Budgeting? Keep it Simple, Stupid.

BearMoney Team

BearMoney Team

BearMoney is the balanced finance blog for new and old Canadians alike. We are a team of people living international that research, write, and share

Simple Budgeting

Budgeting is for everyone

Budgeting is a hot topic in the personal finance community. A lot of people look for a specific budget to help them, or for a technological solution. The most common suggestions range from not budgeting ‘at all’ or following a set pattern around percentages like 50-30-20.

They’re simple solutions to a complex problem and can be very useful. The real problem we encounter when we try to find a workable budget is scaling. Scaling refers to the ability to improve and increase without having to put in too much effort. For the budgeter it means investing the least amount of time to constantly budget better.

Ok, so you’re probably wondering how you go from a confused person with $5 in your checking account to a natural budgeter with a money mindset? One rule: Keep it Simple, Stupid.

BMB Term

Natural Budgeter

Somebody who subconsciously makes the correct spending decisions in their everyday life

The KISS Principle for Budgets

Keeping it simple is one of the best pieces of advice that you can ever receive about becoming a ‘natural budgeter’ . Overcomplication leads to stress which increases the risk of failure. Our goals are rarely ever complicated, they might be difficult to achieve, but they are usually very simple. Making more money, simple. It might take
years but there’s no complexity to it.

On the journey to the financial independence, 90% of your daily actions will be straightforward and manageable. It makes sense therefore that you should start as simply as possible. There is no point in starting out developing a pension investment strategy when you aren’t saving enough to invest in the first place. In the same way, if you find yourself wanting to ‘spend less’ on take out food, starting off by cooking complex meals is not
going to push your forward.

Start with small, repeating change – Easy tasks that your can carry on for life

When you have enough practice doing the basics you can of course add in more and more complex actions over time. It’s important to remember that you are trying to succeed, to reach that SMART goal and unlock your money potential.

It doesn’t matter if it takes a year longer. It’s okay to repeat small steps like making your own coffee for months before you start investing in gold bars. We want to get to the goal, we want to keep momentum. The straightness of the path there or our speed doesn’t matter, forward is forward. When we start simple we maximize the chances of
building unstoppable momentum.

Some small steps: Putting a number on maximum meals out/ take out, picking five things to buy in bulk at the store. Putting $10 a week in a ‘treat fund’.

space grey ipad air with graph on brown wooden table
Fancy Apps are great but don’t let them be a crutch

Fancy Apps vs Simple Tools

Thanks to the explosion in both social media and smart tech, thousands of people have an outlet to share tips and tricks on personal finance and personal growth. Large corporations have also got in on the action with many banks offering their customers apps that can track their spending, manage bills etc etc.

Many of these apps are free so it would be stupid not to recommend that you investigate if there is on out there that can help you for no cost to yourself. However, it is vital that you understand the fundamentals of your plan before you start relying on any other technology.

This isn’t to trash spending apps or investment apps or anything similar. Instead it’s a note that technology is often used as a crutch for poor mindset . A perfect example of this are apps that invest or save your ‘spare change’ for you. They exist because there is a demand for them. There is a demand because people are too lazy to invest 10 hours a
year into clicking a few tabs on a bank/investment portal. This lack of effort adds up!

Unfortunately, they are useless for people with >$1,000 to invest, and really, you shouldn’t be buying securities like stocks without a spare $1,000. If money is that tight your spare change can be put to better use. Overall these apps will make you feel like you’re doing something when you really have more efficient options long-term.

In the same way, a simple excel spreadsheet can be more useful than a budgeting app. If your goal is based around mindfulness and not purely fiscal, apps are definitely not the way to go. Treat apps like you treat social media, a useful tool that requires discipline to avoid the negative consequences.

If you are starting out on a saving/spending/investing journey, the best thing to do at the start is to use the simplest spreadsheet you can find or make yourself. It is about forming habits, unfortunately it has to be a bit boring to start off with.

You can even just use a piece of legal pad paper to track what you are doing, it’s about getting the gears turning, not saving the world!

Step by Step is the best way to climb

Increment Change – Crawl, Walk, Run

Very, very few people can do anything cold turkey. It is one of the largest myths in the personal finance community that you can just start ‘crushing it’ straight away.

Thankfully this is a minority view and most people understand that you have to think and act sustainably. Yes, you might be able to spend 40 hours a week on a side hustle from day 1, but it will be inefficient and you will burn out fast.

This isn’t to say that you can perform at a high level, or that you can’t progress quickly. To put it simply, you can only start at your existing skill level. If you want to make extra money as a baker, you’re going to have to either practice baking or bake only what you currently know. The same is true for investing or budgeting. The baby steps are the most
important steps.

Breaking this down gives us three phases of your mindset development: crawling, walking, and running. This is a pretty common analogy but how exactly does it apply to the Money Mindset?

Crawling : Crawling is the most basic range of activities that somebody chasing your goal needs to do. For example, in budgeting, crawling is actually tracking your spending. Crawling is what you can do right now but aren’t.

Walking : Walking is the first practical application of your new skills. To walk you are going to need to step outside your comfort zone and start acting like the person you want to be. For example, in budgeting, walking is having/monitoring a budget and sticking to it. Walking is what you could do with a little practice.

Running : Running is the final stage of reaching your SMART goals. When you are running you are almost on autopilot and your goals are a matter of if, not when. For example, in budgeting, running is being able to stick within your budget with minimal effort, where your saving goals are on target and time is the only factor. Running is
what you can do once you have honed your skills to a working standard. So when you know what the basic steps are, and you can give a range of success, you can start. It really is that simple. You don’t need complexity to start, only what
knowledge you already possess.

happy woman shopping online at home
Reverse budgeting – Spend and Splurge

Reverse Budgeting – Run Before You Walk?

There are, of course, many more ways to get you into shape for your ‘financial marathon’, one of them being ‘Reverse Budgeting’ AKA ‘Paying Yourself First’. This powerful but simple tool appears to be the exact opposite of what we just talked about above, it seems like it teaches you to run before you can walk. The truth however, is something different entirely.

Reverse budgeting is actually a system based on the belief that there are only two core metric of the money mindset – saving rate, and fixed costs.

On a reverse budget the only two skills you need to hone are the discipline of meeting your fixed costs (mortgage/rent, debt, utilities etc) and the habit of investing regularly (X% of each paycheck into a separate account). Once you account for this, the reverse budget doesn’t care what you do with the rest of the money. It really is that straightforward.

If you can meet those two requirements reverse budgeting will never fail you. However, if you have poor financial habits it will not save you. At some point, you will need to suspend or change your budgeting strategy, this is a fact of life. If you have not cultivated good habits, you will not be able to manage.

The good news is that the longer you practice reverse budgeting the more likely you are to notice patterns in your spending behavior. This will only help you on your journey. Nevertheless, reverse budgeting is something that you will have to consider in the context of your individual mindset.

If you blow $800 a month on takeout you need more than a reverse budget.

Trust your gut in budgeting
Your gut will take you to the Moon!

Trust Your Gut

This is a simple but important tip. Many times we can get caught up in our goals and our plans to the point of anxiety. The reality is that what we wanted and what we planned can sometimes be wrong. That is not the end of the world.

If your gut is telling you that your goal and approach is no longer what you want, it’s ok to start again. Don’t be a slave to the SMART goals, your plans, the budget strategy, or any system in any book you’ve read. Becoming a natural budgeter is as much about trial and error as it is about consistently replicating your successes.

This is a marathon, not a sprint, and mistakes will even out with victories over the course of your lifetime and get you where you need to go.

So long as you make it simple, try, build and rebuild, you will be in great shape. It’s your financial independence, so keep it simple, stupid!


3 Responses

  1. Love this! So important to keep it simple! Too many people get so caught up with fancy apps and tricks that they forget to do just the basic!
    Keep it simple stupid- love it!!

  2. Yeah, I just use excel to track my budget. 🙂 I don’t get too complicated with it. I have heard the term “reverse budgeting” but didn’t know exactly what that meant so thanks for clearing that up for me… I wouldn’t recommend for those who haven’t lived on a real budget before.

  3. I love keeping things simple. I like how you mentioned the Reverse Budget too. It is so important to pay yourself first and then use the left over money to pay for rent, food, and other necessities. Keeping the budget simple is not always easy. You just need to start and track expenses and create a budget from that.

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