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I suck at budgeting. I've recently realized it's a complete waste of time.
I'm sure you have felt with way at times before, too. Deciding how much to spend on groceries, personal care, and entertainment each month. If you're like me, you've downloaded hundreds of budget templates online. You've even tried out many budgeting tools.
Well guess what – there's a better way. For those of you that can't stand drawing up a budget each month, I feel your pain. It's time look at the power of not budgeting.
No, this doesn't mean you should not be frugal or manage your money. If you don't do those things you'll end up in the financial doghouse. You'll end up broke.
This is just a simpler way to manage your money, and without guilt.
Pay Yourself First
The concept of paying yourself first is simple. You take a certain amount of money out of each paycheck and send it to your savings and investments. Before you even see it.
A common type of paying yourself first is having 401(k) deductions taken out of your paycheck. It's money you never see, so you are never used to having it.
Take the same concept, but apply to more than just your 401(k). You should set aside at least 20% each pay period to go to your savings and investments (see below). If you can't manage that, just try something to start.
Every little bit helps, and with the power of compounding, you'll soon see your money grow. You don't have to worry about how much money you're budgeting to save because it's already done for you.
Ramit Sethi, author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, talks about the concept of conscious spending in his book. This means you spend more on things you care about and less on things you don't care as much about.
To do this, you can adopt what Ramit has called a conscious spending plan. It's a pay-yourself-first kind of plan. You automate your saving and investing, then spend the rest how you want. Without guilt.
The breakdown that Ramit suggests as a starting point are:
- 60% – fixed costs (debt, rent/mortgage, utilities, etc.)
- 10% – investments (Roth IRA, 401(k), etc.)
- 10% – savings (unexpected expenses, vacations, etc.)
- 20% – guilt-free spending (see “using cash” below for an added bonus)
I think you can get away with 10% or less on guilt-free spending, but do whatever makes sense for you. This is just a suggested starting point. If you can increase your savings percentage, go for it.
Check in on your balances to see how your money is doing at whatever frequency you want. If you're running low, it might mean it's time to adjust these percentages. If you consistently have a high dollar amount in your checking, it might be time to bump up the savings.
The point here is to not complicate things. Pick a percent to set aside and run with it. Check in and see if it's working. If it's not, make changes.
Why do you think Mark Zuckerberg wears the same grey shirt every day? It reduces the amount of decisions he has to make.
Think about someone like Zuckerberg. He's making decisions all day, every day, that impact billions of people. He doesn't have time to worry about which shirt he's going to wear. Here's what I mean:
The same goes for you. While you may not be one of the richest people on the planet, you still make tons of decisions every day. Some are conscious, some are un-conscious. But we're still making decisions.
Take any small decisions you can out of your day. Like creating, adjusting, and updating your monthly budget.
Using cash is a great way to manage your money without creating a budget. Set aside a certain dollar amount each week that you can use how you want.
This is a great way to use your guilt-free spending within your conscious spending plan. Once the cash is gone, it's gone.
As I shared with you before, cash is
- Tangible, and
- Accepted everywhere
It reduces thinking. You either have it or you don't. If you don't have cash, you can't buy something.
It's like when you were a kid and got an allowance. If you didn't have the $10 to buy the toy, you couldn't get it (until you get your parents to give in).
It's not like you could have gone to the ATM or whipped out a credit card to buy the toy. You have the money or you don't.
Creating a budget is work. I procrastinate with things I consider to be work all the time. Hence, I procrastinate on making and sticking to a detailed budget.
Neil Fiore, author of The Now Habit, says procrastination is a strategy we use to avoid our fear of failure. He says we procrastinate on tasks for three main reasons:
- We want to do a good job and live up to the expectations of the task
- We find the task boring and it's hard to get started
- We're not sure what a “good job” is or how to meet the expectations
When we're faced with these types of tasks (like creating a budget) we can either
- Start working on the task, which will be boring, and risk failure, OR
- Don't start working on the task and avoid boredom, possible failure, and uncertainty
Which option do we normally pick? That's right, the second one. This is because it temporarily helps us avoid boredom and a fear of failure. But how helpful is that?
Speaking of procrastination, notice I used the word “work” a lot there. When we associate tasks with “work” we're less likely to do them.
We learn the concept of “work vs. fun” at a young age. Remember time-out? When you did something bad, you lost something you thought was fun. Like playing outside (or video games if you were born after 2000, since no kids play outside anymore).
Neil Fiore also says we're instilled with a sense of perfectionism, and it's not healthy. We're conscious of how we perform. We feel like we need to do the best we can. If we don't, it may show we aren't working hard enough.
These factors lead to us creating unrealistic expectations. So you might think that anything less than top-level performance isn't enough.
How does this impact budgeting? If you think of budgeting as “work” you're more likely to put it off. You may also create lofty expectations of yourself that you'll never meet.
So make money FUN. Make it something you want to do. The cool part of not budgeting is that it makes it okay to fail.
If you drop below a certain balance in your checking account, it's okay. Relax. Swing some money over from your savings and try again next month.
At the end of the day, you have to decide if it's worth your time and energy budgeting. You might think it is. You know what I say to that? More power to you. If I could, I would.
If it's not worth your time and energy, consider the points I discussed above. Try a percentage breakdown like Ramit suggests to start and go from there.
You won't be perfect, and you're going to make mistakes. That's okay. But if you don't try, you'll never know if you can simplify your money to be more successful.
Log on to your bank account, paycheck system, or whatever you use to tell your money where to go. Set aside at least 20% for saving and investing.
If you can't do that much, it's okay. Just start with something. If you can do more than that, go for it. The point is – get started today to start thinking about tomorrow.