If I’ve heard it once (or some version of the following), I’ve heard it 1,000 times: “I don’t like numbers, they scare me. I can’t seem to sit down and put together a budget even though I know I really should.”
So let me get this straight – you’re scared (which means you’re not thinking as clearly as you’d like to), you think you’re “supposed to” put together a budget (which is like the universal swear word of money), and you are “shoulding” on yourself that it’s an exercise you have to go through (and be tortured it sounds like to me).
C’mon….how about a little compassion for yourself please? Is it possible for you to see that maybe it doesn’t have to be torturous and if you just had the right tools and information it would be easier? I’d like to help you shift your perspective to have building a financial plan be a more joyful experience so that you can have the financial freedom, independence and choice that you’re seeking.
The way I see it, there are 3 steps that are required “pre-work” before you ever start looking at numbers to develop your financial plan.
1) Retire the word budget from your vocabulary – I would say eliminate it, but since other people still use it frequently and we need to be able to recognize the word (I can only educate so many people at a time!), we’ll “retire” it for now. Why retire the word budget? Energetically speaking, budget just feels awful. It feels like you’re choking and like if you have a budget you’ll never be able to buy a cute pair of shoes or the newest technological gadget ever again. Sounds pretty miserable and life-sucking if you ask me, no wonder no one wants to put together a budget!
Instead of the word budget, I suggest using the phrase “savings and spending plan.” As one husband reminded me across the kitchen table during a session with his wife one day, “Beth, it’s the same thing, why get caught up in semantics?” My response? “Well your wife seems to be much more willing to participate in the conversation when we call it a “savings and spending plan” than when we call it a budget, right?” The husband smiled and said “excellent point.” Sometimes it really is the small tweaks in life that make the difference!
So stop thinking about budgeting as something that weighs you down, and instead start thinking about a “savings and spending plan” as something that is just a financial illustration of how you want your money to move in the world that will help you get from “here” to “there.”
2) Get really clear on what you want for your life – Before you plan your money, you need to spend a considerable amount of time thinking about what you want for your life. Money is nothing but a tool to help you move from your present to your future (from “here” to “there” remember?), and without some sort of path to follow money will just exist without purpose. Unless you tell money where to go it will go just about anywhere it wants to!
Being financially authentic means that you use your money in a way that aligns with what matters to you in your life. When you’re financially authentic, a financial plan is nothing more than the full expression of what is important to you and all of a sudden the energy around money becomes much less chaotic, and financial decisions are simplified. You have a road map for your life and your money and it provides you with clear guidance and direction.
In the end, a solid financial foundation and a good financial plan simply requires that you’re intentional, authentic, and proactive with managing your money. Get clear and get real about your life, and using your money efficiently and effectively will become much easier, I promise.
3) Set some specific goals with timelines – Now that you’ve gotten some clarity around what you want for your life, it’s time to set some specific goals so that you can then determine whether those goals will require money to support them. Not all goals need money, although many goals do need some level of financial support at some point in time.
When setting goals, I encourage people to think about them in 3 different time-based groups – short-term (1 to 3 years); medium-term (3 to 10 years); and long-term (10+ years). This is important because depending on the goal, it can impact whether or not it’s a goal that needs to be reflected in the current financial plan or whether it can wait to be included in a few years. Remind yourself when you’re setting your goals to be realistic – saying that you want a Ferrari in a year isn’t likely to be something that you can achieve (unless you randomly hit the lottery, and the lottery isn’t a financial plan it’s a fluke!).
Once you’ve determined which of the goals need money to support them, consider the short-term goals first and state the goals in a very specific and measurable way. For example, saying “I want to save more money” isn’t very specific, whereas “I want to save $1,200 in the next year to take a vacation in spring 2014” is very specific. The more specific goal allows you to measure out that you’d like to save $100/month toward that goal ($1,200 total / 12 months), whereas the more general goal doesn’t give you a solid target.
So before you even start to concern yourself with looking at the numbers, take some time to sink deep into your head and your heart to think about what you really want for your life. Are you happy as you are? Do you want to set a really big goal that needs financial support (i.e. like starting your own business)? Do you want to simplify things and live more peacefully and calmly without as much “stuff” cluttering up your life?
The options are endless, it’s simply up to you to choose and design a financial plan to match your life!