You Need a Budget (Financial Security)

Budgeting is one of the most beneficial skills you can learn. My story is proof.

Mark Bailey

My Life Before Budgeting

Many years ago, before I went to college, I wanted to start my own life. My two friends already had a house, so I transitioned from living with my parents to living with them. This gave me the life freedom I thought I wanted, but with no financial stability. I lived paycheck-to-paycheck, struggled to pay my credit card bills, overdraft fees were a constant worry, and I’d even have to resort to eating ONLY bread so I could survive. After a traumatizing incident, I decided it was time for a life change. My family gave me plenty of encouragement to move to Florida and pursue a bachelor's degree in creative writing. It was time to put my life on hold, find my passion, and give my life some direction. Unfortunately, I still had a terrible credit score and tons of already existing student loan debt waiting for me on the other side.

My First Step to Financial Recovery

After college, I returned home and got a full-time job working as a grocery stocker, just to start bringing in some income. My goal also became to chip away at my large credit card debt. Initially, I felt pretty discouraged. I remember having an epiphany about wanting to be free from financial stress. After being so tired from the stress, I decided to put my complete focus on gaining enough money to pay off my credit cards. After grinding my face off at work, I achieved my initial goal. Despite leaving my debit card at under $100, I had finally taken the first leap. Now, with the help of my dad, it was time to get an account set up on a program called YNAB (You Need a Budget).

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What is YNAB?

YNAB is a subscription-based software that allows you to log transactions, budget your money, and give you peace of mind when paying off credit card debt. It can seem a bit jarring to consider paying for something that you could make for free with spreadsheets. However, there are multiple reasons why YNAB is a no-brainer to have.

  1. Once you make the initial payment, you have the opportunity to budget for next year’s subscription and every year after.
  2. You can automatically import transactions by linking YNAB to your bank account. Importing transactions allows you to see every transaction that comes in, right from YNAB. It’s also nice because you’ll notice if money is being taken out of that account that you didn’t even realize was being taken out.
  3. It works in such a way that you will never use the money you don’t have, which is especially noticeable when using credit cards. Just because your credit card limit is $2000, doesn’t mean you have $2000. Misunderstanding credit card limits is a common mistake that a bunch of people make. Allowing myself to make that mistake caused my credit score to become so atrocious in the first place.

If you want to become free from financial stress, you'll need to set up a budget. Think of it as having a bunch of buckets you pour all your money into. YNAB allows you to easily see how much money each bucket has had put in it, the activity that’s happened to the money in that bucket, and how much money is left in that bucket.

Some Basic Tips

Tip 1: Set up Automatic Payments

This first tip is outside of YNAB, but it’s just too important not to mention. If you have multiple credit cards, or even just one, set up automatic payments, as they will prevent you from ever missing a credit card payment again. Once you are all set up and grooving with YNAB, you don’t even have to worry about whether your debit card will have enough money to pay the credit card company. You’ll only have spent money with the credit card that you have budgeted, meaning that the money you had has already left your life. You just used somebody else’s money to do it. Every month, you’ll have to give it back.

Tip 2: Budget 2-3 Months in Advance

Budgeting a few months in advance probably won’t be something you can do right out of the gate, but it’s a solid goal. Let me explain the concept behind this. If you lose your job, you want to make sure you can cover your monthly expenses while you can't bring in income. You'll have mental clarity and won't be screwed if something happens with your day job. First and foremost, you want to make sure that all your current monthly expenses are covered. These are needed immediately, so we need to make sure those are covered. Next, put some money into an emergency fund (more on that in a minute). Finally, once your monthly expenses are covered, some dollars are in your emergency fund, and if you have some extra cash left over, put some into next month’s expenses. In a world of subscription services, budgeting for next month's bills can take time to accomplish. There may be monthly subscriptions you didn't know you had. That’s okay. Part of the process is eliminating the subscriptions that don’t add as much value as you thought. Bottom line: slowly figure out how much your monthly expenses are, budget for them, and sink some extra money into next month’s expenses. Over time, if you stick to it, it’ll get easier.

Tip 3: HAVE AN EMERGENCY FUND

An Emergency Fund bucket is exactly what it sounds like. Qualifying emergency examples are your car breaking down, a device you use every day needing to be replaced, having an emergency hospital visit, etc. An emergency fund should never have money pulled out of it unless there is, surprise, an emergency. The best way to go about populating this with cash is after your immediate monthly expenses are covered. A good tip for how much to put in there is to enter 10% of your paycheck amount into your emergency fund every time you get paid. Having an emergency fund will prepare you for whenever life happens.

Financial Clarity

YNAB came when I needed it most and helped change my views on money. I improved my credit score from not even getting any pesky credit card letters to good enough to get approved for a loan on a home. Now, I don’t worry about my credit card debt or what’s in my bank account, only what’s in each of my budget buckets. I’ve even opened a Savings account to hold the money I’ll use to help pay my student loan debt once that needs to start being re-paid again. I’ve also put some spare cash into investments like Bitcoin and have made quite a nice chunk of extra change that way. Recently, I even went on vacation to Orlando, Florida. Because of my improved credit score, I opened a 0% interest credit card so I didn’t have to, immediately, worry about the money I spent while on vacation. Now, with YNAB, I’m able to work on paying that off at my own pace.

Closing Thoughts

If you made it this far, I want to thank you so much for sticking around. My goal was to share my journey to freedom from financial stress as well as give you lovely readers a few tips.

This is my first blog post in a long time and I’ve felt inspired to write again. I’ve also been reading a lot more. I’ve finished books by Austin Kleon called Share Your Work and How to Steal Like an Artist. This has motivated me to start posting on social media more as well. Expect to see future blog posts about those books as well.

In general, expect to see blog posts that are topics picked by me that are interesting to me. Some topics you can expect are life tips, book talks, movie reviews, game reviews, and maybe even my journey into minimalism.

Thanks so much and I’ll be doing my best to create a blog post as frequently as I can with the goal of 1 per day!