3 tips to budget like nobody's watching

Table full of food
Illustration by Kendra Yee

What if we told you that you already have all the money you need? Enough cash to cover your expenses, pay your debts, maybe even save a bit for your future. You’re probably rolling your eyes right now, but a lot of personal finance issues come down to the maxim, it’s not how much money you make, it’s how much money you save. Enter the concept of budgeting, one of the least sexy words in the English language, ranking just ahead of “lawnmower,” and just behind “extraction.” But like all the other non-glamorous things we do in life, like, say, cleaning the cat’s litter box or filing our taxes, avoidance isn’t exactly a great idea. Fun? Fun!

Here are three tips to get started:

1. Define the why of it all

Think about why you’re trying to save money. And don’t stop there. Visualize that vacation, that hatchback, that conquered debt, and how it’ll make you feel to realize these goals. When you have a vivid idea of what you’re saving for, you’re much more likely to resist temptations and stick to your budget.

2. Set it and forget it

Track your cashflow—every dollar in and out every month. You'll probably find at least one expense that can go. Maybe it’s a subscription that got you through the deepest, darkest, sunset-sellingest days of the pandemic, but that’s become less essential for you since. Cancel it. And re-route that cash into an automatic investment. A robo-advisor can make it easy to sock your money away—even $25 at a time—and invest it automatically when you reach a minimum investment threshold.

3. Factor in some fun

The whole reason you earn (or borrow) money is to use it. Being ultra-restrictive might seem like the fastest way to build up your savings, but that approach is more like a crash diet than a long-term path to prosperity. That’s why any successful budget allows you to enjoy the little things too: a coffee here and there, or dinner out with friends. The key is to be intentional. Are you spending disposable money on things you don’t even enjoy? Those sad, soggy lunches from the takeout place around the corner, for example? Allocate those funds to things you do like, and you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to stick with your plan.

Taking a close look at your daily spending habits might feel, at first, like listening to a recording of your own voice. It‘s personal and triggers all sorts of vulnerabilities. But give it a chance, and before long it might even become so natural—and the rewards so satisfying—that it won’t feel like a limitation at all. 

We can help.

Your budget is the bedrock of your financial plan—and we offer pro bono financial planning to every member of Canada’s legal community. The term "pro bono” is short for pro bono publico, "for the public good." We don’t offer free financial planning because it’s good for business. We offer free financial planning because it supports the well-being of a community we’re proud to serve. Talk to a financial planner about managing debt, saving for your future, and creating a budget that leaves room for living. 

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