I’m going to suggest something slightly unorthodox when it comes to budgeting.
I have a feeling most of you do this anyway to some extent so it’s not going to come as a huge shocker. 🙂
As you know, although I am a huge fan of budgeting and tracking expenses to the point where I delight in finding (now rare) pennies on the ground and tracking it as “Income” in my Monthly Budget Roundups.
That said, not everyone is a freak like I am, and exact numbers with decimal points may give some of you anxiety attacks when in fact, it does the opposite and soothes me to know my exact situation at any given time.
So for those who don’t want to have nitty gritty details, I propose the Flip Flop Budgeting method.
(I just made up the name, but if you do plan on talking about it, I’d kindly ask you to stick to saying “Flip Flop Budgeting” instead of trying to give it another name. Out of sheer blogger naming courtesy you know 😉 )
The idea behind Flip Flop Budgeting is to do the following:
1. Track your expenses for a minimum of a month, preferably 3 months to a maximum 12 months.
One month is the bare minimum but I find it too short. To get a good average, I really strongly recommend at least 3 months to see the patterns in your spending and your averages.
99% of the time, you are spending MORE than you think you are. Not less.
I mean, if you were spending less than you think you were, I am not entirely certain you aren’t already budgeting to some extent to begin with 😉
The maximum for Flip Flop Budgeting is 12 months, but that’s for the hardcore folks who can power through it, and keep every receipt neatly folded in their wallets to be entered daily (in which case, you might be a good candidate for my rigorous style of down-to-the-penny budgeting style.)
I also like 3 months because it all hinges on WEATHER.
See, your spending changes as weather changes, and if you live in a country like Canada where you have fleeting glimpses of Spring and Autumn but longer periods of Summer and especially Winter, this will become evident in your bills.
When it gets warmer for instance, I tend to duck out to stroll the streets and end up impulse buying treats like pastries, or clothing. I also schedule a LOT more meetups with friends. I have to factor all of that facet of my spending habit when the temperature rises. At home, I may be using more electricity for super hot days when I turn on the A/C.
When the weather cools, I find my Starbucks and David’s Tea budget goes up. i crave warm, comforting brews to warm my fingers as well as my insides when I run errands. I cool off slightly (no pun intended) on going out to eat during winter because I find it difficult to eat outside when it is cold and I tend to spend more money buying heavier, creamier, warm, soul-soothing groceries to eat at home.
I also tend to get a nostalgic hankering for a super warm cosy sweater, and a clean-up on my boots which has to make it into my Wardrobe and Repairs budget right around September.
So you don’t necessarily need to track your spending for 12 months straight, but when the weather gets cooler or warmer, you should start tracking your spending again to get an idea of how weather affects you (and it will).
As a result I’d really prefer it if people tracked their spending for at least 3 months PER season (you can choose to read this as “cold season” and “hot season”, and track for only 6 months in total).
2. Stop tracking your expenses once you have a baseline budget created
Once you have an idea of what you are spending during warmer, cooler or in-between months, you should have an idea of what you are spending in general and I propose you… stop.
Stop tracking what you spend, and focus on following your rough budget.
Fixed expenses are easy — rent tends to always stay the same, and so do things like debt repayment.
Variable expenses like groceries and eating out will kill you, but if you for instance, get your paycheque and then KNOW you have about $352.23 leftover from that paycheque to cover variable expenses until the next payday, then why not just put it into a bucket and spend from it as you feel you should?
Like on CHEESE? 😀
Maybe one day you spend $200 on some splashy groceries for one week, and mentally know you have about $150 left to last you until next week’s payday, so you decline a dinner out with friends that week so that you’re sure you have gas and food to last you until that time.
Or maybe you spent $50 on buying something you couldn’t resist, and now your gas, grocery and variable spending budget is down to $300, even though you need to spend more on gas this week to get somewhere for an event or work.
You don’t need to necessarily track every single penny to know what you’re spending in every single category (I find great pleasure in doing this, but not everyone does), but it is certainly helpful if at the end of the year you look back to see the massive numbers and think:
How in the world did Wardrobe end up being TWICE what Rent was?
Things like that happen all the time to me, and although I don’t stress out about it, I also don’t like it.
3. Start tracking your expenses again only when things change
When things change, or even if you just feel like doing it because you don’t seem to be making as much progress as you thought you were, or maybe you literally fell off the budgeting wagon and need to be slapped with some hard numbers, then track your expenses again.
I also like to keep separate budgets for traveling because when I travel, I am on a “travel budget”, which also means that I mentally tend to be a little loose with my purse in the heat of the moment in a foreign country.
Another time you should start tracking expenses again are with major life events:
- New Job
- New Marriage or Divorce (my congratulations or condolences)
- New Loan or Mortgage (for car, house, whatever)
- New Change in Living Situation (you’re a student now, or someone moved in)
- New Baby (YAY!)
- New Dog
Once those changes are incorporated into your life, obtain a baseline budget for them and then follow it.
Most of the time, you might just find that you enjoy NOT tracking your expenses, and knowing vaguely that you are (1) still saving a good chunk of your money and (2) living well below your means.
When those 2 points are covered you don’t need to fret about what you spend in each area if you don’t want to.
Who cares? You’re still meeting your goals, and you have a GENERAL idea of your spending during the week and the priorities you allocate that particular pot of money to.
So there you have it. It sounds like a lot of work but it really isn’t. You have to look at Flip Flop Budgeting like a dose of reality when you need it.