I’ve talked about different aspects of building a budget, but now it’s time to focus on a really important question: do you really need a budget?
Many people could benefit from having a budget. But not everyone needs a budget. That probably sounds like blasphemy, especially as part of a budget building series. But it’s the truth. Not everyone needs a budget to manage their finances.
So let’s jump into it.
What Is A Budget
A budget is simply a plan for your money. Most people, when they think of budgets I think it’s complicated spreadsheets with color-coding and lists of expense categories. But budgets don’t always have to look like this. A budget is simply a way of knowing how much is going in and how much is going out.
But the primary goal of a budget is to help you establish spending limits, pay off debt, and increase savings. This leads to the question, do you really need a budget to accomplish this?
Who Is It For
Most people could benefit from a budget, but not many people use one. Which begs the question, who is a budget for?
A budget is a great tool for people:
- who want to keep a close eye on their finances
- are just starting out on their own
- are setting new financial goals
- have poor self-control
- want to increase their savings
- have variable income or paydays
- are planning on making a big change (new baby, change jobs, etc.)
- want to reduce spending
- are living paycheck to paycheck
- have high debt
- struggle with accountability (yours or someone else’s)
- have never used a budget
- don’t have a clear idea of your finances
- want a budget
- need clear limits
Different people need different kinds of budgets based on what they’re reasoning for budgeting is.
I’m going to go into more detail on a few of those listed above, such as setting financial goals, tracking spending, and increasing savings. Many of the specifics listed above will fall into these general categories.
Important Note: Many people don’t budget because they think they’re too broke to budget. This is the time that you definitely need to have a budget.
Budgets can be a great way to help you track your financial goals.
Financial goals will look different from person to person, but there are some common goals. Here are some common examples of financial goals:
- pay off debt
- buy/build a house
- save for retirement
- emergency fund
- vacation fund
- college savings
- start a family
- buy investment property
- get a month ahead on expenses
- buy or pay off a car
- pay for new or continuing education
- reduce overall spending
- start a business
- side hustle income
- save for large purchases (appliances, gifts, home improvement, taxes)
There are also goals that are not “monetary” that can be listed as financial goals, such as:
- feeling financially secure
- living a minimalist lifestyle
- shifting money mindsets
- prepare to change jobs or return to school
- learn more about personal finance
If you’re budgeting to help yourself with financial goals, make sure your goals are SMART goals.
Budgets are a good way to keep track of your spending. This does not need to be a part of every person’s budget, but it is very helpful information to have, especially if you’re just starting out with budgeting.
When it comes to tracking your spending, it can feel a little overwhelming at first. I recommend doing it one of two ways:
- Look at the last 30, 60, or 90 days of your spending with bank and credit card statements, or
- Track your spending as you go for the next 30-90 days
Once you’ve gotten an idea of your monthly spending, use this information when setting up your new budget. This will also help to take some of the guesswork out of setting spending limits. After you’ve set it up, you’ll have this information ready to refer to going forward.
Budgets help to track month-to-month spending in specific categories, if you use a traditional budget. If you use a different kind of budget, you may have to calculate this separately.
Even if your only reason for wanting to budget is to increase your savings, I highly recommend tracking your spending. Once you know what your normal outgoing expenses are, it can help give you an idea of what realistic savings goals can be each month.
There are 2 ways you can determine your savings goals:
- you can work forward toward your end goal, or
- you can work backwards from your end goal
Whichever way you decide to go, make sure your savings goals are SMART goals. I’ve found it best to start with a smaller amount and increase as you go along.
It’s very important that if your goal is increasing savings, you treat savings like a bill. It’s not negotiable and you cannot skip it.
Why Wouldn’t You Need One
Typically, a budget isn’t needed if you’re able to manage your financial needs without much guidance or tracking. In fact, budgets aren’t great for people who:
- have lots of self-control
- only need limited guidance
- check their accounts frequently
- follow clear savings goals/auto-save
- avoid new debt
- already track spending
- have another financial plan
So let’s look at what other ‘budgeting’ methods are out there, other than actually budgeting.
When I say automated systems, I’m talking about 2 things: automating savings and auto-paying bills.
Automating savings is easily the most important step to managing finances if you aren’t going to follow a budget. I recommend setting savings to be drafted directly to a different account or set up transfers for the day you get paid. You can’t miss it if you never knew it was there.
And if you’re looking to reduce the need for a budget, you’ll want to auto-pay as many bills as possible. If you’re able to get all your bills paid this way, it saves time and stress.
An un-budget is a very general guide for spending and saving. Instead of developing a budget, you set how much money you must have to cover your needs and how much you want to save each month. After that, everything left over is considered spending money.
An un-budget can be set up automatically or it can be done manually. To create an automatic un-budget, you must use automated systems like direct deposit and automated savings.
This is the method I use. To start this, I did the following:
- calculated savings goals
- tracked expenses
- divided my direct deposit
- set up automatic saving withdrawals (I use both CapitalOne & Qapital for savings)
- set up auto-pay for all bills
What this looks like now is that I get paid monthly and set all bills and savings amounts to come out the day after I get paid. After that, I check my checking account 2-4 times per week but don’t stress my spending too much.
There are times that a budget is a definite need and there are times when it isn’t. It’s important to make sure you take the time to figure out which category you fit into. And your category may change over time. Make sure to keep a good eye on your finances and be willing to make changes as needed.