Do you really need a budget?

Yes… and no….  here in Moneyland citizens are directed to live below your means and maximize your savings rate. Do you know if you’re doing that? Do you know what your savings rate is?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, then yes, you definitely need a budget. At least a temporary budget.

Why don’t we like ongoing budgets in Moneyland? One simple answer: variable expenses. 

Vacation, buying a car, buying a home, sending the kids to summer camp, paying off a medical bill, tuition, etc. are large, one time, variable expenses. Yes, ‘budgeting’ and saving for these expenses is important, but trying to use a monthly budget to plan for these and to keep track of every cent in a monthly accounting record is going to drive you crazy and is really not worth the mental energy to do on an ongoing basis. 

However, you will need a global view of your financial situation. When you’re just starting out or making a significant life change (moving, new job, new child), you definitely should budget out your fixed monthly expenses such as rent, car/loan payments, utilities, etc. and also track your (relatively) variable expenses – groceries, dining out, travel, ‘lifestyle’ expenses, etc. for at least 3-6 months.  This will give you a good sense of your current (or planned) financial situation. Next, look for areas to cut back — do you really need that Hulu subscription? Expensive car lease? Do you need to spend $200 a month at Starbucks? Make adjustments, and maximize savings. 

But what matters most? Your savings rate. 

What is your savings rate? It is your total savings divided by your gross monthly earnings. For example, if your monthly gross (pre-tax) income is $6,000 and you save $900, you’re in an okay spot – with a 15% savings rate ($900/$6000 = 0.15 or 15%). Note: yes, you can include your employer’s 401k match if you have it!

But what exactly, is your savings? It’s everything. You want to go on vacation? Retire? Pay for a wedding? Have an emergency fund? Pay for your kid’s college education? Got to pay for those large, one time expenses? That’s your savings. 

As you can imagine,  15% is just not enough. If that’s all you save for retirement alone, it will take 43 years of work until you can retire! That’s a long time. Too long for most of us here in Moneyland. Check out how many years it’ll take you to retire based on your current savings rate on the retirement calculator on Networthify 

So, what’s the ideal savings rate?

We here at Moneyland say at least 20-30% of your gross monthly income should be saved. At least 15% of that should be used for ‘retirement’ savings and the remainder 5-15% should be used to save up for those big, variable expenses. This is just enough to get by. Want to retire early? Get a sizable down payment on a dream home? Have a comfortable emergency fund? You’ve got to save more than that – usually up to 40-50%! 

Another good way to think about this is to say that you’re only going to live on 50-60% of your gross income and plan your spending accordingly, especially when looking for a new job, new place to live, or any other big financial life event. Can’t imagine living on that little? Well, cut your expenses, increase your income, or find a partner with a job.  

As you can imagine if you can save a significant amount,  this further makes having a budget truly not matter. If your savings go into separate account(s), then what’s left in your checking account is fine to spend on whatever you want! 

So who cares if you spend $250 a month on Starbucks if you you’re saving 50% of your income? If Starbucks is that important to you, does it really matter? No, it doesn’t. Budgeting and doing daily accounting of minutiae is touted  by so called personal finance ‘experts’ (looking at you Suze Orman …) but it drains your mental energy by pouring over countless transactions and questioning every $1 purchase to the point of neurosis as if those expenses will alter the course of your life. News flash – it likely won’t. Yes, you must live below your means and you must maximize your savings rate, but you can also enjoy your life in the meantime. 

Don’t waste your mental energy counting pennies, set your savings rate, protect that money and spend the rest however you see fit.  Once you’ve examined how you spend your money with a few months of tracking a budget, you can forget about it.

Want to get a quick, easy look to see how you’re spending money? Check out Personal Capital – it can give you a quick look at all the money coming and going in your accounts. 

So how exactly do you save your money? What accounts should you put your savings in? Should you invest it in stocks? Answers to this and more are coming up with our next posts! 

Don’t agree? Think you need a budget (YNAB)? Comment below

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