October 18, 2018

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The golden standard for being financially sound is budgeting. This is something many people don’t do—and it’s why they live paycheck-to-paycheck.

I didn’t know how to handle my money until I had a “real job.” I worried about how I’d be able to afford things like a house, a car, future children (which are no longer an option), and pets.

While in college, I used a tool called Mint. It let me connect my bank accounts to categorize transactions, but I found it clunky and unable to tell me (reliably, at least) where my money was going or if I had enough money to cover my expenses for the next month.

After too long using Mint, I switched to YNAB and have been using their digital envelope system since September 2016.

Budgeting Scares People

For many people, finances are scary and difficult to talk about.

It could stem from a childhood during which the parents never mentioned money, but the family acutely felt the effects of lacking money.

Maybe you lived a nice life as a kid and subsequently thought money grew on trees.

It’s a little embarrassing, but that’s how I grew up. My parents are well off and I never wanted for anything. My dad would hand my sister and I cash back from the store whenever we asked. He’d take us out to get food or coffee because he felt like it, ignoring any noises our mom made about it.

My parents paid for my college education, too, so I never had to work during the school year.

Budgeting is Hard Without a Job

I was twenty before I got my first summer job.

When I look back on my life, with about five years of work experience, I sometimes cringe to realize that for most of that time I did not understand where my money really went.

When the panic materialized, I knew I had to figure out this budgeting thing.

The trick to getting out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle is a combination of changing your mindset about money from scarcity to abundance and consciously tracking your spending so you know exactly where your money is going—and consequently where you need to cut back.

I worked up to where I’m always funded one month ahead and we have a full six-month emergency fund.

That means that by the end of July, I’m already prepared for August, and at the end of October, I’m prepared for November.

That, by definition, is not living paycheck-to-paycheck.

That’s a Budgeted Lifestyle.

Doing it this way takes away so much of the mental stress and worry about being able to afford things.

Want to take a trip to Disneyland? Check your vacation category.

Want to replace your old TV with a nice, new 4K flat screen? Hope your new electronics category is ready for it!

Have to pay a traffic ticket? Ramit Sethi (I Will Teach You To Be Rich) calls this his “stupidity fund” and actively prepares for things like this.

The beauty is going into financial decisions already knowing what you can afford instead of guessing and hoping that a merchant doesn’t decline your card.

There’s Hope

I know many, many people are in crushing debt, and breaking the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle feels impossible. There are several resources I’d like to recommend for you since I can’t speak from personal experience with debt.

These people all have a lot to say about dealing with debt and budgeting. For example, Dave Ramsey has a very popular method of paying down debt called the “snowball” method. With it, you start by paying off your smallest debt and move up and up to build the momentum of success until you wipe all your debts out.

That method is fantastic for psychological reasons, even though it may cost more over the life of your debts because of interest.

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But it Works!

Ramit Sethi teaches what he calls “The Rich Life” and it doesn’t mean what you might think! It’s all about building wealth and automating your finances so you don’t have to worry about any of it.

One huge part of budgeting that everyone should do regardless of how you budget is accruing an emergency fund.

By definition, this is money that you’re only allowed to use in real emergencies, like these:

  • You lost your job
  • Your car(s) broke down (including simultaneously) and you can’t get to work anymore
  • Insurance isn’t covering a medical procedure or expense
  • Your dog ate a huge box of chocolate and needs emergency veterinary attention
  • A wildfire is approaching your home and you need to evacuate (and pay for it)

Emergencies are Not These:

  • Your phone screen cracked and now looks bad, but didn’t lose any functionality
  • There’s a tiny bit of cosmetic damage on your car that you’d like to get touched up
  • A friend from college is throwing a destination wedding and invited you, but you forgot to save up for your plane ticket and rental car
  • You spent more than you thought you would on Amazon Prime Day, so you dipped into your E-funds to cover it
  • There’s a sale at Pottery Barn and you NEED to get a new side table for your couch

At first, it’ll take a lot of discipline to avoid using your savings for the non-emergencies, despite how urgent and “emergent” they feel.

My final advice is this: pick a budgeting method, a budgeting tool, and stick with it for at least three months. Watch your nightmares about money disappear.

About the author 


Life coach, author, podcast host, cat mom, wife, Ravenclaw, and semi-compulsive hiker living in the Montana Rockies.

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  1. There are some great points here. I had a cracked screen protector and I thought I needed a new phone, right? Lol but instead I settled for just getting a new protector. My husband still wants me to get the new phone, but I am like do we NEED IT!?

  2. My debt right now is all student loans, plus I’m still trying to find a full time job so I definitely don’t have the luxury to save ahead too much. However, I do hope to get better with savings once I’m making more!


  3. There’s so much truth in this! I love when we have a plan & feel insecure when we don’t. You’ve encouraged me to budget this morning, instead of doing all the other ‘stuff’. Thank you!

  4. I love budgets as I am an accountant/auditor and I know what it means to have one in place and follow it. It can be hard even for us who understand all these points you mentioned. Thank you for this at it is always a good reminder to stay on track and keep at it. Some day we will break free from debt and then we can stop living pay cheque to pay cheque.

    D, xo || from https://livedreamcreate-d.com

  5. Great reminders, especially about what truly defines an emergency! We just went through a major home purchase and remodel, so we are trying to build back up our emergency fund. Budgeting has been hard, but we use Mint and it helps SO much!!

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