What is Zero-Based Budgeting?

If it isn’t obvious to you yet, budgeting is my jam. I can spend hours poring over expenses and spreadsheets, helping people look for ways to best allocate their money and meet their financial goals. I love it when people have a realization of how they can use their money more effectively. Those little ‘aha!’ moments keep me going. I’m passionate about this because I believe it’s crucial to your ability to manage money. Budgeting just makes everything easier and more organized. In my coaching practice, I help people get organized and on a path to winning with money. And it’s a blast.

I coach people to use a zero-based budget. I think it’s the best method, but I recognize that it’s just one of many paths to success that are also viable and helpful. I want you to make a budget and I want you to win with money. Above all, I want you to make the best decisions with your money. To help with this, I’m going to describe some of the best money-management methods out there, starting with zero-based budgeting. As I go through these, think about how they might help your life and finances.

What is Zero-Based Budgeting?

Zero-based budgeting is an accounting method in which all expenses must be justified for each new period. This type of budgeting starts from scratch, or a “zero base”, and causes you to decide if you really have a need for all your expenses. It’s typically used in organizations, but you can apply it to your finances as well.

The other key component of this type of budget is that you spend all your money on paper. You allocate everything down to the last cent to make sure you are spending intentionally.

Let’s look at these two pieces in greater detail.

1. You start from scratch, and nothing is safe.

With a zero-based budget, your job is to put your goals first by getting rid of or cutting the expenses you don’t need. Every time you sit down to write your budget, you assess what you need to keep or let go of in order to win with money. Could you meet your goals a lot faster if you stop eating out, or switch to biking instead of driving, for instance? What if you downgraded to a cheaper apartment and groceries at your local supermarket, instead of shopping at Whole Foods? These are the questions you’d ask yourself when building your zero-based budget. It’s not to make your life miserable; it’s to give you more options when prioritizing the things you truly want.

Why this matters

The benefit to this is that it gets you to re-evaluate your values on a regular basis. It gives you the opportunity to address any frivolous spending and to ask yourself if the things you are spending money on are really investments in yourself and the life you want to live. By starting from scratch every time, it gives you the opportunity to put yourself first. It won’t matter what kind of budget you had before this new one – you get to start fresh and do better.

2. Your budget must equal zero

When you make a zero-based budget, you plan to use all your money. You don’t have to plan to spend it all (in fact, I don’t recommend this), but you at least need to allocate every cent. For instance, if you bring home $2,500 after taxes during a pay period, you need to plan out how you will use all $2,500 dollars. You need to know what you’ll be spending on food, transportation, gas, utilities, etc., and have your plan in place to save or use the rest.

You’re being very intentional with your money.

Why this matters.

Making a zero-based budget is your opportunity to be proactive with your money. Even if you give away most of your money to bills, you still get to make the plan of how you will do this. It puts you in the drivers seat, giving you some control over your financial situation. You get to make your money work for you, instead of being disorganized and at its mercy.

Additionally, this is another way to make sure you are using your money efficiently and effectively in service of your goals. If you don’t have a plan for your money, you’ll be much more likely to waste it and wind up in a bad spot financially. The last thing you need when you are working to accomplish your goals is to have your money slip through the cracks. Hell, that’s the last thing you ever need.

Final thoughts

Zero-based budgeting is an incredibly powerful system. Given that it forces you to confront your values AND your habits, I’d say it’s the best system for personal change/long-term growth. But, of course, I’m biased. I’m happy to talk more about your situation and see if we can work together. More than anything, I’d encourage you to find the system that works best for you. Your overall success is what matters most.

Let me know what you think of zero-based budgeting. Did I miss anything? Are there other systems that work better?

Best of luck and happy budgeting!

3 Things That Will Make You Better At Budgeting

Learning to manage money is no small task. The time and effort it takes to reach get it right can be daunting, and the journey can be made all the more confusing by the abundance of (often conflicting) information out there to help guide you. Despite this, the journey is well worth it. If you can stick with it, your knowledge and your confidence will grow. Most importantly, so will your options, and so will your bank account.

My goal is to help make this process easier for you. To this end, I want to share some simple tips to win with money that I think everyone will agree with. I’ll add my own overly complicated, conflicting analysis later 😉

Make managing your money a habit

No new skill or habit comes without consistent dedication and practice. In order to win at managing your money, you need to make budgeting and financial education a regular part of your life. This means making room in your daily and weekly schedule to review and update your budget, consulting your budget before paying bills and making purchases, and reading up on personal finance. You have to embrace new, positive financial habits. Otherwise you’ll keep getting the same results.

Trust in the budgeting process

Change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s unrealistic to think that all your problems will be solved the first time you make a budget, that you can go to sleep broke or disorganized and wake up a millionaire. Fairy tales like that are reserved for lottery winners, athletes, and movie stars.

While it may work like that for you (and kudos if it does), winning with money usually takes a lot longer. In that way, money management is a long-term process. So stick to your budget and your goals. You will see progress. Trust that the process is working and that you will see results over time. Keep your goals in mind and trust that if you spend within your budget, you will succeed.

Believe you can win with money

It sounds silly, but belief is key to winning in any area of life. Whether it’s getting a new job, losing weight, or, yes, achieving your financial goals, believing that you can do it will make all the difference. It will make you more motivated, more confident in your abilities, and more committed to your plan more than you would have been otherwise.

If you currently find it hard to believe that you can get out of debt or save money, let me tell you the truth: If you put in the effort, you will succeed. Millions of people have done it before you. When you focus on your goals and have a solid plan, nothing can stop you. Not the government, not other people, and not your circumstances. Winning with money takes energy, dedication, and time. You can do it. See the points above for more inspiration.

There you have it! Three simple ways to help you win at managing money. As you can see, it’s not difficult. It’s not easy, but it isn’t difficult, either. Your success comes down to your actions and your beliefs. Fortunately, you have a lot of help in this, which brings me to my final point:

BONUS: Get an accountability partner

While winning with money is your personal journey, there’s no reason you have to go at it alone. A great way to help you stay on track is to get an accountability partner. A partner you trust will help you stay focused and motivated, will help you learn more, and help you accomplish more than you could have on your own. That kind of support is worth its weight in gold.

Let me know what you’d add to this list of ways to win with money. Good luck, and happy budgeting!

Specificity: The Key to Achieving Your Goals

“I’m going to pay off at least $21,500 in student loan debt next year”.

My heart skipped a beat. My palms started sweating, and it wasn’t because of the summer heat; my mind and body was sending me signals that I couldn’t do it.

“Hey,” I said to myself, cutting off the negative mental chatter. “I’m going to pay off at least $21,500 in student loan debt next year. I can do it. It will work”.

I was giving myself this pep talk last August on the eve of paying off an $8,500 debt. This seemed like a lot to pay off when I set the goal in December 2018, yet I managed to do it in nine months. It got me thinking of what else I could do.

“HEY! Listen. You can do this. You can reach this goal. Focus in and get serious”.

The part of me that was scared finally got on board and helped me break the goal into more manageable pieces.

“I’d need to pay off at least $1,791.66 each month. That’s $447.92 per week”.

“I’d also need to work at least 6 hours per week at my part-time job, as well as any overtime hours at my full-time job that I can get”…

The more specific I got with my goal, the more I believed I could do it. The specificity gave me objective proof that it was possible: the numbers showed me exactly what I needed to do to succeed.

Even though the goal was lofty to me, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was going to achieve it if I followed my plan. The path ahead was as clear as day*.

Making your goals specific

You’ll need to set goals to better your finances. Whether you want to save money or pay down debts like me, you’ll need to decide what you want and come up with a plan of action. I think your goals should stretch you a little bit. If you always feel comfortable with your goals and plans, you aren’t growing as much as you could. So challenge yourself to go for the dreams that seem out of reach. You’ll be asking yourself to do something you’ve never done, and you may feel resistance as a result. If this happens and you start thinking of excuses for why you can’t reach your goal, get specific.

The great thing about goals is that you can break them down into the steps you need to complete them. You do this to create actionable steps that help you succeed. I didn’t have $21,500 on hand to pay off my debt. I knew if I wanted to succeed, I’d need to make $21,500 over the course of the year. That meant breaking my yearlong goal into monthly and weekly goals, and then figuring out how many hours I’d need to work each week. I even went as far as developing a spreadsheet to calculate this information in real time.

The end result was that my goal stopped being overwhelming and became doable. It put responsibility back on my shoulders by making my success or failure up to me.

When looked at in their smaller pieces, your goals will appear more manageable, too. From there, it’s just a matter of accomplishing the smaller tasks until you get what you want. If you’re ever feeling stuck, ask yourself how you could break what you’re trying to do into even smaller pieces. I can guarantee that by figuring out those smaller steps, you’ll feel more empowered to accomplish your goal.

Good luck, and happy budgeting!

*Unfortunately, I couldn’t predict COVID-19 or the effect it would have on the world. My industry has ground to a halt and, like everyone else in the world, I’ve been forced to put my life on hold. This includes pausing my goal. I’ve switched to using my emergency budget to protect my finances against economic further changes and I am using my time to learn about business and finance. When this ends, I’ll be ready to pick up where I left off. My plan may have changed but my goal has stayed the same.

The Number One Thing To Understand About budgeting

Most people want a quick fix. Don’t be like most people. Our culture promises instant results and immediate solutions to problems. But these quick fixes leave out the growth that comes with longer paths to success.

We get so focused on results that we forget that we can gain a ton from the process of reaching our goals. Yes, we want the end result; that is why we are starting the process, after all. But I argue that you can learn from the process and still get your result.

The lessons you learn along the way to your goal change you and make you better. Consider someone who wants to lose weight. They could hire a plastic surgeon to make them look fit and trim, but they’d lose out on the knowledge, experience, and confidence that comes from natural weight loss:

  • Lose weight cheaply
  • Learn to prepare meals and eat properly for their body type,
  • Learn how to exercise to lose weight and build muscle,
  • Learn to set and achieve fitness goals,
  • Learn to stick to a plan even when things get tough,
  • Learn to fight through their mental barriers, and
  • Gain the confidence of knowing they can succeed if they put in the effort

On top of that, they would actually be healthy and good-looking on the inside and out. Sure it would take longer, but I’d argue that the benefits of true change outweigh the downsides of the time it took to get there.

The thing to understand about budgeting

You could win the lottery. You could inherit money. You could win a court case. You could be the number-one draft pick in the NBA. Those can be amazing gifts in their own right, and I wouldn’t want to take away from anyone who has the skill or luck to find themselves in such a situation. But none of those scenarios will teach you about managing money. Budgeting will, though. So will understanding your relationship with money. So will learning about personal finance so you can make choices that better serve you and the life you want to build.

If you want to get rich quick, this isn’t the website for you. But if you want to learn how to manage your money so you can be financially fit on the inside and out, stick around. Fully commit to your financial growth. Take your time. It will be time well spent.

Learn to enjoy the process as much as the product, and you’ll make sure you have the tools to use your money wisely and achieve the life you envision for yourself.

Most people want a quick fix. Don’t be like most people.

5 Signs Your Budget is working

Budgeting can take a while to get right. It’s important to have patience with yourself and the process. It’s also important to understand that your budget will never be done: It’s a living document that grows and changes as you do. The more you learn, the more your budget should evolve. Additionally, your budget should change with your life’s circumstances. A new job, living situation, goal – these should all cause you to adjust your budget.

Your budget is a tool to be sharpened, not left in the corner to collect dust. Don’t become complacent and let it stagnate. That’s a surefire way to fail.

All of this may leave you feeling discouraged.

I started this to take control and find peace!

I can understand that. After all, you are motivated to make changes and you want to see the fruits of your labor. It takes time to form new habits and set your budget for success. If you’re feeling this way, stop and take a look around. I can assure you the signs of your progress are there. Success leaves clues, and there are bound to be signs that you are succeeding with your budget. See if any of these seem familiar.

Your budget is lean and optimized

All your money is being spent in ways that most help you meet your goals. You’ve gotten rid of all the expenses you no longer need or use (old memberships and subscriptions, etc.).

You consistently pay all your bills on time

You’ve budgeted the right amount of money at the right times to make sure all your bills are paid each month. You don’t have to worry that you won’t have the money to cover a payment; you’ve planned ahead to know exactly how much you need and when.

You are able to pay off your debt

You’re able to pay off your debts while successfully managing your other bills and financial obligations. You’ve organized your budget so that you can pay more than the minimum balance of your debts. How much more you pay depends on you, but you know that if you keep working at it you’ll pay them all off.

You enjoy reviewing your budget

You feel pleased with where you’re at financially because you’re seeing progress. You’ve bought into the fact that your budget is a benefit to your life and you’re more than happy to look over your budget and see it working its magic.

You feel less stressed about money

You’re paying your bills on time. You’re slowly but surely meeting your financial goals. You’re happy with where you are at the moment and you know that, with time, you’ll get everything you want. You feel more relaxed knowing that all your financial actions are part of a grander financial plan. You know that your money is being used in a way that benefits your life, and that your actions today will set future-you up for success. You get to walk around with confidence knowing your actions are taking you where you want to go.

From here, you know you can make more money and it will help you work your plan even more. You’re organized and focused, and that additional money will help you get there even faster.

It may take a while for you to realize all of these benefits, but stick with it. It will be worth the time you put into it when your budget starts working for you. Trust in the process and keep up the good work.

Good luck and happy budgeting!