The Un-Budget

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I hate budgeting. It’s so tedious and boring that I find it hard to stick with. As a naturally thrifty person, I’ve typically relied on the “gut check” method of budgeting instead. By that I mean I’ve had an intuitive sense for how much my earning compared to my spending. I was confident each month I wasn’t going into the red and when I felt like I’d built up a bit of a cushion, I’d start thinking about making a larger purchase or planning a trip. Other than that I didn’t pay too much attention.

I’ve tried several budgeting apps and tools that supposedly make budgeting easier. At best the spending category breakdowns that most seem to center around were only marginally insightful. At worst they felt paternalistic, like they were scolding me for being $3 over my coffee budget for the month. Maybe an extra latte made the difference in that big presentation, Mint, did you ever think about that?!

The problem with the “gut check” method is that I was in the dark about what my financial truths were. What did my spending patterns look like? What was normal for me? What trends were emerging over time? Was I OK with all of this?

Having this baseline understanding also turned out to be crucial for planning ahead. Knowing how much to have on hand in case of emergencies and how much I’d need to plan for in retirement all started with a monthly financial snapshot. Connecting today’s spending with tomorrow’s saving was also a missing piece for me.

With all that in mind, I created an ‘Un-Budget.’ It quickly allows me to see spending patterns so I can make decisions more confidently. It’s now much easier for me to answer a question that has often loomed large with bigger purchases: “Should I afford it?” Even if I knew I could afford something – I could cover the purchase without jeopardizing monthly rent or being forced to eat Top Ramen – I didn’t have a sense for the longer term impact a large purchase today might have. My Un-Budget pulls from Yodlee, so it still has all the automated goodness of those other budgeting apps that are probably still wagging a finger at me from my inbox.

If you’d like to try out my Un-Budget, send me a note and I’ll pass it along.