Our team of advisors were discussing how we manage our own budgets. The other advisors said they used apps, websites, or Excel sheets.
I felt a little embarrassed to share that I operate without typical “budget.” I don’t have a list of categories with rules on what we can or can’t spend. Now, that does NOT mean we overspend or don’t have defined financial goals.
Instead, my husband and I have adopted a strategy that I call Financial Mindfulness. It works for us – and that’s what matters!
Here is how my version of Financial Mindfulness works:
1) Define Your Goals
Whether you have a traditional budget or not, you must establish financial goals. Decide how much you want to add to your retirement account(s), your emergency fund, and your other savings accounts on a regular basis.
Each of these accounts should have a defined purpose.
Determine what you want your checking account balance to be and check in once a month to ensure it remains close to that balance.
TIP: Write down your goals! Written goals are much more likely to happen. Use this goal setting tool.
2) Know What Your Fixed Expenses Are
Financial Mindfulness is simple to maintain because there is no “budget” to fill in each week or receipts to track. However, there is some upfront work required!
Gain a firm understanding of all your regular bills and even non-regular bills. Some bills are monthly while others can be quarterly or even annual. This is where it gets tricky.
Your understanding of your own bills needs to become so thorough that you recognize when non-regular bills are coming due. You can pad your checking account balance in the months leading up to the bill to compensate for the payment.
Alternatively, you can consider setting up specific savings accounts. For instance, if you have a $600 life insurance premium due once a year, consider opening a small savings account. Put $50 into the account each month. Then, when the bill comes, it’s not a shock to you or your checking account. The cash is ready!
3) Make Saving Mindless
Mind-ful-ness is actually aided by mind-less-ness. What do I mean by that?
The less thought you have to put into saving, the more successful you are likely to be!
Set automatic, reoccurring transfers from your checking account to your retirement or savings accounts. Once a year, sit down, review your spending habits, and determine if you can afford to increase the amounts of those transfers.
This way, you never have to think or wonder if you are saving enough. You just know it’s happening. Then, the only thing you must closely monitor is whether your checking account is maintaining a steady value.
4) Recognize the Patterns in Your Variable Expenses
We tend to be creatures of habit. Over time, you can likely look at your behavior year after year and notice patterns.
You might eat out more in the summer. You might spend more on entertainment in the winter. Every Christmas you might spend an insane amount of money on gifts.
I am not saying you need to change any of these behaviors! However, you do need to be aware of them and mindfully prepare.
Like preparing for non-regular bills, you can work on padding your checking account or balancing your spending. For instance, if you know that Christmas is coming and you need extra cash in December, you can be mindful to splurge a little less in October and November.
5) Try to Foresee and “Budget” for Large Expenses
Will and I talk about major expenses coming up. We want to replace our car, we are contemplating a basement remodel, and we like to plan an occasional vacation.
We try to prepare for these expenses in advance, so our checking account isn’t shell shocked when they hit.
For instance, we have a small savings account that we automatically (mindlessly!!) move money to each month. When the vacation comes, it is paid from the savings account and the checking account remains unscathed.
You could do the same thing with a car purchase, roof repair, or tuition payment.
Why Financial Mindfulness Works for Me
All of this mental accounting might sound like a hassle. Like anything, it takes practice! Once you establish good awareness and habits, the effort feels minimal.
To me, it feels like less work than entering data into an app every week. It also doesn’t feel like being imprisoned by an Excel sheet!
Financial Mindfulness provides me with freedom. Rather than stick to a strict budget in each spending category, I have the freedom to be flexible. I splurged on pretty shoes? Whelp… that’s ok. I will just pack my lunch a few more times this month.
I still have financial limitations like everyone else – Financial Mindfulness doesn’t allow for careless spending! It does allow you choice in where you want to spend and where you will cut back to compensate.
Why it Won’t Work for Everyone
We have a fairly simple financial life. We don’t have loads of credit cards or expenses for children that we must manage.
I recognize that the more you have going on in your finances, the easier it can be to let things slip! (It has happened to me before…)
If you have a complex financial life, you might need a tool with a lot of organization capabilities. Consider YNAB or Mint.
Perhaps you might be a bit more spendy than you like to admit. In which case, you might need more accountability than Financial Mindfulness can provide. An app that checks in with you might be more appropriate!
Up until now, I have always been embarrassed to admit that I am a financial advisor without a traditional budget. When people think of financial advisors, they immediately assume you are Budget Queen!
However, I now realize that we ALL need to find a method for managing our finances that works for US!
I encourage you to experiment and mix and match principals from various budgeting methods. Do what you need to do to feel encouraged and motivated to succeed.