To Her Credit offers targeted advice about personal finance based on unique challenges faced by women. It is authored by women with different financial backgrounds, dedicated to encouraging empowerment through financial literacy.
It’s boring. It’s time-consuming. It’s difficult. It’s overwhelming. You might have leaned on at least one of these excuses, or an array of others, for not creating a personal budget.
“There’s a thousand reasons not to budget,” said Anna Popke, a certified financial planner in Austin, Texas.
But there are undoubtedly just as many reasons that you should set up a budget. In that vein, Popke – along with other Austin-area certified financial planners Daphne Jordan, Whitney Morrison and Sophia Bera – offered attendees at To Her Credit’s first-ever live event a slew of ways to ditch the excuses and establish some sound financial footing.CreditCards.com hosted the free event Jan. 28 at Brentwood Social House, an Austin coffee shop and café.
In their presentations, the four planners took different approaches to fighting the budgeting gremlin. But they embraced one common goal: Guiding women down a firm financial path.
Here, we share Popke’s, Jordan’s, Morrison’s and Bera’s insights about budgeting – insights that apply to women (and men) of all ages.
See related: Financial advice: One size doesn’t fit all
Find an ‘emotional reason’ for budgeting
Anna Popke acknowledged that budgeting lacks the joy you might gain from heading to the movie theater with your children or joining your friends for Sunday brunch. She compared budgeting to her exercise regimen.
“I know I should do it. I know it’s good for me. But why do I really do it?” Popke said. “I do it because at one time, 10 years ago, I was not in good health. I am in good health now. I want to keep it that way. So there is a fear of going back to where I was and being in bad health.”
To maintain good financial health, Popke recommended assigning an emotional reason to crafting and maintaining a budget. One emotional reason she cited: a fear of lacking enough money to keep a roof over your head and prevent homelessness.
“If you can find an emotional reason why it is important to budget,” she explained, “you will be unstoppable. And then you will not have any of those fears. You can address them.”
“Budgeting,” Popke said, “is the basis of all financial planning.”
Among other things, a budget can help you control your money, prepare for emergencies, achieve your goals and stick to your values and priorities, Popke said. In the absence of a budget, she said, those all become harder to accomplish.
If you pinpoint an emotional reason for budgeting, it becomes easier to set aside a few minutes or an hour a day to focus on your finances, Popke said.
Pick a budgeting tool
Once you’ve determined an emotional reason for budgeting, it’s time to get down to actually doing it. During her presentation, Daphne Jordan focused on tools to make that happen.
Jordan’s least favorite budgeting tools are Excel spreadsheets and old-fashioned pen and paper. Excel spreadsheets provide only a snapshot of your financial situation, she said.
“Some people do go home every day and put things into their Excel spreadsheets, but that may not be the most convenient way to keep track of what you’re spending,” Jordan explained.
A better method cited by Jordan: tracking your finances through statements for, say, your bank and credit card accounts. These statements help aggregate your financial information, giving you an overview of your budget, she said.
While plugging numbers into spreadsheets or combing through financial statements might work for some people, Jordan prefers relying on budgeting apps like Mint, Goodbudget and You Need a Budget (YNAB).
Among those three apps, Jordan favors YNAB, which some of her clients use. She noted that YNAB provides a free 34-day trial. After the trial period, the app costs $11.99 per month or $84 per year.
“It’s really customizable. It connects to your bank accounts and your credit card accounts,” Jordan said. “I’m now using it because I was trying it out for a client and I thought, ‘Oh, I’m gonna use this because I can’t keep up with just doing this on my own.’”
Whichever budgeting system you pick, Jordan recommended that you:
- Give your money a purpose. For instance, you might deposit some of your money into a “rainy day” fund or a retirement account.
- Roll with the punches. Be patient as you settle into a budgeting routine.
- Schedule a “money meeting” each month. This meeting – by yourself or with a partner – enables you to examine your spending, make necessary tweaks and congratulate yourself for financial successes.
See related: Collaborating with your partner on the finances
Map your finances
A budgeting app may or may not fit into Whitney Morrison’s strategy of mapping your finances.
Morrison said money mapping skips splitting expenses into “a hundred different categories.” Rather, this form of budgeting boils down to two major categories: spending and saving. Within those categories are current commitments (rent and credit card payments, for instance), habits (such as groceries and entertainment) and future commitments (investments and savings).
For someone earning $60,000 a year, 30% to 35% of gross income should go toward current commitments, 15% to 20% toward habits and the rest toward future commitments. Morrison said organizing your finances in this fashion requires setting up dedicated accounts for current commitments, habits and future commitments. A set share of money for those three financial buckets should be directly deposited into each account, she said.
“Money mapping is a great alternative to [traditional] budgeting,” Morrison said. “It’s been hugely transformative in my life and, honestly, in all my clients’ lives as well.”
Boost your net worth
Even though she’s a certified financial planner, Sophia Bera hates budgeting.
“A lot of financial planners like to start with budgeting. If budgeting is where you want to start, start there,” Bera told the To Her Credit attendees.
During her presentation, Bera provided alternatives to budgeting that can help build wealth, without necessarily depending on spreadsheets or apps.
To get started, Bera recommended calculating your net worth, which is your assets (like a retirement account) minus your liabilities (like student loan debt). Determining your net worth gives you a “barometer” of your financial health, she said.
As for boosting your net worth, Bera gave these three suggestions:
- Pay down your debts.
- Build your savings.
- Get on track for retirement.
“The cool thing is, if you start tracking your net worth and you have a little bit of debt, even a little bit in savings, and you’re just getting started for retirement,” Bera said, “but you start automating these things, …. we really see our net worth increase really rapidly over time, because we’re doing multiple things to improve our financial situation.”
None of those involve budgeting, she pointed out. But you still need to scrutinize how many financial accounts you actually have, whether some of those accounts should be consolidated and how much money you owe, Bera explained.
In the accounts that you keep, designate money for purposes such as emergencies, travel or a mortgage down payment, she advised.
When it comes to your debt, Bera recommended ascertaining the balances, interest rates and monthly payments. After you’ve tackled that, consider refinancing student loans, negotiating lower interest rates for your credit cards and transferring high-interest credit card balances to cards offering 0% promotions, she said.
She also stressed the value of automating contributions toward debt reduction, savings and retirement. Two examples: automatically depositing $150 a month into a Roth IRA and automatically allocating an extra 2% for your 401(k).
“You’re aggressively saving or you’re aggressively paying off your student loan each month or you’re putting a certain amount away into your retirement account before you even see your paycheck, like we do in a 401(k).”
This sort of automation enables you to stop worrying about budgeting, Bera said, and to increase your net worth. “You’re kind of tricking yourself into some [budgeting] restriction,” she said.
From creating broad buckets for your money to keeping a sharp eye on every transaction, there are many ways to manage your money. The different techniques employed by these financial advisors prove there’s a budgeting strategy out there for everyone.
See related: Lessons from female financial role models