Why You Need to Budget—And How to Make It Fun!

The number of things I did to put off writing this is pretty embarrassing and a little amusing . . .

I checked my social media pages approximately ten times each (not much has happened in the past thirty minutes), watched a fifteen-minute YouTube video (ironically about millennials being addicted to social media), sent some text messages, checked social media again, drank coffee, wrote about things I actually wanted to write about, and then checked social media again.

Finances aren’t always fun. But the more we befriend them the easier it will be to handle them with grace—and the better off we’ll be for it.

My (very belabored) point is that I hate talking about finances. I find it stressful, boring, and downright painful. Hence why I so diligently put this off.

In the dream world where I like to reside (think Narnia, but without talking animals, a lot more breweries, and a T. J. Maxx on every corner), I don’t have to worry about money. I buy what I want, when I want, and I miraculously manage to save in the process.

When I started my first real, adult job, I kind of thought this would be the case (silly me). After a couple of months of spending without a second thought, I started to wonder where on earth all my hard-earned money was going.

As it turns out, a beer or two every other night, a T. J. Maxx excursion here and there, gas, water, electricity, rent, coffee runs multiple times a week, haircuts, wall decor, Uber rides, groceries, and concert tickets start to add up.

Who knew?

Slowly and very reluctantly I have begun to realize that finances are just a necessary evil I need to embrace. I believe I will feel more secure, more confident, and even freer once I have a handle on the reality of my financial situation (instead of what it looks like in Narnia where Aslan foots the bills).

If you’re like me and hate to discuss money, I understand. I’m here to empathize and also to tell you why you absolutely need to talk about it. You (and I) need a budget, here’s why:

YOU WILL FEEL MORE SECURE

If you got an unexpected $500 bill this month, would you be able to pay it? A shockingly large percentage of Americans could not. This is scary, not only because America is one of the wealthiest nations, but also because an unexpected bill of $500 isn’t that unlikely. When I first moved to where I live now—two days before I started my new job—my car decided to break down.

The third mechanic I went to (the first two were too busy to help me) was going to charge $1,000 to change all the coils and spark plugs.

Car trouble isn’t rare, nor are health problems and house repairs. All of those could easily and suddenly cost you at least $500—which you may or may not have already spent on nights out and a cute wardrobe.

Real freedom lies in choosing what is best, which is not whatever you want whenever you want.

Ensuring that you have a “cushion” of savings to land on when some sort of unexpected expense comes up is the financial equivalent of wearing a seatbelt. Hopefully it won’t be necessary, but there will most likely come a point where you will be infinitely grateful for it. In any case, just having it gives you a sense of security, taking a weight off your shoulders and allowing you to spend the money you have consciously decided in advance to spend, guilt-free.

Your cushion should ideally be about six months worth of your salary. I realize this may sound like a lot, but baby steps are key: talk to someone in HR about setting aside $100 a month or a small percentage of your paycheck to go directly into your savings account. This will slowly but surely get you to your desired amount. Don’t leave it up to chance (or your own self-discipline).

Budgeting ensures you save. Saving provides security.

YOU WILL BE MORE CONFIDENT

I don’t have to tell you that confidence is attractive. What you may not know, is that good financial habits help you be more confident.

One time I asked my mom what it meant to be confident, and she very simply replied, “I think it just means to be relaxed.” I’ve really tried to take this definition to heart in various areas of my life (quite the challenge for someone who is just a tiny bit high strung).

And when it comes to finances, budgeting (and the security it provides) allows you to just sit back and enjoy the good things in life without wondering if you have enough money to pay all your bills or if you can afford this or that—you just know, so you can chill.

Additionally, the security that comes with financial stability gives you confidence that, with or without another person, you will be just fine.

Budgeting provides security. Security gives you confidence.

YOU WILL BE FREER

This one feels a little counterintuitive. Budgeting seems very restrictive, one of the reasons I have fought so valiantly against it. However, budgeting actually gives you more freedom: you are no longer a slave to your impulses or the latest trends, rather you can choose what you value the most and how to spend your money in a way that makes the most sense to you.

You want to go on a trip in a few months? Great—decide how much you need, and start cutting back on Starbucks. Your car needs new tires? No problem—your savings cushion is there to help. You can make a plan to pay off your credit card debt or student loans, they no longer own you. Real freedom lies in choosing what is best, which is not whatever you want whenever you want (as any recovering shopaholic can attest).

HOW TO MAKE IT FUN

There are good reasons for you and me to make a budget, and it doesn’t have to be a tortuous, traumatic event. Some of my friends at work (hi, guys!) and I have banded together to help each other get our finances in order. We’ve decided to set aside an evening (with wine) to make reasonable budgets that we can encourage each other to stick to. Some in the group have more experience than I do (which isn’t saying much since I have none). Regardless, I think it’s good to get help from someone who has a little bit more experience in such matters. Now, I have an evening with wine and friends to look forward to—even if it does include some talk about money.

SOME QUICK TIPS

  • If your company offers a 401(k) match, at the very least, contribute up to that match. So if it’s a 3 percent match, consider contributing 3 percent of your salary to the 401(k) plan (with the match, your contribution is basically doubled—free money!). This money is automatically deposited before you get paid, so you won’t be tempted to spend it instead of saving it. I recommend you try to increase your contribution by 1 percent every year until you get to 15 percent.
  • Fill up your cushion account as quickly as you can, even if it means a few months of hard, frugal living (aka, no craft beers for a bit). Once you have a cushion, only use this money for absolute emergencies (and refill it again afterward).
  • Limit your "spending money" so that you have a fixed allowance on fun. (Using cash instead of a credit card or debit card helps you do this.) For example, once a week when you buy your groceries, stop by the ATM and take out sixty dollars for “outings” that week. This may mean not going out once you run out of cash, or going out and not getting anything . . . that’s okay.
  • When you finish paying off debt (e.g., a car payment), continue “making that payment” so you can pay for the next big item whenever that comes—interest free!

Writing this article was painful for me. However, much like the budget itself, it was a good challenge that will ultimately help me grow as a person. Finances aren’t fun, and I don’t like them. But the more we befriend them instead of running away screaming, the easier and more painless it will be to handle them with grace—and the better off we’ll be for it.

In conclusion, if I can sit down and write one thousand words about money, you can take one evening to get a group together to help each other figure out budgets that will bring you more security, confidence, and freedom.

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