If you are like me then you think there’s a short cut for everything, you’re impatient, and want results yesterday. Unfortunately, there is no shortcutting your debt and there is no simple “trick” or “hack” for this.
That’s the bad news.
The good news?
There is a way, and if you’re willing to explore it with me, I can show you how to become 100% debt free and live a life of freedom where you can do anything you want, wherever you want, with whomever you want.
If you wish to travel the world then you will have the freedom to travel.
If it’s the freedom to pursue a career you are passionate about then you will have the time and money to be able to pursue that.
But It all starts with a simple little thing called budgeting.
I probably lost some of you just by mentioning that word.
If you’re still with me then I want to tell you a couple things that a budget is NOT:
A budget is NOT a death sentence, you will not die living by a budget.
A budget isn’t a life long prison sentence either.
You are not forced to live by your budget and it does change over time as your goals and lifestyle changes.
A budget is not depriving.
You will still be able to go out and enjoy restaurants, time with friends, travel for leasure, and make progress towards your goals.
Heck, I went to Florida three times, Costa Rica once, and went out to restaurats with my family and friends at least once a month, every month, and I STILL managed to pay off $33,555 in less than 3 years while earning just above minimum wage, and I didn’t have a site like this guiding me through it either.
I had to “figure it out” on my own, but you have the benefit of learning from my mistakes on how not to do things so that you can shorten the learning curve and save yourself time, money, and headache along the way.
Ok, so now that we got all the things out of the way of what a budget Is NOT.
I want to show you what a budget ACTUALLY is:
It’s Targets for you to aim for.
If you hit them you hit your goal for the month, but if you miss them you just count it as practice, and if you miss it every month you either under budgeted or you need to change some things about yourself first so you can hit your goals.
It is a combination of Monthly and weekly goals:
Again, you don’t have to hit them every time, but if you don’t have something to aim for then you will miss every-time. Like with any sport or activity you will get better with time, but it just takes practice and starting today is as good as any day.
It is flexible:
Thinking that budgets are rigid, or expecting them to be, is what makes people blow their budget. If a budgeted item isn’t working for you, or you blow one area of your budget you can pull from another area, this encourages savings behaviors and less frequent spending because you don’t want to sacrifice a long term goal like debt repayment to enjoy a short term pleasure like a donut and coffee in the here and now.
It’s under your control
You brought this budget into the world, and you can certainly take it out of this world too. You are free to add sections and remove them as you see fit. If you want to be able to train at a certain gym and that will cost you $40 a month, you budget that, and if you decide that you don’t want to spend that money and go to that gym any longer but instead you workout elsewhere then you just re-allocate that money.
Ok. So now that we have gone over what a budget is NOT, and what it actually is, let’s talk about how to get started, shall we?
Step 1: Write down all your current expenses
The first thing you need is a means of recording your budget. Pen and paper will do, that’s how I started 3 years ago.
You can get a free copy of the forms used in Financial Peace University here:
This is the budget form that I started with.
Once I started to understand those principles and became comfortable with them I began to use my own digital tracking sheet which you can download here:
Once you get all your expenses written down and recored you can start to schedule your payments on your calendar.
Step 2: Put on your calendar each day you will have money go out of your account
What this will do is help you plan your cash flow. Right now you may not be earning whole lot of income but that’s ok, the point of getting your money right BEFORE you start trying to increase your income, is that you will understand how to spend, save, and budget and then when you have more money coming in each month you will be able to better direct it.
So learning to cash flow forecast is critical to be successful with money. The more money you have, the more responsibility you take on in managing it, so learning this skill now will help you greatly in the long run.
Step 3: Eliminate anything you don’t require to live on
Putting all your expenses down on paper will help you to understand where your money is going and how to better allocated it. Maybe you find that you and your significant other are going to the movies 3 times in a month and spending as much as $150 a month doing so. Instead maybe plan a movie night at home and order some food, the cost will be less than going out each weekend and you will still get to have a pleasurable experience with your significant other.
You will begin to notice that you are spending money in ways that you may not even be conscious of, and you will find creative ways of saving.
Once I looked at my expenses for last year I learned that I spent over $461 on vending from a vending machine! If I had packed more snacks each day for work I could probably cut that cost in HALF! Or even more.
Simple things will result in savings and will help you reach your goals faster.
Step 4: Redirect the savings towards debt or into a savings account
Lastly, when you start to see the stuff that you can save on, you can immediately re-allocate it into your area of interest. If you have debt to pay off then your savings can help tackle the debt. If you are done with debt, then you can chuck that extra cash towards building your 6 months of cushion. If you are done with building up your savings then you can reinvest the savings into a 401(k) or even use the funds to buy a business or start one yourself.
For more on how to start a business read: Starting and Running a Business.
Step 5: Get an Emergency Fund Together TODAY
This is not an optional step. This is “required reading” and for you to be able to live a life of freedom and abundance you will need this.
Once I got an emergency fund together I IMMEDIATELY felt better. This was not money that I was going to spend. If I did need it for an emergency then I immediately would pay back the fund once I got paid again. Doing so would mean that the fund would never be dry while in the process of paying down debt.
I’m all for starting your own business, and we’ll get into that a little later, but if you can’t afford to get to work even how are you supposed to pay for the internet bill when it comes due? How are you supposed to buy the food that you are going to put on your family’s table at night? How are you supposed to buy soap to shower with? If you lose your job because you can’t make it to work because your car engine blew, then you are going to wish you had that emergency fund saved up.
And the other part of this, it’s a one time thing. You don’t have to set aside $1000 a month for this fund right now, you just need to pile that money up as a cushion between you and Mayhem (like the state farm commercial).
This is just whats protecting you from the unexpected, the unseen emergency, the trip to the hospital that wasn’t planned and isn’t covered by the insurance company.
The week that you were out of work because someone blind sided you and you have bills to pay but workers comp isn’t going to cover your pay.
That’s what an emergency fund is for, and having one is the difference between survival and not.
Once you have it built. Don’t. Spend. This.
Wrapping things up:
So if you are ready to get started, and really want to make some changes in your life, then start with building your budget and learn to stick as closely to it as possible.
Check your budget before spending and that way you are making progress on your goals.
Remember, it’s all about progress. Not Perfection.
And If you already have 6 months of savings, no debt, and your own business, then congratulations! You really don’t need to be reading this blog.
But if you are like I was, and you have Mountains of student debt, are struggling to pay your bills each month, and wondering IF, not When, you will be free to do the things you love with the people you love, then maybe it’s time to make some changes.
Maybe it’s time to start budgeting and tracking your money, so that you know where it’s going each month.