May 13, 2018
If you've never created a budget before, putting one together for the very first time can be pretty intimidating. I use the zero-based budget method which means sitting down BEFORE a new month even starts and assigning a place for every single dollar that will come into your checking account so that the total amount in your account at the end of the month equals zero. It seems like an insane task at first if you've never done it before.
The first time I created a zero-based budget (with much help, I assure you), I was scared senseless. "So you're asking me to use only the money that is in my checking account and nothing else? No credit cards or anything? What happens if I run out of money?!" That was my mindset.
But after I got started, I realized it didn't have to be intimidating. It was actually encouraging to see how much money I actually had to spend on things when I budgeted it out realistically.
The truth, though, is that budgeting takes quite a bit of practice. It takes anywhere from 90-120 days to get the hang of putting together a not-so-clunky zero-based budget. You'll likely face a few (or many) bumps in the road in the beginning of your budgeting journey. They can look something like:
An unexpected event or need that pops up (did you forget about Mother's Day?)
A utility bill that is larger than expected
A moving expense that you weren't anticipating
A medical bill that you thought would be covered by insurance
You thought you'd be getting a huge tax refund but instead have to PAY $700 instead (true story)
Life happens, you know? And even though these kinds of events can be frustrating and might make you want to throw in the budgeting towel altogether, not all hope has to be lost.
So what do you do when something comes along and blows your monthly budget that you put so much work into?
You simply make adjustments.
The beauty of a zero-based budget is that as long as the total is $0 at the end of the month, you can adjust and readjust as needed. That is also the beauty of you being in control of your money vs. your money being in control of you. You get to make the choices of what will take priority and what you might need to let go of for the time being.
Whether the unexpected cost comes during the first week of your monthly budget or later in the month, adjustments can always be made. It's similar to eating healthy. If you're working on clean eating and you give into a sugar craving, bad advice tells us, "Oh well - I messed up. Might as well keep eating junk food for the rest of the day!" The same goes for your budget. Just because you forgot your car tag renewal was due this month, doesn't mean you say, "Oh well - I messed up my budget. Might as well just blow my budget and try again next month!"
That is not only bad advice, it's also just not sustainable. Instead, learn from the unexpected and make the necessary adjustments. Take a look at the areas where you can scrounge up the additional money you need to cover the unexpected cost and adjust those numbers. Maybe you go out to eat a little less this month or you don't buy that sweater you were planning on. No big deal. Make your adjustments and go back to normal the next month.
In the beginning of your budgeting journey, be prepared to adjust often as you get the hang of things. Don't be hard on yourself if you feel like you've finally got the hang of this whole budgeting thing and then suddenly have to readjust mid-month. Even the most seasoned budgeters forget about expenses. Keep learning and practicing and every dollar will fall into place.