Budgets aren’t easy – especially when you first start one. Over the last several years, I’ve been researching various budgeting methods, talking with financial professionals about the topic, reviewing budgeting articles as a part of my work, and using trial and error to weed out the good tactics from the bad.
Occasionally, I’ll receive some questions from friends and family regarding budgeting, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned. Below, I’ve included a few of the most common budgeting questions I’ve received and some answers to help you with your budget.
1. What are some budgeting programs that are worthwhile?
I’ve used a handful of different programs, but currently my favorite is MoneyWell. YNAB is another good program if you don’t own a Mac or iPad with which you can use MoneyWell. YNAB is compatible with Mac, however, if you want to try it out anyway.
I’ve found MoneyWell to be powerful and flexible. It’s one of the more advanced programs out there, and after dedicating a few hours to play around with it, you’ll start to get the hang of how it works – it’ll be well worth your time. Both MoneyWell and YNAB use the zero-based budgeting method (also called zero-sum budgeting) to help you keep tabs on your money.
If you’re not wanting to “give every dollar a name” and use something a little simpler but not as good at saving you money, you might want to try Mint. I’d encourage you, however, to steer away from this method of budgeting and take the time to learn something a little more advanced.
2. How many budgeting categories do you have?
Whenever I talk with newbies to budgeting, they typically tell me they are thinking of having somewhere around 10 budgeting categories. Even some long-time budgeters only use a few categories. In light of this information, my answer might surprise you.
I have 63 budgeting categories. Yes, I counted them.
If that scares you, please don’t fret. I certainly didn’t start with this many categories. My recommendation if you’re just starting out, is to sit down for an hour or so and brainstorm all your potential budgeting categories. You’ll probably come up with a list much shorter than mine, and you can add categories as you see fit over time. By the way, if you want something you can print out, try my Budget Category Brainstormer – it has over 80 categories to start you out.
If you’ve been budgeting for years, and you have far less categories than I do, that’s totally fine. Just remember, the more you fine-tune your budgeting categories, the more control you’ll have over your spending. And whatever you do, please don’t have a miscellaneous category – these types of categories represent a major leak in your budget.
3. How should I use my budget to time my bill payments?
I don’t recommend timing your bill payments. Surprised? I don’t know about you, but the thought of making sure this paycheck comes in so that I can pay that bill doesn’t sound like much fun. Sounds ultra-stressful to me.
Instead, I recommend getting yourself to a point to where you can spend this month’s income next month. By doing this, on the first day of every month, you’ll have enough money to pay all of your bills throughout the month with money to spare.
4. How do I not be “the nagging spouse” when it comes to tracking transactions?
It’s true of just about every relationship that one spouse is noticeably more interested in budgeting than the other. And when it comes to tracking transactions, the more interested spouse might feel as if they’re nagging the other spouse to record transactions in the budget. Conversely, a spouse might feel like they’re being nagged, which could further discourage them away from the budgeting process.
In our household, I’m the main manager of the finances and my wife reviews my budget proposals. The first couple years we started budgeting, I would have to ask my wife if she had given me all the receipts day to day. Later, I realized that I should just ask my wife to enter her own transactions via her smartphone. Ever since, she’s been doing so and is happy to help track the transactions – I don’t have to be the nagging spouse now!
If you’re struggling with your spouse to get on the same page, and you’re both willing to put in the effort to do so but don’t know where to start, I’d suggest getting a financial coach who can help you through the process.
Perhaps you have a few questions of your own? Leave a comment! I’ll try to answer as many of them as possible, and invite you to share your thoughts with other readers as well.