Personal Finance First Step: Mastering the Budget

If you are embarking on a personal finance journey, then let’s get you started on the right footing. Step one begins with mastering a budget. Some may scoff at me and say that I know nothing about becoming rich and getting to financial freedom. They laugh and say that I must not realize that reaching financial freedom lies in increasing income, rather than decreasing spending. But I know something that they don’t know.

You can increase your income, and never be financially free. It’s just a quick fix attempt, and usually, quick fixes do not work. In order to really tackle your personal finance, you need to start with the basics. You can’t just jump ahead to making a ton of money, because without mastering a budget, you’ll likely never see that extra money you make. If you’re like most Americans, you’ll spend it before it even gets to your bank account.

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Now I’m not naive enough to believe that mastering your budget is all it takes. I agree that there are limitations to mastering a budget. One can only cut their spending so much. On the flip side, one can increase their income exponentially…indefinitely, perhaps.

I, myself, am well aware of the need to increase income. I worked three jobs while going to undergrad to increase my income, but I also graduated in three years in order to cut spending. I was one of the few students who worked during dental school, just to make a little extra money. And even now, am a side-hustler of sorts. I work in dentistry, write on my own blog, write for other blogs, walk dogs via Rover, work the midnight shifts as a bread baker with Rye Goods, and bake my own bread to sell (currently I am applying for a license to open my own “bakery”). But before all of this, I mastered my budget.

Here’s the thing. I know many people who are high income earners. I define high income earners as people who make six digit incomes or more. Most of them are also swimming in debt. This debt includes car loans, mortgage loans, student loans, and even consumer debt. Unfortunately, lifestyle creep is real, and unless you’re well-versed in staving off advertisements who are convincing you to spend more as you earn more, you will likely be one of the top targets (and victims) of lifestyle inflation.

There’s a statistic swimming around that 80% of Americans do not have $2,000 set aside in an emergency fund. Eighty percent! The part that gets me is the fact that $2,000 won’t even cover most true emergencies. Medical bills are way more than $2,000. If something happens to your home, or someone loses a job, $2,000 won’t last most people one month in Southern California. While it’s hard to confirm the statistic, for they do have a tendency to appear out of nowhere and start floating around, I can confirm that many patients that I meet don’t have the income to jump into an emergency dental procedure right away. Yet many of them are working their tails off (I can’t tell you how many nightguards I’ve diagnosed to help with stressful grinding habits), and earning decent pay, and still, they have to “save up” to treat a tooth in pain. And trust me, you wouldn’t put off treating a tooth that really hurts, unless you absolutely have to. It’s a feeling one never forgets.

People are working longer hours and making more money, but are saving less and less. We’ve been raised to be consumers. It’s not an anti-consumerist society, I can tell you that. But we haven’t been taught how to be SMART consumers. I was never taught how to ration out my earnings. I was never taught to pay myself first. I was told that good credit is GOOD. Wrong. Good credit is bad, and bad credit is worse. People without credit history probably are the best with handling their money. (This does not mean they are the richest. Just that they are really good at handling money).

All of this to say, you can try to get rich by working your butt off. You can spend all the hours of your day for forty years of your life trying to make enough money, and then some. But you can’t be successful if you don’t know how to manage it. You can try to take the short cut, the quick way to success. But that’s what most Americans are doing, and eighty percent of them don’t have $2,000 set aside for emergencies.

If you were to take my advice, I’d say start mastering your budget. If that’s something you’ve wanted to do in 2019 but haven’t had the chance, check out my free course How to Create a Budgeting Tool, and get started today!

Why You Need A Budget

I always tell people how having a budget helped turn our life around. For some people, just the mention of the “B” word makes them cringe. There are many negative implications attached to budgeting, but I am here to tell you that they are not true. Many people believe having a budget is limiting, as if it will tell you what you can and can’t do. I completely disagree. I think having a budget is freeing, because it allows you to finally tell your money where to go. When you have a budget that works, you will have your money working for you, instead of the other way around.

You will never know how you are doing financially without measuring it in a factual manner. Likewise, you cannot improve if you don’t know what you need to improve upon. Numbers don’t lie, and your budget will be the best reflection of how well you do with controlling your spending. The first question I ask people who tell me they have difficulty saving money is, “how much are you spending each month on _____?” If they can’t give me a definitive number, then therein lies their problem. I liken it to people who say they can’t lose weight. If they don’t know how many calories their taking in and how many calories they’re burning per day, then how do they expect to have any grasp on the things they can improve on in order to see results. A budget is necessary in order to track progress. People will usually try to ball park their spending, but it never works. Why? Because we always underestimate how much we spend. It’s human nature. It’s difficult to understand what’s keeping us from financial freedom if we do not know what we are doing with our money.

Budgeting will teach you more about yourself, what you value, and what you want in your life.

There are many reasons why you may want to master your budget. Here are some ideas.

  • To free up your time. You may feel as if work is taking up all of your time. You may want to cut down on work or change jobs completely but you can’t do so because there are bills that need to be paid. A lifestyle needs to be supported. Getting your budget in order may be just want you need to decrease your spending, thus allowing you to take that part-time job or cutting down on your work hours. Some people even want to become so financially savvy that they can pursue complete financial independence and retire early!
  • To relieve stress. Having a shortage of money can be very stressful. However, if you budget correctly, you should never run into that situation. Mastering your budget gives you more flexibility and allows you to be better positioned to deal with unexpected expenses.
  • To have more freedom. The more financially secure you feel, the more freedom you will have when making life decisions such as changing jobs, quitting work, traveling the world, starting a business, starting a family, and more. When money is tight, these things may seem very risky. But when you have a grasp on your budget, you can predict how much freedom you have in pursuing your passions. For example, if your dream is to time off and travel the world in 2020, you can definitely make that dream happen but planning ahead and using your budgeting skills to prepare yourself for that.
  • To support yourself and your loved ones better. For me, this was MY “why”. I was graduating from dental school with over half a million dollars in student debt, and was also about to get married. I knew what a burden I was choosing to bring into our marriage. He didn’t mind it, but I did. I was propelled forward with this drive to release us from this student debt, so that we can be free to pursue the lives we want to lead without being tied to working in certain fields to support large loan payments. It isn’t fair that the person I most love would be affected by debt because of the career I chose to pursue. So I embarked on a journey to get our finances in tip top shape, and we have mastered our budget so well that what people once told us would be impossible to do is being done! They said we wouldn’t be able to pay off our debt in under ten years considering the salary we would be making. Well, we are on track for eight years, and it all started with mastering our budget!

So, do you have a budget? What’s stopping you? If you want to kickstart your budget and start telling your money where to go, check out my FREE course, How to Create A Budgeting Tool That Works, and start achieving your life goals sooner. I hope it helps you with your financial journey as much as it’s helped us.