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- Sean, who goes by “The Money Wizard,” is a 28-year-old blogger and financial analyst.
- He grew his net worth by more than $100,000 in two years and is on track for an early retirement.
- However, he’s never stuck to a budget. Instead, he simply tracks his spending using the Numbers app on his iPhone.
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I just wrapped up my 28th year on planet earth, and my net worth has grown to over $285,000. (I publish an update each and every month, here.)
With all that said, I know what you’re thinking. “This guy must be nuts! He must have used the world’s strictest budget if he grew his net worth by roughly $60,000 a year for the past three years …”
Ready for the confession of the century?
In all that time, I’ve never once made a budget.
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I know, I know. That’s somewhat embarrassing coming from a guy who, with an appointed name like The Money Wizard, is supposed to have all his finances in order.
But there’s a method to that madness. And it’s because I think budgeting is 100%, totally, completely … overrated.
Because there’s another strategy that’s not only way easier, but also works far better.
Why I think budgets are a completely overrated waste of time
In my experience, here’s how the typical budgeting process goes down. (Stop me if this sounds familiar …)
January 1 rolls around, and you decide it’s finally time to get that spending under control. So, you vow to make a budget.
With the weight of your own personal financial world on your shoulders, you immediately begin dreading the chore. For a few hours, days, or weeks you attempt to muster up to the courage to bucket out your desired spending.
Once you finally sit down to do the deed, you come across your first roadblock. “Hmm … How much should I be spending on groceries again?”
The answer to that question requires the answer to an earlier one. How much do you usually spend on groceries?
So you start doing your best detective work. You begin combing through credit card statements, doing your best CSI impression, and eventually tally up what you think is last month’s grocery bill.
But wait, last month you bought all those supplies for the big football watching party! So that’s certainly not a normal month.
And … you’re back at square one.
If you don’t get frustrated enough to quit at this point, you’ll eventually power through the chore. You’ll likely put together some sort of overly optimistic framework for how you should be spending your money. Then, you’ll fret and stress for the next several months about whether or not you’re sticking to your budget.
After a few slip ups, you very well might abandon the whole resolution entirely.
And before you know it, it’s December 31, and you’re staring back on your bank account wondering how a whole year went by and the needle of your savings didn’t so much as flinch upwards.
There’s a better way.
Ditch monthly budgeting for monthly tracking
For the past decade, I’ve adopted a money strategy that’s so much easier than budgeting it’s almost laughable.
Instead of struggling through the tedious chore of The Dreaded Budget, I simply write down what I spend.
Literally. That’s it.
I don’t spend time racking my brain deciding how much should be going towards what. Nor do I stress if I go over some arbitrary number that a younger version of me decided was the law of the land, for whatever reason.
Instead, I just record every purchase I make. Which, surprisingly, has tons of subtle advantages over the traditional budget.
1. It’s easier to start
Sometimes I think if money gurus had their way, they’d lock you into an office and not let you leave until you decided how much money you were going to spend on everything for the rest of your life.
With that kind of pressure, is it any surprise most people struggle to get started?
2. It’s less stressful to maintain
With a budget, you tend to beat yourself up if you go even a few cents over.
When you instead just commit to tracking your spending, you cut out the stress while getting the same effect.
Over time, you’ll find something amazing starts to happen. You’ll immediately highlight the problem areas, and eventually, just knowing there’s a log of your spending will encourage you to spend less and save more. And you’ll be well on your way to becoming a high net worth individual.
3. You don’t subconsciously commit to a certain level of spending
This is huge.
What most commonly happens to the budget, without us even realizing it, is that we find ourselves saying, “Hmm… The Budget says there’s one day left in the month, and I still have $100 left in my entertainment category. Maybe I should grab some expensive drinks with friends?”
And before you know it, you’ve spent hundreds of dollars you otherwise wouldn’t, and you’ve leveled what could have been an extraordinary month of savings into an ordinary one.
With simple monthly tracking, you realize The Budget isn’t the one controlling your finances.
Instead, you realize that YOU are the one in control of your spending. And as a result, you often end up saving more than you ever thought possible.
Yeah, but how to do all that tracking?
At this point, I know what you’re thinking.
“Money Wiz, how on earth do you expect me to keep track of everything I spend in a month??”
And for that, I’ve got a one-two punch that’s helped thousands of my readers get their spending on track.
1. I carry a secret weapon in my pocket, at all times
No, I’m not talking about some kind of switchblade.
I’m talking about my iPhone.
You see, included in the iPhone’s generic apps is one of the most surprisingly effective money trackers I’ve ever come across.
The “Numbers” app is a mobile spreadsheet that can easily serve as your virtual notepad for all your spending. In fact, with a few clever formatting moves, iPhone’s Numbers will automatically sort all your spending for you. All you have to do is enter a line item for each item bought.
The result is that I’m able to whip out my phone and record a transaction in the time it takes to send a 4 word text message. That’s faster than the cashier can even say, “You can swipe your card now …” which is great at helping me avoid looking like a weirdo..
(If you want the exact spreadsheet I use with Numbers, you can grab it here.)
2. I enlist the help of high-tech robots
These days, there’s all sorts of free money apps that will automatically tally up your spending for you each month.
I break down two of my favorite in my Personal Capital vs. Mint comparison, and I still use the winner as a backup plan to my iPhone spreadsheet each month.
Get rid of the chore of monthly budgeting, and all the baggage that comes with it.
I encourage you to simply track what you’re spending for a month or two. No rules. No pressure.
Grab my free spreadsheet, pick up a financial app, or both. Either way, you’ll be shocked at how quickly your savings grow when you break the chains of the budget.
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