A Great Budget is… YOUR map

A Great Budget is all about you

Part of the reason I created this blog is because I am starting to use a family budget again. I wanted to have some accountability, so I’m sharing my personal journey. I also wanted to help others who are considering a budget for their family.

On a long trip, especially if you have never been to your intended destination before, it is a good idea to have a GPS or map. A great budget is like a GPS or map for your financial journey through life. A well made budget can enable a person to be more financially responsible over the long haul. A great budget directs your finances in the most efficient path to your destination. A winning budget keeps you on the right road to success, no matter how you define “success”.

On a long trip, to be sure you stay on track, you must review the map frequently, adjust for detours or traffic, and watch for road signs. Let’s look at some of the traits for a great budget.

Individualized – A great map is individualized. Your destination may be different than mine. If you are going from New York City to Houston, and I’m going from Savannah, GA to Atlanta, GA, we will need different maps.

Likewise, a great budget is individualized. If you are a single, mid-20 something living with the Parental Units, your budget will be different than your married, father-of-four, mortgage-toting brother’s budget, or your retired grandparent’s budget. Your budget should be specific to YOU. It’s ok to start with someone else’s budget, or a generic budget from some website, but over time, consider customizing it to fit you and your situation.

Detailed – A great map is detailed. Your map needs to show road names, turn directions, and distances to be traveled on each road. It should show approximately how long you will be on each road, in case you forget to check the odometer. On a long trip, a printed map and turn-by-turn directions may take several pages.

Similarly, a great budget is detailed. Your budget should reflect ALL income, and ALL expenses. I like doing my budget in an Excel spreadsheet. If something changes during the month, I can immediately adjust.

Your budget should have expense categories, based on your life.  A great budget will let you see how much you are spending in dollars for a specific category. It should also let you see those categories as a percentage of your income. Within each category, you can add specific lines for more detail. For example, on my budget, the category “Utilities” includes a line for each of the following: Electricity, Water, Cell phone, Internet. The total for each line is added together to give me the total expense for Utilities.

Simple – A great map is simple. If your map is 14 pages, front-and-back, in 9-point font size, with hand-scribbled notes all over the margins, and a coffee stain, you will have a hard time following the map on the open road, much less when you are in rush-hour traffic in a big city. Consider a condensed overview page for a quick glance in traffic.

A great budget is detailed, but it should also be simple enough that you can understand what you are looking at. Budgets can generally be one page. You could show a great budget to a teenager and have them understand the basics of your budget. If your budget is too complicated, you will find excuses to put off using it.

Try to keep a simple overview, even if at various times you need more detail. You can always drill down to get more information if you need it at that time. For example, I keep my budget simple by having the Categories bolded, and all the Categories add together (since I use Excel) to provide the total expenses right next to the total income.

Realistic – A great map is realistic. If your GPS said your trip time from New York City to Houston will take one hour, is approximately 43 miles, and requires 6 gallons of fuel, you would probably look for a new GPS. Even if you haven’t made the trip before, you would probably know that is not realistic.

A great budget is realistic. It should address all of your needs, priorities, income, and expenses. It should have every dollar allocated somewhere, to a specific purpose. Otherwise, any additional income simply “vanishes”, and you are left wondering what happened to it.

If you are trying to pay off debt, a great budget will show approximately how long that will take. If you use a computer spreadsheet, you can update the budget easily and quickly, so it stays realistic and current throughout the month.

Using these four tips can help you to have a great budget that works great for you!
How is your budget? What tips do you have to help me (and others) to develop a great budget?

 

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