Did you know that less than half of American adults have a budgeting system?
According to the 2018 Council for Economic Education’s Survey of the States, the number of budgeting adults runs at about 40% – though when I shared this stat with a finance professional, he said, “That even sounds high.”
I get it. Most people don’t want to know. I bet you don’t want to know. Why? Because you might find out, like I did, that in three weeks, you spent $35 on ice cream. We don’t always want the cold, hard (or smooth, no chunks) truth of how we’re doing with our money.
The thing is, by not tracking expenses, you also don’t get to know how well you’re doing. There are probably areas where your spending decisions are really smart, and this is something you can build on.
Not only is it necessary to budget for yourself, but it’s a great tool to share with others – particularly your kids. As you prepare them for the financial reality of life after school, you have an opportunity to have great money conversations with them.
Here are two things to keep in mind:
1. Budgets are better when they’re built together.
Remind your kids that anyone who teaches you how to budget and manage their finances also struggles with it in their own life – yourself included!
Budgeting means first you estimate, then you evaluate. Bring your kids in on the process, and make it simple:
- Set a goal.
- Do your best *together* to achieve it.
- Assess how you did.
Explain to them that a budget is more than just a record of your spending; it’s a roadmap to your freedom because it helps you make future-focused spending decisions.
To track your expenses, you can either write down your purchases, or use apps like Mint, Tiller, or Every Dollar to monitor them electronically. I think the apps are better because you can’t cheat or lie to yourself or “forget” to write something down.
When evaluating how you did, you’ll realize that a budget allows you to make space for what matters most. It helps you figure out where you can cut back and what you’ll give room to breathe. And if you overshoot your spending goal, don’t think of it as failure, look at it as a great lesson to learn from.
Overall when dealing with money, remember the mantra: “No shame, no blame.” Curiosity helps keep you going. Judgment just shuts you down.
2. Start a list of your favorite saving hacks.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to go crazy and deny yourself all the pleasures of life. Like eating. Here are three easy, useful tips (with mantras) for students looking to spend less:
- “New to me is still new.” Save money by buying clothes on sale, shopping at consignment stores, or by renting outfits online.
- “Travel on a dime.” When you travel to and from college, search for less well-known rental car and airfare websites, and plan ahead by making food to bring along so you can avoid $16 airport soup (delicious though it may be).
- “Split meals, not hairs.” When you’re going out to eat with friends, use apps like VenMo, Splitwise, Billy or Dutch so you can split the meal in a quick, fair, and non-relationship-ending way.
These are just a few of the ways to create some financial dialogue. The more experience your young people have of having informative and non-judgmental conversations with you about money, the more likely they are to come to you with money questions that arise during their college years.
When you spend money on a young person you care about, recognize it for what it is: a great opportunity to teach them how you did it, so someday they can do the same.
Did this make you think about when you were your kids’ age? So will listening to my award-winning Moth Story.
Colin Ryan, CPFC is the author of “A Comedic Guide to Money,” has been featured everywhere from NPR to The Moth Radio Hour, and speaks all over the country.