6 Budget Tips to Master Money Stress
It wasn’t that long ago that our personal finances made me anxious. Thinking about them would keep me up at night, and distract me during the day. I thought there had to be a better way to handle our money, and we began to experiment with different budget types.
Here are six budget tips that we have used over the past two years to overcome that money stress.
6. Create a Bill Payment Schedule
We are paid bi-weekly, so every pay period is a little different. A bill schedule keeps track of which bills will need to be paid during each pay period. I don’t have to worry about accidentally forgetting a due date because that information is written down and no longer just swimming inside my head. Each payday, I open my bill schedule and make the payments for those two weeks, then I don’t have to worry about it again until next payday. My bill schedule includes our bi-weekly bills, monthly bills and once a year bills. See my post on Creating A Bill Schedule here.
5. Track Every Penny You Spend, By Category
In order to really understand where we were making poor financial decisions, we needed to track every penny we spent by budget category. It turned out that really small leaks were sinking our ship. Tracking by category finally opened our eyes to the most impactful changes we needed to make. It makes perfect sense to me now, but it took a long time for us to implement this.
I used to do this manually, with a cheque register and excel sheet. It was a tedious task that I hated. About a year ago, I started using YNAB (You Need A Budget) to track our spending and create our monthly budget. The YNAB tool is based on the zero-sum budgeting method, where every single dollar is given a purpose. You can customize the budget categories, according to your life and import transactions directly from your bank accounts. Access to this tool is the best $6 I spend every month.
4. Pay Future You First
Maybe past you made some bad decisions, I know I did, but we can’t take those decisions back. It is time to forgive and starting looking forward. One of the best financial decisions we made was to make a bill payment to our future selves. Each paycheck, we make a payment towards an emergency fund and towards a retirement account. Since we are still making debt payments, these amounts are relatively small in proportion to our income, but those small amounts add up over time.
Last summer, we had an emergency repair on our vehicle that cost $1,800. It was a large chunk of cash, but we got to give our past selves a mental high-five for having our back. If we hadn’t had that money sitting aside, we would have been forced to rack up that credit card again. Having a safety net for rainy days has greatly reduced sleepless nights worrying about how we would pay for these small emergencies.
3. Track Your Progress
We use a simple net worth calculation every year to track our overall financial progress. To calculate our net worth number, we subtract what we owe, from what we own. Sometimes it can take a while to see results but having a consistent benchmark allows us to measure our progress year over year.
We also break down more focused goals, like paying off a credit card or saving for a home appliance into small manageable chunks. Each chunk gets a visual representation on the chart, and we color it in as we get closer to our goal. It is a great motivator to see your progress, so we post ours on the fridge!
2. Be Realistic
So much of my stress was created because I wanted instant results. I wanted to be out of debt NOW! I really had to take a step back and realize that we didn’t get into debt overnight and we weren’t getting out of debt overnight. It is a lifestyle change that takes commitment and discipline. Don’t set yourself up for failure by making your goals too lofty.
I had my expectations set so high that I could never realistically meet them. It was incredibly discouraging. Instead, I now to set smaller realistic goals and actually achieve them. Those small wins build momentum and keep me moving forward.
1. Stop Measuring Yourself Against Someone Else’s Yardstick
There was a time when I read about other people’s financial successes and felt like a failure. Maybe they paid off more debt in a shorter time period, or they had given up something that I felt I should have given up. I was always comparing and it made me miserable. It took me a quite a while to realize that this is our journey. We aren’t building a life for someone else, we are building a life for ourselves.
Money stress can be frustrating, but don’t hide. Instead, get involved with you finances. Organize your bills and payments, track your spending and set a little aside for a rainy day. Celebrate your progress and small successes to build momentum as you work towards your goals. We are each on our own journey and our experiences are different. Don’t discredit the work that you are doing, simply because someone else has done things differently. At the end of the day, the only person that you need to be better than, is the person you were yesterday.