How many months does it take a person to get the hang of a budget?
It takes most people about three months to master the budget numbers and an additional month or two to master the mindset necessary to stick with a plan to meet financial goals. People who are successful go through a common budget learning curve.
Month One: Get Your Numbers Right
This month is about getting the numbers right. There is a lot of guessing that happens as you build awareness of your spending. Most people will forget expenses like dry cleaning or a bill for a subscription. Add these to your budget as you go through the month. You may even think you don’t spend as much as you do. Pay attention to how much you are spending at the grocery store, at restaurants, on shopping. Most of this month is trial and error on the amounts in your budget. You will find yourself having to review your budget more than once a week to tweak your numbers. You are building awareness of how much you are spending. Each subsequent month you will become more accurate.
Month Two: Choose a Budget Format and Eliminate Excess
The second month operating the budget is not as difficult. Getting the accurate amounts may still be a challenge, but breathe and stick to it; you will get closer to the right numbers. This month you will choose your budget format: paper and pencil, Excel, a budgeting app are all common choices. You closely monitor your budget weekly to stay on track and make adjustments. This does not have to be complicated. As your numbers become more accurate this month you have an opportunity to look for excess to free up funds to direct towards your financial goals, such as lowering your cable bill or cancelling any memberships that you are not actively using.
Month Three: Work on Mindset
By the third month, your written budget will be fairly accurate. This month is about monitoring and developing your financial mindset. At the beginning of the month, you are in control of creating your budget. Once the budget is created, the budget becomes in charge of you! It is common during the third month that spending temptation creeps into your mind. You must remind yourself that if IT (whatever IT is that you want) is not in the budget, IT is not being purchased. Period! Be aware, your mind will do a great job of justifying the purchase. You will find yourself saying “IT is such a great buy, I cannot pass it up” or “I work hard for my money, I deserve IT.” You must build the mindset that the budget is now in charge. Create a plan to fund this purchase starting next month. You may need to save an amount over multiple months but in the end you will have cash for IT.
Months Four, Five, Six: Evaluate and Track Progress
During the fourth through sixth months, evaluate and track your progress monthly. At some point during this time, if you have stuck to your plan, you will see significant progress toward your goal. Choose a method to see your progress. Keep an ongoing list of the $ you have put towards your goal. Simply list it on a piece of paper with the date or keep track on a calendar. Seeing progress will keep you motivated. Remember to focus on perseverance and progress over perfection. Many people during these months will increase the amount that they are putting towards their goal. Instead of saving $800 a month, all of sudden, there is $1500 in the budget to save. Although this feels like magic, it is not. This is what happens when you are paying attention, you have an accurate budget and you changed your mindset.
You are now in control of your money! Congratulations!