#7- First Steps are Hard, and Worth it (Honest Budgets)
Updated: Sep 5
Some Mr. Rogers shit - when you don’t believe in yourself, remember that there is always someone out there who believes in you. Believe in the me that believes in you. You've got this.
One of the hardest things to do is being honest with ourselves. Whether or not this honesty is about our own decisions, where we are in life, relationships, our capabilities, values, or money - the image in the mirror is very rarely what we want to see. The beauty of this mirror is the perfect reflection to the viewer and it enables the viewer to change themselves in an subjective fashion. At the end of the day most of us are trying to become better than we were yesterday, the hard part is defining what is actually better. I personally believe the easiest way to improve ourselves is to change the subjective parts of life, and a budget is a good place to start (even though it's objective).
In regards to finance, the least popular thing is the word “budget”, and for good reason. It brings pain to where we’ve made mistakes, highlights that we AREN’T mega-millionaires, we're societal failures, that we can’t do the things we want, that life sucks, generally the things we don’t like. Talk about a harsh viewpoint. In every movie or fairytale there is always a villain and a hero, right? Well, that mirror can show either the villain or the hero, sometimes both - but the hero can bring peace. You are your own hero - we can slay all those dragons.
Improvement, just like goals, generally lies within two categories - objective (measurable) and subjective (feelings). Our financial situation is absolutely objective, but it is based off of our subjective lenses which we view life through. While the past can’t be undone we can use it to learn how we got to our present situation(s) by taking stock in the present. It is possible to use this information and compare our current situations to the past, and modify the present to support our SUBJECTIVE views and goals in life. The objective (money) supports our subjective life - said another way, our money is supposed to let us live life and not restrain our dreams.
To get a better perspective in this, let’s look at my personal situation at the beginning of this year. In January of 2021, I was $5,015 in credit card debit. My credit limit was $5,500, and my checking account was hovering over $300 with absolutely zero dollars in savings. Not what I wanted to see in the mirror, however it allowed me to reflect on what was important to me. I decided my priority was to eliminate my debt by the end of 2021 in order to stop living paycheck to paycheck. This realization showed me that not only could I swipe myself into debt faster than I could imagine, but I couldn't buy happiness. And it's alright that I did this to myself. After all, this acceptance allows us to move forward towards our personal solution.
The way forward for me was a honest, workable budget. As Ramit Sethi says in "I Will Teach You To Be Rich" (https://amzn.to/3kuPNMC), a budget should enable conscious spending in accordance to how we want to live our life how we want. Note the emphasis on conscious - we are aware, and we are controlling our situation. The way I approached this was to get rid of debt over time, still buy ammo, go to courses, and get a few guns. Here’s the trick - you don’t do everything at once. I found that if I just aimed to improve my net worth (total money - total debt = net worth) every month I stood a better chance of sticking with it, rather than trying to do perfection out of the gate and failing. As I made month to month improvements, I had less stress and was able to purchase the things that supported some of my objective goals.
I recommend a realistic, quantifiable (objective) budget, and looking at it every month or two to see where you can slice from the things you don’t care about in order to feed the things you do care about. This may take twice as long as you like, but that is absolutely better than going for perfection in a month and failing. Most free budget calculators will want to know your monthly pay, which is hard to figure if you’re paid hourly. The secret - double your hourly wage, add three zeros, and you've got your annual wage. Divide it by 12 and you've got a rough monthly. The other secret is pretty simple, give yourself the grace to be human and acknowledge mistakes. Those mistakes help us learn for future improvement, and ignoring them won’t help us in the future. Whether you operate on a cash only basis with money in envelopes to help keep that spending based in reality, or if you do electronic only, the process is the same.
Pro tip - calculate your budget based on what gets deposited in your checking account. Don't make the mistake of doing any budget or "can I buy this house" calculator with your straight hourly wage. If you don't know what this is, multiply your hourly, monthly, or annual wages by .30 and you'll be close enough.
I would recommend taking advantage of a free tool from Quicken, those folks that make Turbo Tax. Head on over to this link, and put in your appropriate numbers for what you are close to spending each month. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be a start.
If you have credit card debt, I’d recommend adding any student loans you have and double your credit card minimum monthly into the same box. Other than that, it’s pretty simple and puts your current situation together in easy to understand results. If you have routine expenses not mentioned (like weekly ammo purchases), add that dollar amount into the other expenses box. This link will tell you pretty honestly if you’re spending more money than you make, give you a rough idea of what your biggest spending categories are, and let you know if your current income level supports your life style.
If you want to get a more refined solution that needs more work, Quicken’s finance software is incredible. Not only will it take this several steps further in refinement, but it will also track your investment accounts and plug all of this info into your end of year taxes. Their finance suite is pretty sweet (I'll be here all week), and while it isn’t flawless it’s the best thing I’ve come across for both personal and for business purposes. The integration of their products really does make life less stressful on the back end if you put a bit of time into it on the front end. Between Quicken and Sethi’s book (https://amzn.to/3kuPNMC) I was able to slowly start to turn the big debt ship around, and will be debt free before October 2021 arrives.
This means I’ll no longer be working to pay Mr. CreditCard, but rather I’ll be working for myself. Talk about freedom.
Believe in the me that believes in you. You've got this.