Do you find budgeting and tracking your expenses to be extremely overwhelming? Maybe you even have all the fancy apps and tools to keep track of your spending, but somehow you still have trouble creating and sticking to a budget that actually works for you.

Guess what? You don’t have to be perfect. In fact, my guest today will teach you to embrace your imperfection, owning who you are and what you like to spend money on.  And BONUS – you can actually make budgeting fun!

This is the heartbeat behind Joe Saul-Sehy’s message to you today. To borrow a phrase from FastCompany magazine, Joe gave us “the perfect blend of humor and actionable advice” to help those of us who feel like we’ve failed one too many times when it comes to budgeting, saving, and paying off debt. And it all starts with knowing the difference between budgeting versus tracking. 

Joe Saul-Sehy
Joe Saul-Sehy of Stacking Benjamins

Budgeting Vs. Tracking

What’s the difference?

Joe explains that your budget should reveal what you really want from your life. It should be your “why”. Tracking, on the other hand, is where you learn to make room for the things you want and love. How? It reveals your spending habits which allows for you to make adjustments to your budget based on what you like, what you want, and where you typically tend to give over to impulses.

A graphic explaining what a budget is and what a budget is not

How does tracking relate to your budget?

According to Joe, “we set a budget. Then we track to see how close our budget is to our reality.” In other words, if our spending habits (shown through tracking) don’t reflect what we truly value and want out of life (shown through your budget), then adjustments must be made.

Joe explains it further, “If you’re going to track what you do, you’re much more likely to do things that you value, and less likely to do things that you don’t value. If I know that I’m going to track that I purchased this coffee mug, and I already have 50 coffee mugs, I might not buy it if I know I’m going to track it”

What’s the best way to budget and track your expenses?

Okay so you may be saying to yourself “But Allison, I have an app that tracks for me.” To you, Joe would ask “do you actually comb through all of your spending and relate it all back to your budget on a weekly basis?”

If you’re reading this there’s a chance you don’t. And if you do, and it’s working for you and your budget, then you’re already 2 steps ahead of the game! To the other half of you, keep reading because Joe shared several actionable tips to help you get back on the horse and actually start seeing some positive results in your finances, especially when it comes to tracking!

Keys to Success with Budgeting & Tracking

“…forget about the spreadsheets, forget about envelope methods, forget about all the different budgets that are out there. And instead…”

Make budgeting FUN

“We always do our budget meeting over wine or pancakes, depending on the time of day”

Sounds like fun to me! Do you enjoy the outdoors? Have a favorite music playlist? Next time you sit down to go over your weekly spending and setting your next budget, try implementing those things that you enjoy!

Let me know how you made budgeting fun this week in the comments below!

Set a timer

Joe tells us to start small and set a 20 minute timer once a week to budget and go over your previous week’s expenses.

Starting small is much less overwhelming. And if we know we’re not going to be pouring over spreadsheets and numbers for hours on end, we’re much more likely to actually sit down and look at our finances.

Before we know it, a habit is formed, and we can totally build from there!

A timer set to 20 minutes

Dumb it down

Here’s what Joe said about keeping your budget simple: “I think people think that budgeting is not for them, or it doesn’t work because they have way too many cells on the spreadsheet, they need to dumb it down a little bit”

Joe warns us not to start out with “tracking every single expense, budgeting out 55 million different categories.” Instead he tells us to “start much smaller, and then add as you go. You can always add more later. This makes it really easy for you to continue. Versus if you start off way too big, you’re just gonna quit, you’re totally gonna quit. And that’s the worst thing. It is far better to have a not so great budget to start with than it is to quit altogether.”

You’re much less likely to commit to something if it’s too complicated and overwhelming. Start small. Look at your expenses, talk about what next week will look like for you. That’s it. That’s your starting point.

Make apps your friend but not your lifeline

Now if you’re no stranger around here, you know I love personal finance tools that help me stay on track with my budget. However, Joe cautions us to not rely solely on apps for tracking your expenses (especially if you’re just starting out or starting over again with your budget). Joe tells us the best thing to rely on is… YOURSELF! That’s right, manually tracking your spending habits allows us to take an honest look at what you’re purchasing and why. This gives us the time to reflect and make necessary adjustments that support our values.

Be realistic

“You have to set up your budget for times when you’re not gung-ho…it has to be sustainable… it has to be something you can do long term…You have to set up a budget that you can do forever.”

Sometimes we write a budget for the version of ourselves we want to be instead of the version of ourselves that we are. Maybe you really love books, and find that purchasing a new book or two every month gives you joy. Well, it wouldn’t be realistic for you to completely cut those purchases out all together, even if you initially want to be gung-ho with paying off debt and saving money. But if you write your budget when you are in that mindset, rather than the mindset of accepting who you are and what you like to spend money on, then chances are you are not going to stick with it.

Instead, I want you to find a way to make those things that you love happen in your budget.

Last minute thoughts from Joe

“I think the mistake people have with a budget is that they think that it is that it’s confining.” Joe explains that budgets are actually FREEING in that they provide a way for you to send money to things and experiences that you truly value, without the feeling of guilt or anxiety getting in the way.”

“If you start [a budget] with the things that bring you joy, and then work down to the things that don’t, it’s the things that don’t [bring you joy] that get pushed out of your life” leaving only room for what you truly want, value, and need.

Budgeting ahead of time for things or experiences you desire will allow you to actually enjoy the things you love, guilt-free. You won’t blow your budget on things you don’t care about when you have already budgeted money out for what you actually want.

A hand holding a post it note with writing

Both budgeting and tracking your expenses go hand-in-hand and are equally important for long-term financial success.

And guess what? They don’t have to be daunting tasks that overwhelm you! If you’ve failed before, it doesn’t mean you’re going to fail again. Try implementing Joe’s keys to success this next week and let us know how you do in the comments below!

By the way, Joe’s new book is out now! You can also follow Joe here: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

And if you’re interested in a completely FREE resource that will help motivate and guide you along your debt-free journey, sign up below to grab your Debt-free roadmap! I’ll be sharing with you exactly how my husband and I paid off over $111,000 in debt on 2 teacher salaries while growing our family!

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