With Halloween right around the corner, there are spooky things everywhere you look. From decor to late-night horror movies on T.V., Americans are dealing with fear 24/7. But there’s one part of our finances that often feels just as scary as a haunted house - our budget.
Even if you’re drawn to all-things-terrifying this time of year, you probably aren’t very likely to dive head-first into a conversation about your budget. The truth is that budgeting is a big part of being an adult. Unfortunately, adulting is often scarier than any campy horror flick! So, let’s talk about why budgeting can be so intimidating, and how you can start to leverage your budget to have a positive impact on your life.
Why Does Budgeting Scare Us?
Almost everyone likes to do things they can accomplish successfully. The reverse is also true - you don’t like to do things that you’re not good at, or that present a frustrating challenge. Picture the last school exam you took where you were nervous. It probably wasn’t a test about a subject you felt confident about. Going into that exam, you may have felt the fear that comes with impending failure, or uncertainty.
Many people experience a similar type of fear when it comes to budgeting. Even if you’re successful financially, pulling a budget together (and sticking to it) can be fear-inducing because there’s a high risk of failure. In fact, most young professionals have started a budget at one point or another but found themselves sliding off course as the months flew by.
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Making a budget using “typical” budgeting standards often sets people up for failure. Then, the more you struggle to stay on track, the more scary and daunting creating and executing a budget may seem.
Reframing Your Approach to Budgeting
You’ve probably heard a few different budgeting “rules of thumb”:
Follow the 50/30/20 rule (50% living expenses, 30% lifestyle expenses, 20% savings and debt repayment)
Have 3-6 months of emergency funds in a savings account
Save up to your employer match toward retirement
Put 20% down when you buy a home
Track every single dollar you spend
Cut back big expenses
Trim small expenses
These rules of thumb may seem arbitrary, and sometimes they can even contradict each other. It’s hard to know whether or not you’re actually having success with your budget when you’re not sure that the “rules” you’re following fit your goals or needs.
Instead, consider taking the fear-factor out of your budget by building a unique spending and savings plan that aligns with your personal goals and values. For example, instead of the more “traditional” savings goals, you may have more specific milestones, such as:
Traveling to see family
Tithing to your church
Donating to a community organization you’re passionate about
Spending money on experiences with loved ones, not more “stuff”
When your saving and spending goals are defined by priorities you actually value, you’re much more likely to stick with your budget for the long haul. Then, as you continue to find success with your budget, you’ll start to enjoy it rather than feel afraid of the process.
How to Start Conquering Your Fear of Budgeting
If you’re in a place right now where your budget is scarier than a Stephen King novel, don’t worry. You can start to conquer your fear with a few easy steps.
First, take some time to think about your goals. What do you want to get out of the next six months? How about a year from now? Knowing what you’re working toward both in the short and long term can be a huge help when it comes to structuring your budget. For example, you might say:
In six months, I want to have 3 months of living expenses in savings for an emergency fund.
In a year, I want to take an international trip with my spouse or partner.
In five years, I want to have all of my debt paid off.
With these goals in mind, you can determine how much of your budget needs to go to different savings goals, and how much needs to go toward debt repayment, each month. Once you have your goals outlines, you can start to think about how you want to spend in your daily life. What brings you the most happiness or fulfillment? For example, you might want to focus your spending on: Groceries because you love to cook.
Experiences with friends.
Traveling home to visit family in another state or out of the country.
Donating to your favorite nonprofit organization each month.
These values act as guideposts for your spending. Your budget might have a bigger line item for experiences with friends than it does for monthly subscription services. Or maybe you decide to downsize your living space to free up more cash flow to put toward traveling to see family a few times a year. The point is, your budget is designed to maximize your personal fulfillment - nobody else’s.
Finally, start tracking your spending and saving. Use a budgeting app like Mint.com or YNAB to stay organized and check your progress. Don’t be afraid to adjust your budget if you find that it’s just not working for your needs, or isn’t a realistic representation of what you spend.
To summarize, follow these three steps to kick your fear of budgeting to the curb:
Think about your short and long term financial goals.
Define your values - what do you spend money on that brings you happiness?
Set up a values-and-goals focused budget using a budgeting app!