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How a Budget Helps You

January 10, 2023

Some of you may be wondering how exactly a budget actually helps you. Sure, you do it, but it mostly seems to make life harder for you.

How?

By making you feel guilty for spending and by forcing you to cut back. It may also be the thing that makes the several days before pay day feel extra tight.

But it can instead be the thing that sets you up to not have those bottom-of-the barrel days leading up to payday.

Let's dive into a quick example of how a budget can help and empower you in your spending.

An example. Involving gelato.

I’m traveling in Europe for several weeks, and obviously would like to not spend all my moneys on gelato and breads and cheeses…

This is vacation, but it’s also real life for the next couple months, and I know I’ll be happier spending within what I’ve budgeted for this period abroad. Just a reminder: a budget just means a plan, not living cheap.

I’ve done some research into how much I need and want to allocate (or “budget”) for food per day. My hotels include breakfast, and since I don’t drink alcohol, I think an average of $35 USD a day will be totally adequate. 

For the remainder of January, then, I will need approximately $735 USD.  Yes, I could keep track of how much of that I have remaining for the month by just subtracting each food expenditure from that amount.

But I don't get great information to proactively make decisions with until I'm close to spending that amount of money. And by then it's too late to change anything.

It's hard to make meaningful decisions about spending priorities when money for one purpose is lumped with money for other purposes.

It's also hard when money is planned in a single bucket covering too much time.

What I’m doing instead of having a single pot of money for food spending, is breaking it into smaller weekly buckets. This way it's easier to plan my food spending about my spending. If I spend $100 on the AirBnB experience "Pasta with the Grandmas," I will keep some of my dinners on the simpler side. 

In this way, I protect each week from other weeks. This way I don’t get to the last week of the month with only $50 remaining. 

This is all keeping 2 things in mind:

  1. I have chosen at least an estimate of what I am comfortable spending on this trip.
  2. Given new information, I may choose to adjust my budget. Whether I make cuts elsewhere is TBD, but just like you, I’m making these planning decisions with my full financial picture and priorities in mind.

Benefits: 

  1. Budgeting for these “fun” categories on a weekly or biweekly basis empowers you to spend fully within the boundaries of that week. 
  2. It also gamifies it a little bit. If I want to try to have money left in my food budget for the week, I can then choose to contribute it to next week and eat even better then. 
  3. It plans each week equally
  4. Having these smaller buckets makes it easier to keep track of and plan your spending.

Can you see how it would be helpful to plan for increments smaller than a month in certain categories? A few that in my regular life I budget for on a bi-monthly basis include:

  • Groceries
  • Eating out
  • Entertainment
  • Random & Household
  • Do Some Good (this is my random generosity category, separate from formal occasion gifts like Birthdays, Showers, and Christmas)

In which categories do you find yourself perpetually running out of money? While you may need to get more realistic and simply start allocating more money for the category, you may also try budgeting for smaller amounts of time. Would love to know if you find this advice helpful!

If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy this related post:

Cover of the cheat sheet: 7 strategies that change your money and life—for good
In this cheat sheet, you’ll get easy access to the 7 strategies that make all the difference in monthly money management you can love
These strategies turn budgeting into something empowering, and gets you in the driver's seat of your money. All without deprivation, coupon clipping (unless you want to), or feeling guilty about your spending.
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