Become the Captain of Your Financial Ship

Posted by Todd Smith

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How would you like to be in command of your finances—never be in debt again, live free of financial pressure, and retire comfortably when that day arrives?  This is possible for each of you, but it will require intentional effort.

If you sincerely want to be captain of your financial ship, today’s lesson will emphasize three crucial things you must do: put together a budget, track your expenses, and commit to spending less than you earn.

When we do not track our expenses, we actually forfeit control of our financial ship. The reason is simple: when we don’t have a clear picture of where our money is going, it’s like being on a ship with a leak that prevents us from navigating toward our financial goals. Benjamin Franklin said it better:

Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.”

Get in Touch With Your Inner Accountant

No doubt, this is not the first time you’ve heard about the importance of budgeting to help keep track of expenses, but perhaps you’ve procrastinated.  If you will just take time now to set up a budget, you will quickly discover that the benefits are worth the effort you put forth each month.  With a budget, you will now be able to:

  • Control how your money is spent, saved, and invested
  • Understand where your money is going; eliminate surprises
  • Know what you can and cannot afford
  • Practice important self-control and personal accountability
  • Compare your spending to a previous period of time to measure progress
  • Stay out of debt

If you wish to get out or stay out of debt, you must learn to live within your means. A budget that includes tracking your expenses is one of the first and easiest steps towards not spending more money than you make each month.

Avoid Being Just Another Statistic

It’s critical to understand that operating a budget is at the core of your financial progress. It will certainly help keep you from being a part of these statistics:

  • 57% of households do not have a budget.
  • 61% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.
  • Disturbed marriage or divorce.  Money is consistently ranked as one of the top three reasons for arguments among married couples.

What’s Holding You Back?

One of the concerns that many people have about budgeting is that a budget holds us accountable. But if we spend more than we said we would on a particular category (like food or entertainment), it doesn’t mean we have failed, it simply alerts us to the fact that we need to adjust our budget.

Most people don’t like to talk about budgeting for several reasons:

  • They don’t know how to do it. (It’s too difficult.)
  • They’re too busy. (I don’t have time to spend on a budget.)
  • They don’t want to give up control over discretionary spending decisions. (I want to spend my money on what I want to when I want to.)

Since your budget is YOUR budget, you are still the one who makes the call on how your money gets spent. Keeping track of your income and expenses in the form of a budget doesn’t change how much money you have or don’t have. A budget simply lets you control your money instead of your money controlling you.

Getting Started

There are a number of resources on the web, at the library, and available for free that make it easy to start and maintain a budget. Simply google “how to make a budget” for step-by-step directions, free templates, budget calculators, and tips for sticking to a budget.

Putting together a budget is not complicated or difficult.  Here are the key components of any household budget:

  • Monthly income (include all sources: paychecks, disability payments, etc.)
  • Mandatory or fixed expenses (mortgage or rent, car payments, insurance, child care, etc.)
  • Future needs (money for savings, an emergency fund, and/or retirement investments)
  • Charitable giving (church and other non-profit donations)
  • Discretionary or controllable expenses (such as entertainment, dining out, vacations, groceries, utilities, hobbies, etc.)

How much money you allocate to each category will be largely based on your income. A plan that many people use is the 10/10/80 guide: 10% of your income goes toward savings and planning for the future, 10% goes toward charitable giving, and the remaining 80% goes toward your mandatory and discretionary expenses.

If you find there is not enough money to distribute in that pattern, decide what you must and are willing to change. For example, can you reduce your mandatory or fixed monthly expenses by downsizing or refinancing? Are there discretionary expenses that you can do without to stay within your budget? These are all very personal decisions that only you can make.

When it comes to budgeting and managing personal finances, there’s room for improvement in all of us. If you don’t have one already, I strongly encourage you to set up a budget and start tracking your expenses this month. Use your budget to get smart about your hard-earned money and take control of your financial ship.

The day you set up a budget and start tracking your expenses is the day you take control of your financial future.

If you have any thoughts, ideas, or suggestions, please share them in the comments section below this post.

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About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 43 years and founder of Little Things Matter. This blog contains over 200 of his timeless life lessons.

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