When your budget won’t budge

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There is a time to budget for a better life

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 10, 2015

There is nothing more sobering than dealing with finance. Now that we have accepted the fact that it sucks, let’s figure out how we can make it better, or at least bearable.

When we are budgeting it’s important to consider the reasons why we are saving money. What are our objectives? Without a clear goal, a budget is only a low fence that we can easily jump over with no dire consequences. Consider what you want to do after the budget is established: pay off debt, save up for a vacation, or buy something expensive.

It’s never preferable working paycheque to paycheque. If you find yourself stuck in this vicious circle it’s time to budget your cash flow. We are all dealing with different circumstances so there isn’t one easy solution, but like all goals, it’s better to work in smaller sprints than longer marathons.

Start by preparing a 90-day plan. Calculate your income and expenses and see what the difference is. If the number is wildly under your expectations it’s time to prioritize your needs. Here is where it hurts: for 90 days, you’ll have to be frugal. Spend only on necessities.

Social life can derail your financial plans pretty quickly, so you need to be careful of that too. Schedule your nights out ahead of time. If something comes up without at least a two-week notice (approximately the same time as your paycheque is issued), respectfully decline the invitation. Being spontaneous can be addictive and often it’ll take you two steps back in your plan. If you want to hang out with people, invite them over to your place. Creating a BYOB event and having friends over is much cheaper than a night at the bar.

Don’t think of a budget as a life-long barrier. That attitude can bury your self-worth and confidence pretty quickly. Instead consider a budget as a way to establish some running room for the future. In order to get a better job or pay off some debts you’ll need some help. Like studying for an exam, the result will not be instantaneous. You’ll really need to commit to it, and 90 days is not that long.

After the first quarter of saving, what do you do after? Go back to your opulent lifestyle? No. It’s time to reevaluate your situation. Three months may lead to a lot of changes or none at all and it never hurts to revisit your goals. Are you still burdened with debt or are you further along in the green? Are you closer to affording your vacation? How many semesters of school do you still have?

Once again, everyone’s life is different. The key is to keep in mind that there is a goal to reach. There is a deadline to meet. There will be obstacles and other people will try to tempt and influence you, but you must stay the course. Budgeting is the price you pay for a better life.

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