Our annual New Year’s Goal resolution this year at Postconsumers is getting your budget and spend under control by reducing the grasp of society’s addictive consumerism on you. That’s a long sentence that essentially says we want to help you buy less “stuff” (unless you face deprivation) and be more financially secure! It may sound like a simple process, but one thing that we’ve learned along the way is that, for many people, even setting up a budget and tracking it is a skill set that they haven’t learned over the years. Before we get too much deeper into the intricacies of addictive consumerism and your monthly (or annual, or even weekly) budget, we thought we’d share a little insight on getting started with creating and tracking your budget overall.
Step One: Adopt the Right Medium for You
Of course, all of the rage at this time is budget tracking apps on mobile phones, tablets and other devices. And if you are fluent in mobile technology then using these apps may be the best option for you. However, the most important thing when arranging your budget is honestly that you find a budget set up and tracking medium that is right for you. Perhaps Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets is a better option for you if you like sitting down at a computer. Perhaps a notebook or paper ledger is a better option for you if you value the connection process between writing and the mind. There’s no right or wrong to any of these, but if you don’t pick the medium for setting up your budget that is truly best for you, then you’re setting yourself up to fail. It’s worth taking the time to think about what the most effective means for you truly will be.
Step Two: Set Aside Time for Budgeting Weekly
Even if you’re mobile-inclined and you’re entering line items into your budget real-time as you go along, you still need to set dedicated time aside each week to organize and look at your budget. Entering items real-time isn’t the same as taking the time to look at your actual budget patterns and contemplate them. For those who aren’t using mobile technology to set up and track their budget, setting aside time weekly to sit and do your budget is even more important. Once you get behind on entering budget line items it’s easy to not catch up or to forget about purchases that you made and didn’t record. Budgeting isn’t any different than any other activity you begin to participate in. It requires its own block of time. If you don’t put the time in, you won’t see results from your efforts (or lack of effort).
Step Three: Set Up Accountability
How are you holding yourself accountable for your budgeting activities? This is one of the places that we see the attempt to get budgets under control fail the most. Are you starting a budgeting project along with a real-life or online buddy so that you can check in and see how your efforts are going? Are you giving yourself a reward for every month in which your budget is up-to-date and complete? Are you going the other direction and giving yourself a punishment for months in which you fall off the wagon with your budgeting efforts? Before you get too deep into the budgeting implementation and tracking process, take some real time to sit down and think about how you will hold yourself accountable for your budget. Be honest with yourself about how much accountability you need and what the best way for you to accomplish it is. We know that some people are incredibly self-motivated. But we also know that others are not.
Step Four: Include Your Goals In Your Electronic or Hard Copy Budget
The thing about goals is that they often require reinforcement to sink in. We’re not suggesting that you write your budget and finance goals on your hand so that you have to stare at them every day (though in all honesty we’ve heard far worse suggestions). But we do think that people need to be reminded of their budget and finance goals regularly in order to succeed at them. A great place to start is by writing, typing or including as a line item your finance and budget goals in the location where you’re tracking your budget. If you’re truly dedicating time to reviewing and paying attention to your budget each week, then that means you’ll be looking at and absorbing your goals every time that you sit down for dedicated budget time. Of course, if you feel as though you need more frequent reinforcement of your budget goals, feel free to “up the game” so to speak. There’s always that writing on your hand option!
Step Five: If Organization Isn’t Natural To You …
We get it. For some people, numbers and columns and organization just isn’t natural. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of disorganized ways to work on a budget. We’ve found that using a color coded system can help even the most chaotic person, however. Whether it’s an electronic highlight function or a highlighter in your hand in a notebook or paper ledger, color coding seems to help the human brain organize things. We can’t promise that it will solve organizational problems in case you have them, but it’s definitely worth a start.
Step Six: Don’t Give Up!
This is the hardest but possibly the most important tip. Don’t give up! Budgeting doesn’t come naturally to every person. However, like any skillset it can be learned given time and consistency. If your first month – or even your first six months – is a struggle and not particularly successful, don’t give up. Given enough time and enough emphasis on habit forming, you can become a budgeter. And once you do, you’ll have a much easier time gaining control of your finances and any addictive consumerism.
Follow along with our January 2017 resolution of learning to control our budgets by spending less money on “stuff” and letting go of addictive consumerism on the social media channels below.