🎙 Budgets can have a bit of a bad reputation, but the truth is that your budget is the solid foundation you need to have in place if you want any kind of financial freedom or retirement. But what type of budget is the best one to use? 🤔
This episode discusses topics like:
Hey friends, and welcome back to the Girl on FIRE podcast.
On today’s episode we’re going to be talking about something a lot of people don’t like.
But it’s something that’s super important to any form of financial independence, including FIRE.
We’re talking about budgets! Now, the word “budget” comes from the latin word meaning…no, I’m kidding, I’m not doing that.
It might be fun trivia but it’s not important here. Although, depending on who you ask, it probably either comes from a word that means “plan” or a word that means “torture”. Or maybe, “planned torture”?
Why budgeting is the cornerstone of your plans for FIRE and financial independence
I personally love my budget. I’ve been budgeting in some form or another honestly for as long as I can remember.
When I was little, my dad would come home from work and he’d have some coins in his pocket.
He thought, okay, they’re shiny and jingly, maybe the baby wants to play with them?
No — even then, I was apparently in it only for the big bucks. When he tried giving me the coins, I would stick out my hand instead and ask for ‘paper money’, meaning notes or bills.
That’s why I my website is called Paper Money Co.
But, the first time I really had any money, I started developing my own budgeting method.
Because the other methods out there weren’t cutting it for me, so I created my own strategy which I’ve been tweaking and adjusting ever since.
And now, I can easily spend hours going over my budget. But I know that a lot of people don’t.
Some people don’t even like the word “budget” — it seems to dredge up all sorts of repressed negative emotions for them.
It’s like saying Voldemort in the middle of Diagon Alley. Don’t say it’s name!
I’ve even seen some experts recommend that if the b-word gives you hives, you should just call it something else — anything else that makes you feel better, like a shmoopie.
I’m going to keep you on your toes during this episode and keep calling it the b-word or shmoopie.
And if you’re paying attention and you count how many times I say it, let me know! And let’s see if I can make it through this episode without giggling.
The point is that you can call it whatever you want — something that doesn’t give you night terrors.
But to have any hope of reaching FIRE or retirement, you need a budget. It’s not a recommendation, it’s a necessity. It’s non-negotiable.
Because the truth is that any plans you have for financial independence — whether you want to retire early or not — need to be built on a solid foundation.
And that foundation is budgeting and all the financial management skills that come with being able to successfully run a budget in your life.
Budgeting also doesn’t have to be all that difficult, and we’ll go through how to actually budget properly a bit later in this episode and over the next few weeks.
I have a 3-part series coming up for you where I deep dive into the three most common types of budgets that’ll really help you navigate the different methods and learn what works for you.
Because while it’s true that there isn’t one perfect way to budget, it’s also true that not all b-words are the same.
And when you have big goals like building wealth and chasing FIRE, you really want to make sure you’re using the best budgeting methods you possibly can.
Budgeting makes financial independence possible
So, why is budgeting so important for financial independence? You probably already know the answer but the truth is that most people ignore it.
Your budget is a spending plan. It’s spending your money on paper and allocating it to your goals before you go out there and spend it in real life.
When you spend on paper first, you have the luxury of taking your time. You get to decide where your money goes.
Most people think of a budget as being a restriction or a limit on how much they’re allowed to spend.
And yes, that’s kind of true but it’s also ignoring the bigger picture.
Yes, your shmoopie is designed to make sure that you don’t spend all your money. You want to make sure you’re living within your means.
Because when you don’t spend all your income, you have some money leftover. And that’s where the real magic happens.
First, that money should be used to set up your emergency fund which is something we talked about in quite a bit of detail in last weeks’ episode.
But after that — the money leftover in your budget after you’ve done all your spending can be used to build your dreams. Do you see how powerful that is?
In my very first episode when we talked about the FIRE movement, I also talked about how people, myself included, are planning to achieve FIRE.
I said it was about building your investments to earn passive income. Well, how to you build those investments?
You need money to build an investment portfolio. And where does that money come from?
It comes from your income. It’s money that you’ve earned, you just didn’t spend it all.
That’s what makes budgeting so incredibly important when you’re chasing financial independence of any kind.
When you don’t spend all your income, you have some leftover to be allocated towards your goals — whether that’s paying off debt or building an investment portfolio.
It also means that you have more money to put towards your retirement.
Now, does any of this change once you reach FIRE or retirement? No, not really.
At that point, your shmoopie will still be helping you control your spending.
Because I’m pretty sure the last thing you want is to reach FIRE and then have to go back to work because you recklessly spent all your money. To me, that sounds like the ultimate nightmare.
After earning your freedom, you go back with your tail between your legs and chain yourself back up to your cubicle to keep making money for the man. Nobody wants that.
I’m a firm believer that if you do it right, having a budget actually gives you the freedom to do what you want to with your money — because you work really hard for your money and your money should work just as hard for you.
I can’t emphasise this enough — that ticket you’ve been looking for, the one that gives you access to the life you’ve always wanted to live? It’s your b-word.
That’s how I see my income. It’s the golden ticket in my Hogwarts letter.
I work really hard for my income. Not just now as an analyst and entrepreneur, but the years that I spent studying to get into university.
And the years I spent in university and in internships. Then the years I spent slaving away for a pittance of a salary at entry level jobs.
And the years I spent getting my CA, which is the same as a CPA for my listeners in the US.
All of that matters. They were the choices and more importantly the sacrifices I made for my future.
That’s years and years of early morning study sessions. I used to wake up at 3am or 4 am to study when I was trying to get into university and then again once I was doing my degree.
I’ve worked internships in some tough environments, one of which was the trading floor of an investment bank.
It was a very male-dominated place. I was one of only 3 females in a department of about 100 people.
I used to drive to my clients a few hours early, sometimes it would still be dark outside. I’d park somewhere I couldn’t be seen and study for my CA before I officially had to log into work.
Then I’d work anywhere from 60-100 hour weeks for months on end. All that investment of time and energy led me to the income I earn today.
That’s why I’m telling you this. Every single dollar I make is a reflection of everything I had to do to earn it. Every single dollar. That’s how I see my income.
And I can tell you that none of it came easy. I worked my booty off for all of it. It was a lot of hard work and a hell of a lot of sacrifice.
I’ll never be so financially secure that I forget it’s payday. I look forward to payday not because I’m struggling to get by, but because I earned every cent of it.
Not only that, but I was able to achieve all those things because of the sacrifices and hard work my parents went through to provide me with those opportunities.
So, now when I get paid, I value my income. I make sure that I use what I’m earning to build the next stage of my life.
To invest it in my future, and not just spend it on something that I want now.
And my budget helps me make those decisions. It helps me keep my spending in check so that I can live my life and enjoy it now, but still have enough to put towards my future.
Why people don’t like budgeting
Now, if you were in a room with a crowd of regular people and you shouted “hands up if you love budgeting”, most people are going to give you a dirty look and move away from you.
And you know I’m not exaggerating that. A lot of people don’t like budgeting. It’s the dreaded b-word.
They think it means they don’t have the freedom to live, it’s too restrictive and they never get to have any fun. It’s a four-letter word.
Or they think that budgets are important, but only for people who are struggling financially or can’t make ends meet.
They themselves don’t struggle with money so they think they don’t need to worry about budgeting.
Most regular people don’t realise how powerful and freeing a budget really is. But Girls on FIRE aren’t regular people.
We have big dreams and that takes bold moves and big sacrifices.
When it comes to FIRE or retirement, budgeting is about learning to walk in heels without stumbling before you can run a marathon in them.
Everyone wants to start with investing or trading, options, stocks. Everyone wants to be on Wall Street but no one wants to build the wall.
Just think about this for a second. When you picture a b-word, you think of someone sitting there with a little calculator counting every penny.
They never have any fun. They’re boring and don’t have any dreams or creativity. They’re the party poopers that tell you it’s not in the budget.
But when you think of investing, you’re probably picturing Wall Street. Guys, yes still mostly guys, in fancy suits talking about things like shorting and derivatives.
The truth is that budgeting isn’t sexy, at least not in the way that investing appears to be for some people.
It’s the boring accountant with glasses and cardigans and that walks around with a calculator.
While investing is that guy on Wall Street who boasts about making millions of dollars a day in a fancy suit and with bottles of champagne in his bag.
That’s what everyone wants because investing is sexy and budgeting is responsible.
But what it comes down to is this — without a solid shmoopie, you’ll have no money to invest anyway.
Why? Because you won’t know where your money is going and you won’t be able to direct it to where you want it to go.
What type of budget is the best option for financial independence
By now, I’ve hopefully drilled into you the importance of budgeting and why it forms the basis of any plans you have for financial independence and FIRE.
So, now let’s talk about how to actually go about building that foundation.
Budgeting is a big topic, so there’s going to be a lot more to say about it in future episodes, but I want to go through some important stuff in this episode as well.
Like I mentioned earlier, starting next week I have a 3-part series for you that takes a deep dive into the most common types of budgets.
We’ll talk about how they work, who they work for, who they don’t work for, what limitations they have, and what benefits they offer.
If you just can’t wait then I recommend you head to my website (papermoneyco.com).
I’ve put together some ultimate guides that really help you budget using a few different methods.
I’ve also got a free 7-day online budgeting course that I highly recommend you take.
It goes through how to actually get started with a b-word. It’s completely free because I’m a firm believer that financial education should be available for everyone.
It’s honestly the kind of basic money management skills they should have taught us in school but they didn’t.
So, go check that out, I’ll leave it linked in the show notes but you can also head straight to my website (papermoneyco.com) to enrol and get instant access.
Different types of budgets
So, just like there isn’t one perfect way to eat a cake, there isn’t one perfect way to budget.
The point is that you get to eat cake, right? Doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you enjoy every bite of it.
The same applies with budgeting. As long as it works for you, it’s a good approach.
There are a few different types of budgeting methods out there that all generally fall within three main categories:
- The 50 / 30 / 20 budget;
- The percentage based budget; and
- The paycheck budget.
50 / 30 / 20 budget
First we have the 50 / 30 / 20 shmoopie which is a really popular method because it’s quick, it’s easy and it’s simple — but will it work for you?
You’ve probably heard of the 50 / 30 / 20 rule before — it states that:
- 50% of your income should be allocated to your needs like food, housing and utilities;
- 30% of your income should be allocated to your wants like Netflix and eating out; and
- 20% of your income should be allocated to your goals like saving, retirement and paying off debt. Your investing goals would also be included as part of this 20%.
Now, you know how I feel about rules — I went on a little rant about them in last weeks’ episode when we were talking about emergency funds.
But not everyone lives their life according to this perfect 50 / 30 / 20 split. And to be honest, not everyone can.
The lower your income is, the less sense these percentages will make. And the higher your income is, the more irresponsible they seem.
If you’re using a 50 / 30 / 20 type of budget then it’s super important that you adjust those percentages to reflect how you actually live.
Putting 20% of your income to your goals might be too much or it might not be enough.
Another thing to keep in mind with a budget like this is that it assumes that you will spend more when you earn more.
And that’s a really common thing that happens when we earn more money, it’s called lifestyle inflation. It means that you tend to spend more as your income increases.
It’s a natural behavioural response to abundance, and it takes conscious effort and intention to make a different choice.
Of course, you can (and should) change the allocation as your income increases. Your budget is never set in stone.
But it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it type deal that a lot of people look for in a simple budget like this.
You actually have to go in there and make those adjustments yourself. Otherwise you’ll be budgeting to spend more and more in each area.
The same applies when your income shrinks. Maybe you got sick last month and didn’t work for a couple of days so you earned less income.
Your b-word will automatically shrink in each category. You’ll be allocating less of your income in each area. That sounds like a good thing, but it’s not.
Yes, you can try to spend less on your variable categories like food and going out, but what about your bills? You don’t pay less because you earned less.
So, having that part of your budget shrink can be dangerous.
Also, a 50 / 30 / 20 budget gives you the least amount of control over you money. The categories are very broad.
This might work for you if your finances and your goals are super simple but it also means that it’s a lot harder to intentionally reallocate money because you aren’t clear on where it’s going.
For example, if you wanted to save a little extra money to put towards your investments, where would you start?
You know you need to cut something somewhere else, but where?
You don’t know exactly how much you spend on food, or how much you spend on clothes, or transport.
You don’t know if you’re paying too much for your insurance. Or if you could cut back on fun spending and entertainment.
You just don’t know. This type of budget doesn’t give you that level of detail so it makes it harder to see those granular trends and make those kinds of decisions.
So, that’s an overview of the 50 / 30 / 20 budget.
Percentage based budget
Then you have the percentage based shmoopie which is what a lot of people look for when they first start budgeting because it provides a benchmark for each area of your budget.
And people like benchmarks because everyone worries that they’re ‘doing it wrong’. It’s the closest thing a lot of people get to just straight-up sticky beaking in someone else’s budget.
If you want to sticky beak into my budget, though, have at it. I share a lot of it on Instagram and even more with my Patrons. All the links are in the show notes so go check them out.
When you budget by percentages, you allocate a portion of your income to each area of your budget based on a percentage.
That’s a similar concept to the 50 / 30 / 20 budget but it’s more detailed.
So, for example, instead of just allocating 50% of your income to your needs, you might allocate 10% to food, 30% to housing, 5% for utilities and 5% for transport.
That’s just an example, but a lot of people like to use percentages like this to determine whether they’re on track or if they’re spending too much on one particular area.
This is especially the case with savings — everyone is always wondering how much they should be saving and it’s usually thrown out there as 10% or 20% or whatever percent.
Your goals for financial independence would also be expressed as a percentage of your income like this.
For example, you might want to allocate 10% of your income to paying off debt and 15% of it to investing.
The percentage budget is definitely more detailed than the 50 / 30 / 20 budget but it still only gives you limited control because you’re using percentages and not actual dollar amounts.
It also has similar limitations of not being detailed enough to make specific cuts and growing or shrinking automatically depending on how your income changes.
The last budgeting method is the paycheck budget. This is the method I personally use in the system I created for myself.
With a paycheck budget, you create a new budget for every paycheck that you receive.
So, instead of just making a monthly budget, you could be making 2 or more b-words per month depending on how you get paid and how many income sources you have.
A paycheck budget is also super detailed — much more detailed and accurate than the 50 / 30 / 20 or percentage methods.
That’s because you’re not budgeting by percentages, you’re budgeting by dollars.
So instead of budgeting 10% of your income to food, you might budget $500.
And you come up with those dollar figures by analysing transactions to see how much you spend. It’s intense, right?
I’d say it’s the most advanced method of budgeting and requires a lot more effort, but with that effort comes accuracy and control.
You can try using percentages with this method but I don’t recommend it since your spending patterns can change throughout the month.
A paycheck budget is the best way to break the paycheck to paycheck cycle because when you budget each paycheck at a time, you’re also managing your cashflow.
And when I say cashflow here, I’m not talking about cashflow in the way most people on the internet use it. I’m not talking about using cash to pay for things instead of credit cards.
I’m talking about money in and money out. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, it’s because money goes out faster than it comes in.
So, being able to manage the timing of your expenses relative to the timing of your income helps you close that gap.
It’s the way money flows through your life. Think of it like a river. Think of how a river flows down the mountain, through the town and meets the sea.
That’s the way money flows through your life. Let’s say there’s a dam built across the middle of this river.
It was built by some very industrious beavers. They built a dam right across the middle of the river.
The people who live near the mountain are happy. They have fresh water available at all times and they use it.
What about the people at the other end of town? The ones who live by the sea. They don’t get any freshwater because the river has a dam.
There’s just trickles of water that escape from the dam. It’s not enough. They struggle. They’re dehydrated
The water isn’t flowing. Now, the beavers decide to open the spillway of the dam on the 1st of every month.
And on that day, water flows through the dry riverbed to the town by the sea. The residents of the seaside town are waiting for that day.
Then the 1st of the month arrives, the beavers open the spillway and water flows.
The seaside residents enjoy the water but they know that the dam will close again at the end of the day, and they have to make the water last until the next month.
Now, imagine that the river is income. That’s your cashflow. Money flows in and out of your life just like the river flows down the mountain and to the sea.
The dam in the middle of the river? That’s what happens when you’re spending more than you earn. Or if you’re spending money before you’ve earned it.
You’re building a dam. And then the seaside residents struggle to get by waiting for the dam to open. They’re waiting for the paycheck. They’re living paycheck to paycheck.
So, when I’m talking about cashflow, that’s what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the actual financial definition of cashflow and not just what the internet has defined it as.
A paycheck budget helps you manage the flow of money in and out of your life because you’re only budgeting with the money you’ve already earned at any one time.
Also, when it comes to budgeting for financial independence or FIRE, the paycheck shmoopie method will give you the most control.
Because your budget is built up dollar by dollar, it’s easy to see where you can cut expenses and find more money to invest.
And that’s why I prefer this method for myself, because it gives me the most control over my money.
And I went through this whole passionate speech about how important my income is to me, so I want to be in total control of it.
So, those are the three main types of budgets you can work with. They each have their pros and cons.
I personally use a paycheck budget but that doesn’t mean you have to as well. It’s just what works best for me and the method I like to use.
The best budgeting method for you is the one that you can understand, one you can stick with and one that makes sense for you, your life and your goals.
That’s super important so I’m going to say that again. The best budgeting method for you is the one that you can understand, one you can stick with and the one that makes sense for you, your life and your goals.
It takes a bit of experimentation to find what works for you, so give them all a shot. All b-words are different, all people are different. So, you need to find the right fit.
Of course, you can come up with your own unique way of budgeting and that’s totally fine — as long as it works for you.
I created my own strategy as well, because I didn’t believe in the ways that others were telling me to manage my money.
I wasn’t taught how to budget. I figured it out for myself and made my own system as I went.
I studied accounting and finance in university, so I applied a lot of what I was learning to forming my budgeting strategy as well.
Not just what I was learning about finance but also what I was learning about myself and my habits.
Zero based budgeting
So, regardless of the budgeting method you choose, or if you create your own one, your budget needs to be a zero based budget.
What does that mean? A zero based budget is one where money in minus money out equals zero. And money out includes things like your savings and investments.
It means that every dollar of your income is allocated somewhere in your financial plan.
So, if you have a 50 / 30 / 20 budget — 50 + 30 + 20 equals 100, meaning 100% of your income has been allocated.
If you’re budgeting by percentages, the sum of all your percentages should come to 100%.
If you’re budgeting by paycheck, the sum of all your budgeted amounts equals the amount of income you received that paycheck.
A zero based budget is super important because it means that every dollar of your income is being put to work for you.
Because when you have income that isn’t allocated somewhere in your budget, that income can easily be spent.
And it’s usually spent without a lot of intention, on things that don’t really matter to you all that much in the big picture.
But when you allocate all your income, every dollar has a job. There are no lazy dollars here.
It doesn’t mean that you can’t spend money on fun stuff, it just means that you’re planning how much you’re going to spend ahead of time.
How to make your budget work for you
While there is no one right way to budget, there’s definitely a wrong way to budget.
There’s one super important thing your budgeting system needs to do otherwise it has no chance of working.
In order for your budget to work, it needs to be realistic according to how you live your life.
Not how you wish you lived your life. Not how the internet says you should live but how you actually live.
Your shmoopie should be like a diary. It’s actually one of the most personal documents you can create because it shows so much about you.
It should be an accurate reflection of who you are, what your life is like, your circumstances, your values, your goals and your dreams for the future.
If you can’t see all of that in your budget, then something is missing.
If you look at my budget, you can see that I love travelling. It’s one of my savings goals and I contribute money to it every month.
Investing is also really important to me. I make contributions every month and it’s often the largest item on my budget in terms of amount.
You can see that I choose to rent instead of buying a property because rent is one of my bills. And you can see that I drive instead of taking public transport because I have a line for car expenses.
You can tell a lot about a persons’ life and their values by looking at how they manage their money. Your budget tells your story.
So if your budget doesn’t reflect your story then it’s the wrong budget for you.
And that’s when your budget starts to feel too restrictive and difficult. Because you’re trying to live a life that isn’t yours.
And yes, I’m all for empowering yourself to change your life. That’s what Paper Money Co and the Girl on FIRE podcast is all about. My entire purpose here is to empower other women to take control of their finances and change their lives.
But there’s a difference between changing your life and stepping into someone else’s life.
I like to say that your b-word is like your glass slipper. It needs to be the perfect fit for you and only you — no prince required.
It doesn’t matter what people on the internet say. They’re going to judge you anyway for how you spend your money.
I know it’s easier said than done, but try to block out all that noise. If you need to, stay off socials for a while and get some distance from it.
Those people aren’t living your life. So their opinions on how you spend money don’t matter.
What do you need in your budget to make financial independence a reality
If you’ve already got a budgeting system in place that works for you, then that’s a fantastic place to start.
And I’m super proud of you because not everyone see’s the power and benefit of budgeting but you did, because you’re on fire!
The next step would be evaluating your budgeting system to see if it allows you to work towards your goals of financial independence.
Your budget needs to include more than just your bills. A list of bills you need to pay each month isn’t a budget.
It’s a list of bills. And since you have limited control over the amount you pay, your list of bills is just keeping you organised. It’s a to-pay list, it isn’t a budget.
Of course, your budget needs to include your bills but it also needs to include your variable expenses.
Variable expenses are the ones that fluctuate from month to month like food or entertainment.
Those are the ones you’ll have the most control over, so your budget definitely needs to include those.
Because you have more control over those types of expenses, you can actively try to cut costs there so that you have more to put towards your goals.
You can’t really skip your next rent payment and tell your landlord that you needed to invest that money instead because you don’t want to work forever. It doesn’t work that way.
I mean, you could try doing that if you really wanted to but I highly doubt that your plans for financial independence include sleeping on the street.
Once your bills and variable expenses are taken care of, how much do you have left over? That’s the money that goes towards your goals.
I share updates for my personal b-word over on Instagram, so I recommend you follow me over there @papermoneyco.
You’ll see that I split my budget into two halves. One being bills and expenses, and the other side is savings and extra debt payments.
I don’t have any debt, so it’s just the savings for me, but that also includes contributions I make to my investments.
When I created my budgeting system, I structured it this way on purpose. On one side you have your income minus your bills and minus your expenses.
And then you have some money leftover. If you were a company, that leftover money would be your profit.
So, think of that like your personal profit. And then you get to decide what you do with that profit.
Are you using it to pay off your debts? Do you want to save it for your various savings goals like an emergency fund or a travel fund?
Or maybe you’re setting some of aside to splurge a little this month? Does it go towards sinking funds? Or are you going to invest that money?
What’s really important here is that you take the time to understand your own goals. You need to know what’s priority for you.
What matters most? That’s the order that your money should be allocated in.
We’re going to be talking a lot more about budgets, shmoopies, b-words —whatever you want to call it — in future episodes, so don’t worry if your budget isn’t perfect yet.
My 3-part budget deep dive starting with next weeks’ episode will really help clarify things for you.
Budgeting is always a work in progress anyway — it changes and evolves over time. The most important thing to understand is how powerful it is.
Because once you realise the power your b-word has, it becomes a lot easier to use it to build the future and the life you were meant to live.
Next weeks’ episode
And that’s all I have for you Girls on FIRE today!
On next weeks’ episode I’m going to be kicking off a 3-part series where we take a deep dive into the three budgeting methods we discussed today.
It’s really important that you set the right foundations for success as your build your wealth and strive for financial independence.
It’s going to be super interesting so you’re definitely not going to want to miss it.