opportunity to use the 30 day rule to think about an item before purchasing it. We always know when we’ll be out of town at least a month in advance, so we can add extra money to the gas budget or for acommodations. Even things like dentist appointments and haircuts we see coming, and it is all in our iPhone calendar anyway.
I want to encourage people who are feeling hesitant like I was to start this process. It doesn’t take long to fill out a form once you settle on the right one. If you are married, it is a nice bonding exercise between you and your spouse. Being the one who loves discussing frugality, I assumed I would be more into it than my husband, but he was all about it and took charge of the whole thing. That was really exciting for me! Lastly, and certainly the greatest benefit is that if you are having trouble staying on track with your money, this will guide you in the right direction. Dave Ramsey says to give it three months to get it right and know you will do it wrong at first. Each month you reevaluate and see where you spend more than you thought and adjust accordingly. I am looking forward to seeing where we can improve, cut back or be more generous. If you know of any good budgeting programs for other readers, please share in the comments below!