Face it, it's expensive to be alive. Living in 21st century America, most of us have car payments, medical bills, student loan debt, or credit card debt—and that's before we get into all the ordinary expenses of living: food, shelter, utility bills, transportation, etc.
Having a budget is one of the most important steps in building financial security. For many of us, however, it can be intimidating to even start. Understanding our own financial lives seems overwhelming and complex, especially when we need to juggle all of our other responsibilities and factor in everything I've described above.
A budget demystifies that process and puts you in control of your finances. There are some great resources on how to budget that you should use, but today I'm going to talk about something equally important: motivation.
Willpower isn't enough when we're struggling to gain control of our financial lives. I've found two important factors helped me with motivation when it came to money: setting goals and finding support.
Set SMART Money Goals: When it came to goals, one of my mentors quoted Joel A. Barker, "Vision without action is merely daydreaming. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change your world."
To guide you on your own journey towards financial stability, set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) goals. We often say, "I want to save money," but that is too vague for us to act upon it. How would you know if you were making progress? Without a sense of progress, it's easy to lose motivation.
A SMART goal looks like this: "Every week, I will save $25." It's specific and measurable, with a firm timeline. If your goals are measurable, they become that much easier to factor it into your budget. All of us have financial goals that we want to reach, whether it is paying off debt, saving for a big purchase, or simply building our retirement funds. But don't let them become daydreams or use them to simply pass the time! Once you have something to work for, your budget acts as a tool to reach your goals.
Find Support with Money Friends: I once asked a friend of mine if she wanted to go out to dinner. She declined, saying it wasn't currently in her budget. Not only was I impressed with her honesty, her reply also immediately reminded me that actually, going out for dinner wasn't in my budget either.
It's much easier to start budgeting when your peer group is in the same situation and open to talking about money. If your friends are living paycheck to paycheck, spending freely and living on credit, then chances are you will find yourself doing the same. If you have friends who will hold you accountable to your budget—and who won't mind when you decline an invitation because of your finances—it reinforces your own goals and help keep you accountable.
In the end, my friend and I ended up spending time together by cooking at home. Money friends are also a great help when it comes to doing activities that are both free and fun.
Starting and maintaining a budget isn't easy, but these two factors have kept me going during some rough patches. What has motivated you to start and maintain a budget?