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I do not enjoy traditional budgeting. Tracking every penny, giving every pound a job – it’s not for me. I find it stressful, counterproductive and mostly, a lot of WORK.
If your life is exactly the same every single month, old-school having an old-school budget is great. However, so many of my expenses are one-offs, or short term things, it just isn’t practical for me.
But if I told you there’s a different way to do things that involves about an hour’s work now, and the rest can all be automated, does that sound better?
Cool! I can prove this works because I saved up more than £30,000 over four years while renting in London. Also, I didn’t live a miserly life and I never had to sit and tally up what I spent on £12 mojitos in Soho the previous night, promise.
The painful part – my free expenses spreadsheet
To get started, follow the instructions to get the expenses spreadsheet on your own device. Easy enough! Now, open your laptop and get yourself a drink, because you’re about to see the shocking truth about where your money is actually going.
Open a browser tab for every bank and credit card you have, plus PayPal, and log into your accounts. Then pick a “typical” financial month (i.e, not one you went on holiday or bought a car). You then need to go through and enter every time money left your account in that month into categories given in the spreadsheet. Do this for each account, until the spreadsheet is full. If you pay some bills annually, like car insurance, divide them by twelve and write them in.
Cut, cut, cut
If you’ll do anything to avoid seeing your balance at a cash machine, you might not like the results. HOWEVER, short term pain, long term gain. I’ve made the spreadsheet show you what percentage of your income you’re spending on various categories, and the results can be scary.
Highlight the items on the spreadsheet that are monthly Direct Debits or standing orders, and of the ones that aren’t debt payments, are there any you can get rid of? Uncancelled free trials, that sort of thing? Cancel them. Try and notify the company that you’re cancelling as well.
Now, the ones you can’t cancel, either you need it to live, rent, broadband, blah blah blah, or it’s something you can’t do without and you think is worth the cost, (Netflix for example). Can any of these be reduced? Switching energy suppliers is so easy, and you’re almost guaranteed to make a saving if you’re out of contract. Can you go to a cheaper gym? Get a sim-only phone contract? Switch to a one screen at a time Netflix account and bin off the leeches?
If you do go onto a new contract, set a phone or physical diary alert for one month before that contract ends. Also do this for any subscriptions you’re mid-contract with. You should try your best never to go out of contract, my broadband almost DOUBLED. Many companies require 1 month’s notice to cancel, so if it’s ending in a year, set that alert for 11 months from now.
The absolute easiest way to budget towards growing your savings is to trim your fixed expenses. Your Direct Debits are the most painless way to do it. If you bought an iPhone on a £40 a month contract over 2 years ago and you’re still paying £40, you won’t feel a difference by switching to a £12 a month sim-only deal. But if I told you to stop going on Friday lunch outings with your work bestie to save £28 a month, that’s depriving you.
Let’s look at your spending
Now, there’s no way to take back all the money you spent in that month, unless any of it still has tags and you can send it back. However, we can learn from it.
What are you spending an unreasonable amount of money on? I’m not here to judge you or say what is or isn’t reasonable, that’s up to you. It could be going out, or clothes, or craft materials or taxis, we’re all different.
From the unreasonable number, decide on a reasonable one. For me, it’s too much money if I spend £10 a day on lunches at work, but bringing my own food for two of those days makes it a reasonable (to me) £30 a week. Do not make this number zero. Everyone should have enjoyment in their life, eating beans and rice every day is not sustainable.
Pocket money for grownups
I have a whole bank account just for fun money. My paycheque does not go into this account, but a standing order sends over £50 every Monday. If you keep a close eye on your big Direct Debits, there’s no need to be too prescriptive with what you spend on the things that make you happy. My account is with Starling because it’s easy to set up and has great features.
I don’t spend £50 every single week, but any funds that are carried over can help me pay for a bigger expensive fun thing, like buying new clothes or a big night out. Sometimes people say having a budget makes them less stressed about money because it takes away the guilt. This is so true with this method, because it isn’t coming out of my main current account, I’m not always thinking that I’m “wasting money” because it’s a planned weekly expense.
This is my main tip for getting away with not actually having a proper budget.
Budget for savings
If you’re covering your bills, plus giving yourself a bit of leeway with fun money, hopefully, there’s still some of your wage left over.
I find it’s helpful to split your savings three ways:
- Short term (less than 1 year away)
- Medium term (less than 5 years away)
- Long term (more than 5 years away)
The amount of time before you’ll need the money should help you decide what type of account to open. Short term, you’re probably not going to make much in interest, so easy access is key. If your goal is 1+ years away, maybe a regular saver will net you the most profit (if you’re buying a house look at the Lifetime ISA). Consider investing if you’re saving for something years and years down the line, but I’m not a financial adviser so you do you!
It’s very motivating if you can set up a new savings account (or a Monzo or Starling pot/space) and a matching standing order for each of these separate goals. Many banks let you give your accounts names or even pictures. Psychologically, putting a name on your savings makes you save more somehow. I know I’d rather put £50 a month into ~Bronni’s Dollywood fund~ rather than INSTANT SAVER 02.
Don’t hate, automate
At the end of this make sure:
- You aren’t paying for anything you don’t use, and you’ve switched to cheaper contracts if you can.
- You have calendar reminders of when your contracts end.
- All of your bills are being paid by Direct Debit, especially any debt payments.
- You’ve given yourself enough fun money that you don’t feel deprived, but it’s still affordable.
- Your savings have a name, and you’ve set up a regular standing order to them, no matter how small.
In a few month’s time, come back and reconsider your lazy budget. Are you getting the right amount of pocket money? Can you save more or are your standing orders leaving your account looking pretty empty? Are there any more bills you can switch to a better deal?
And… we’re done! I hope this was helpful, but everyone is different and if it doesn’t work for you, change it up.