Ready to learn how to budget?
Are you ready to learn how to budget?
This past summer, I had the amazing opportunity of attending a prestigious business program at Dartmouth College.
As a liberal arts student, I was ecstatic! This was the perfect chance for me to acquire all the business skills and knowledge I would need to comfortably enter the workforce – skills I felt I lacked from my core undergraduate curriculum.
While there, I learned about business concepts ranging from marketing to managerial economics to accounting and even conflict management. Our studies ultimately culminated in a final capstone project, where my study group and I delivered a market valuation presentation on a small travel business.
The reason I’m telling you all this is because I think that my most important financial/business lesson from the program is something I picked up almost unconsciously. And no, my lesson doesn’t have to do with anything I learned in the classroom or through my project (although those were all priceless learning opportunities!).
You see, my most important business lesson was in personal finance – budgeting! And I learned that skill outside of my classroom.
What is budgeting?
Budgeting is simple! It’s essentially drafting a financial plan for all your expenses and keeping track of your money movement. At its most basic, a budget is a plan for spending your money.
Budgets are fantastic tools for anyone at any stage and of any financial status. They can be tedious to make at first, especially if you didn’t keep good track of your finances beforehand. But having your money accessible and recorded all in one spot does wonders for your financial health down the line.
How did I learn it?
The business program I attended allocated its students a total budget of about $550 for three weeks’ worth of meals. Once I subtracted out the presumed cost of the catered meals and networking lunches that the program provided here and there, it looked like I had about $20-30 a day for meals.
That sounds like a reasonable amount, right?
I thought so, too. But it turns out that some of the meals at the college could sell for upwards of $13! If I wasn’t careful, I could end up leaving myself short on meal money!
At first, the thought of being conscious about my spending was intimidating (welcome to the real world, Jeremy!). But I realized that using a budget would help me reliably track my spending and see how much money I had left for meals down the line.
My greatest lesson in finance didn’t come from accounting or economics or some other business class – rather, it came from the budgeting I had to do to be a responsible spender!
How do I use it now?
Budgeting for the program at Dartmouth helped me responsibly spend my money. I didn’t have to worry about my finances for the day as long as I tracked it and stayed within my spending plan. If I did, I didn’t have to worry – my budget had my spending laid out for the next few weeks so I just had to make adjustments accordingly!
Keeping track of my budget was as simple as using the Notes app on my iPhone. A lot of popular, more functional budgeting apps seemed to be calling my name, but I liked the Notes app because it was simple, yet effective. And I use the same app today at college!
The best part about using Notes is that anyone with an iPhone can do this (not to mention that you can budget with as little as a pen and piece of paper!).
Now for my budgeting.
I don’t quite have my meal plans planned out as I did at the summer business program, but I still apply the same basic principles.
Because my meals at college are free, thanks to Middlebury’s unlimited meal plan, I keep track of all the take-out meals I order, all the restaurants I visit, and even all the groceries I buy. The result is that I have a working tally of where my money goes and and when! Knowing this information gives me so much financial freedom, by allowing me to do things such as:
1) Predict my spending over the next few days and adjust accordingly
2) Analyze how I’ve been spending and adjust accordingly
3) Use my budgeting to plan out subscriptions and recurring fees
4) See when I have a little freedom to treat myself
My favorite example of using budgeting is as simple as going to your local bubble tea shop. No matter your financial situation, you’d think that buying a cup of bubble tea is affordable – at least for most people!
While you might be right, the reality is that small fees and purchases like tea and coffee pile up and really surprise you when they total up to massive amounts in a few short weeks.
All it took was for me to look at my budget in the Notes app and see that I’d taken three trips in the past two days for coffee to know that I needed to give my wallet a tiny break.
Budgeting is quick, simple, and, most important, essential. It can be the factor that’s been missing for your financial health. And, just like the Money Minute, it can do wonders for your financial wellness!
It’s easy to build into your schedule and does nothing but give you benefits – so why not try it today?