Is there a more hated word in the world of personal finance? Probably not.
Most financial experts, while acknowledging that budgeting isn’t exactly fun, would say it is an important, or maybe even a crucial part of every successful personal finance plan.
Almost everyone else, however, leans toward the opinion that budgeting is a drag.
Not Jim Miller, though. His book, “Budgeting Doesn’t Have to Suck: For Young Adults Who Want More Money,” was first published in 2013. I recently read the second edition, published in 2020.
It’s a quick and easy read at an even 100 pages.
The first thing to emphasize about this book is that it will not teach you how to budget. Rather, Miller seeks to convince you that budgeting is worth your time and a smart thing to do.
The book is filled with general observations and truths about budgeting and personal finance.
Early in the book, he makes the point that budgeting doesn’t have to be restrictive: “Once you set freedoms in your budget, you will never feel guilty about spending.”
In other words, you can still go out to expensive restaurants, buy nice clothes, and/or have an expensive hobby. Just make sure you plan for the expense by putting it in the budget.
That way, you’re actually giving yourself permission to spend that money.
Miller writes that using a budget is helpful because it can help you determine if and how you are wasting your money. For instance, are you buying things you don’t need, or are you spending your money in a way that doesn’t line up with your values and goals?
Until you have a budget, you may not know the answer to those questions.
And don’t equate needing a budget with being poor. Miller writes, “Budgeting is for people who want to achieve their financial goals …”
That’s all you need to know right there. Do you have any financial goals? If not – that might be your problem. Set a few goals. Write them down and tell someone else about them.
Then work your financial goals into a budget.
Miller makes the great point to make sure your goals are realistic. That’s huge.
For example, let’s say you’re someone who absolutely loves going out to eat several times a week. It’s one of your favorite things to do. Therefore, is it realistic to expect you to quit eating out forever to save money? Of course not.
A more realistic and attainable goal would be to go out for dinner only three or four times a week instead of five times a week.
That way, you still get to enjoy a favorite activity, but at the same time, you will save some money each week, and that will help you meet one of your financial goals.
I also appreciate Miller’s point that budgets are fluid for most people, especially at first.
If you find that you over or underestimated any expense or income amount in your first few budgets, it doesn’t mean you failed at budgeting. Just change the amount for your next budget.
You might even have to adjust the amount for a few categories for the next two or three budgets until you get it right. That’s fine.
A budget that isn’t perfect but is mostly correct will still be more helpful than no budget at all.
Miller is a big fan of automating. Automating is simply setting up your various financial accounts to take a specified action every month, without you needing to do anything.
For example, you could set up an automatic contribution to your retirement account or your emergency fund every month.
Then you can’t forget or be tempted to spend the money on something else. It happens every month, automatically.
Overall, I found Miller’s book to be full of solid financial advice. Most anyone could benefit from reading it. It would be especially helpful for someone on the fence about budgeting.
If you’re dragging your feet on creating a budget, if it’s something you know you should do but just need a little nudge, read this book.
You’ll likely be motivated to finally create your first budget, once you realize that budgeting doesn’t have to be a bore.
Dave Kinzer is a music teacher and a financial coach in Springfield. Contact him at www.davekinzer.com. His column will appear here every other Wednesday.