How I learned to stop worrying and love my budget

We talk up budgets quite a bit here at MMI, and with just cause: they’re pretty awesome. Anyone with short-term and long-term goals can benefit from a budget. Really, anyone who has money and then spends that money can benefit from a budget. Rich, poor, middle-class, or however you define yourself, a budget can help you make the most of your money.

Which leads to the question: if budgets are so great, why do so many people not use them?

A recent survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that 61 percent of adults do not maintain a budget. That’s the largest percent of respondents without a budget in six years – which, you may notice, coincides with the beginning of the financial crisis of 2008.

This would seem to suggest that as America’s economy has slowly and steadily recovered from the Great Recession and the average American’s personal economy has improved, people feel less inclined to budget out their finances.

But budgets aren’t simply an invention of tough economic times. You can – and should – budget your money when things are going well, too. So why do so many Americans skip such a crucial step on the path towards financial wellness? There can be any number of reasons why people choose not to use a budget, but there are two fairly common ones:

I don’t need one

A budget is a game plan. It identifies what you want to achieve and gives you the plays necessary to successfully reach your objective. To carry the metaphor a little further, every team has a game plan – no matter how big or small the payroll, they all have goals and they all create a plan to hopefully reach those goals.

The term budget, however, is often used to mean something else: cheap. When a company puts “budget” in its title it’s trying to convey a sense of affordability. In a lot of ways, we’ve attached this sense of thriftiness to the concept of budgeting. This creates the viewpoint that you only need a budget if you're struggling financially, which isn’t true at all.

If you’re doing well, that’s great. There are few things in life more satisfying than feeling financially secure. But consider the possibility that you could be doing better. And not by working harder or sacrificing more of yourself, but simply by managing your money more efficiently. That’s what having a smart budget allows you to do – make the absolute most of what you already have. There’s hardly anyone who couldn’t benefit at least a little bit from a solid budget.

It’s too complicated

You can make budgeting as simple or as complex as you want. You can spreadsheet every nickel and dime from here to the Moon and back again. Or you can skip the spreadsheets altogether. You want a simple budgeting tool? Grab some envelopes.

There are a lot of variations of the envelope method, but it basically boils down to taking the money you have available for the month (or the next two weeks) and physically sorting it into envelopes based on what you want to spend. Put your allotted food money in the Grocery envelope. Put your allotted entertainment money in the Entertainment envelope. You then pay those expenses out of their corresponding envelopes. If an envelope runs out too soon? Then you need to go without or pull from another envelope. If an envelope still has money at the end of the month? Put it into savings. (If you don’t use cash – and most of us don’t – use paper markers to represent what you’re spending. Bonus points for using Monopoly money.)

The best kind of budget is the one you’ll actually use. If it’s too complicated or time-consuming, pick a simpler method. Find something that fits your lifestyle and stick with it.

No matter who you are or how much you have, your budget is what you make of it. It’s a beautiful tool that changes and conforms to the needs of every unique user. Don’t forsake your budget! It can only make things better.

Want to learn more about building your budget? Visit the Budget Education page for tips and tools!

Need help understanding your finances and putting together a realistic budget? Speak to a counselor today for free! 

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.