A quick internet search on budgeting will likely pull up some popular advice: how to cut grocery expenses, shopping deals, couponing, minimizing miscellaneous costs, and so on. But really there is more to budgeting than most of us think. Truly the best way to budget is to simply only spend what you have to spend and factor in savings as a part of your plan.
In addition to how to budget, there is much controversy over whether to call it a budget or spending plan. No matter what it is called, it all adds up to the same thing. Instead of focusing on what we call it we should focus on what it actually is: being conscious of how we spend.
Spending money is a lot like driving a car. There is a destination we are all trying to get to and, if we do not keep focused, we risk an accident that will set us back. Budgeting is no different. As practitioners, we want to keep our clients on the road safely. We don’t want to help them after the ambulance has come, but keep them from ever getting to that point.
When helping our clients with budgeting, there are several points that they must understand before beginning the process. Understanding our client’s personality, habits, and needs will help us to help them. We want to set them up for success based on what will work for them. So how can we keep our clients focused on the road when they’re driving their car?
Goals—Clients should have a clear picture of what their short term and long term goals are. Remember: Only spending money on what we have to is budgeting. Are they trying to change spending behaviors, save for something in particular, or to learn to live without living paycheck to paycheck? No matter what their goal is, they must have a clear vision of it.
Track spending—It is an ugly job but we all have to do it. Tracking spending is the only way to decipher our unhealthy spending habits and behaviors from healthy ones.
Weight importance on miscellaneous spending—Understanding what our own necessities are is important. Clients must be mindful that necessities differ between each person, couple, and family. A manicure may be important to someone who handles food whereas it wouldn’t be to someone who works in the engine room of a submarine.
Create a budget—Not a budget that they are going to give up on in a few weeks because it’s too time consuming or lacking depth. This means a budget that works for their individual needs. Some people may need a meticulous budget whereas others need something simple to keep themselves on track. Others even do mental budgets. This is fine as long as they are following the perimeters of their guidelines. The tool that our clients choose to use for budgeting is just as important as being conscientious about their spending plans. One cannot work without the other. Stanley and Danko (2010) suggest “Operating a household without a budget is akin to operating a business without a plan, without goals, and without direction.”
Agreement among all parties—The budget must be taken seriously by all parties. A couple must agree on the budget and take it seriously. All must be in agreement to keep the budget rolling. Otherwise, it will sit idle without helping anyone.
Daily maintenance— Just like their car needs gas, their budget needs their attention on a regular basis as well. Those who are not used to budgeting need to understand it is an adjustment at first but becomes a natural habit and a healthy one at that! According to Stanley and Danko (2010), planning and controlling consumption are important factors for accumulating wealth and those who want to be extraordinary savers should take time to plan their budgets.
Accountability—Are there going to be consequences for veering away from the budget (besides their obvious overspending)? For example, if a client eats lunch out one too many times one week, should they then have to pack a lunch everyday the following week? Clients should be encouraged to have some accountability for running off the road. According to Farrington (2016), “Personal accountability is the most important trait that will define whether you’re successful with your money or not.”
Budgets can be therapeutic—Yes, budgeting can be therapeutic! Clients must understand that budgets really are not restricting. They only provide boundaries and, if followed correctly, can actually offer financial freedom! I encourage you to ask your clients to participate in a budget challenge and ask them afterwards if they feel they have increased freedom after completing the challenge! I think their responses will be eye opening.
Clients need to understand the importance of budgeting no matter what they choose to call it. Being conscious of our spending behavior helps us manage money appropriately. Typically, the best way to manage it is to avoid spending on what we do not need. Budgeting is commitment, and sometimes a daunting one, but one that we cannot afford to ignore.
Farrington, Robert. (May 29, 2016). The Single Most Important Trait that Defines Personal Finance
Success. The College Investor. Retrieved from http://thecollegeinvestor.com/6521/single-
Danko, William D., & Stanley, Thomas J. (2010). The Millionaire Next Door (Kindle version). Retrieved
Sabrina Johnson is a recipient of the 2013 FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship. She earned her AFC designation in 2015 and has volunteered at various NMCRS and Fleet and Family Support Centers throughout the U.S. Sabrina currently resides in Washington state with her family. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.