Budgeting. It's a word that people either love or hate (mostly hate).
I may get mixed reviews about the advice that I share on today's episode, but for many, budgeting is a waste of time. Budgeting takes discipline, it takes time and it takes some skill to use a budgeting spreadsheet or app. Because it's difficult, for some people it can actually have a negative impact on their finances. They lose motivation or interest, and eventually discouraged, stop paying attention to their finances all together.
I'm not advocating that people shouldn't manage their money, but I am suggesting that you need to find a solution that will work for you and your finances.
It's very important to know where you're spending your money because if you don't know where it goes, you can't make adjustments to pay down debt and build your savings.
I'm joined once again by money expert, Gail Vaz-Oxlade who is an advocate for having a system in place that will help you to pay off debt, save money and spend wisely. Gail is well known for her magic jar concept; the idea that you should allocate a specific amount of money to a number of goals (i.e. bill payments, savings, entertainment, groceries etc.) to keep yourself on track each month.
Why Budgets Fail
However, many people fail to budget because they're not committed to the idea of budgeting. In this episode we talk about why budgets fail and I give a few tips for managing your money without a budget.
"I'm Too Busy To Make A Budget"
Both Gail and I have heard this line too many times to count. But Gail put's this statement into perspective explaining that
the reality is that we work really hard for our money. Hardly any of us just has a dump truck that just backs up to our houses and beep, beep, beep, dumps money in. We actually have to bust our butts to make money. Anyone who says they're too busy to budget, they're in denial. What they're trying to do is they're trying to not have any system in place so they can buy what they want, when they want.
I ask Gail how much time she spends budgeting her money in a month and her answer is 1.5 hours a month. That's a realistic time frame if you have a system in place to keep track of where your money is going and let's face it, we all have an extra 1.5 hours to spare a month to manage our money. The hard part is staying motivated to actually use whatever system you decide to use.
My Super Secret Budgeting Advice
Want to know my secret to managing your money without a budget? It's not really a secret and it's certainly not rocket science: pay your bills as frequently as you get paid.
Sounds easier said than done right?
Consider automating your payment plan so that your budget becomes pre-programmed. Let me explain. Every time that you get paid, put a portion of that money away to pay your bills at the end of the month. Better yet, pay your bills in chunks as your money comes in.
If you get paid every week and you know that your hydro bill is going to be $100 at the end of the month, set aside $25 (or pay that $25 toward your bill) every week. By the end of the month, you'll have the money needed to pay the bill in full. Do this with all of your bills including rent/mortgage payments and car payments. You can even have your bank transfer those funds automatically on payday to a savings account dedicated to your bill payments. That way, the money that's left in your account becomes spending money and you're less likely to spend more than what you're making.
The concept here is that budgeting is about matching your inflows with your outflows. As Doug says:
[Budgeting is] looking ahead to the future, seeing what's coming in, seeing what's going out, matching it all up so at the end of the month you're at worst even and hopefully you're building into savings into that budget as well and then you're good.
Listen to the full podcast for more information on how to make better choices about your money, how your going to spend it and what your financial future will hold.
Read the full transcript below.
Resources Mentioned in the Show:
- Debt Free Forever: Take Control of Your Money and Your Life by Gail Vaz-Oxlade
- Money Talks: How To Say Yes & When To Say No by Gail Vaz-Oxlade
FULL TRANSCRIPT show #72 with Gail Vaz-Oxlade
Doug Hoyes: Today I'm going to get myself into a lot of trouble. I'm going to upset a lot of people because I'm going to disagree with one of the most basic concepts of money management. Today I'm going to tell you that I think for many people budgeting is a waste of time. Yes, today we're going to talk about budgeting right here on Debt Free in 30.
So, why do I think budgeting is a waste of time for some people? Well, three reasons first it takes discipline to remember to track all of your expenses, second it takes time to budget and third it takes some skill to use a spreadsheet or a budgeting program or even to summarize all of your expenses on paper. Many of us don’t see the need to have discipline over our money. We don’t want to make the time and we've never learned the skills necessary. For those people, budgeting is a waste of time because they won't stick to it, they'll get discouraged and they may be worse off than not budgeting at all.
Have you ever wanted to lose 10 pounds so you go on a diet and you don’t stick to it and six months later you realize you weigh even more than when you started your diet? You would have been better off if you had never even attempted that diet and that's how it works with some people and budgeting.
So, am I saying you don’t need to actively manage your money? No, I'm not. It's very important to know where you're spending your money because if you don’t know where it goes you can't make adjustments to pay down debt and build your savings. All I'm saying is that for some people budgeting isn’t the answer.
In the second segment of the show I'll tell you what I think is the answer. But first, to help me explore this issue I've asked one of our most popular guests ever, Gail Vaz-Oxlade to return to the show and talk about budgeting. If you've watched any of Gail's T.V shows or read any of her books, you'll know that she is a believer in taking responsibility for your money and she believes that budgeting is a way to do just that. Does that mean I disagree with her? Not necessarily. Let's listen to my conversation with her on budgeting to get Gail's perspective.
I'm joined now by Gail Vaz Oxlade whose new book is Money Talks: When to Say Yes and How to Say No. And Gail, Chapter 19 is called "Too Busy To Budget". Is that a problem people have?
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: [laughter] It's a problem they claim to have, Doug.
Doug Hoyes: They claim to have.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Absolutely. The reality is that we work really hard for our money, hardly any of us just has a dump truck that just backs up to our houses and beep, beep, beep dumps money in. We actually have to bust our butts to make money. Anyone who says they're too busy to budget, they're in denial. What they're trying to do is they're trying to not have any system in place so they can buy what they want when they want.
Doug Hoyes: I see so, it's not I don’t have the time to budget, it's I don’t want to budget because that will put the brakes on me.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Yeah, they don’t want to have to do the detail of money management. Whenever I describe how I manage my money, I call it the Gail way, so I use a spending journal and then once a month I take all the interest from my spending journal and I post it into my cash flow budget so I'm keeping myself on track. When I describe that to people they, you know, some people put their fingers in their ears and some people accuse me of being anally retentive and some people say well, you know, that's because you like doing that kind of thing. Oh please, get a grip, nobody likes doing it. I do not like doing it. I do it because it's good for me and I do it because I worked really hard for that money and if I don’t know where it's going, I am an idiot.
Doug Hoyes: And so, how much time in a typical month would you spend either managing your money or budgeting, whatever you want to call it?
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: It takes me about an hour and 15 minutes a month.
Doug Hoyes: An hour and 15 minutes a month.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: You don’t have an hour and 15 minutes a month to manage your money on the daily then you are truly delusional.
Doug Hoyes: And how - that hour and 15, is it like an hour at the end of the month and 15 minutes throughout the month?
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: It's about an hour during the month. So, what happens is every time I spend a penny, I bring home my receipts and I enter them into my spending journal and I keep a running track of how much money I have left. And then it takes me about 15 minutes to post that information into my cash flow budget at the end of every month to make sure I'm staying on track.
Doug Hoyes: Got you, and then you can adjust it. And I guess when you think about it that hour and 15 every month is probably saving you over the course of a year thousands and thousands of dollars.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Absolutely, because I know exactly what I'm doing with every single penny and it's also about making choices. You know, people like to use the word sacrifice when they talk about budgets. It's nothing to do with sacrifice, it's about choices. I can choose to go to the movie or I can choose to take the cab on the rainy day. If it's pouring with rain and I think to myself, okay you know what? I'll forgo the movie so I can take the cab home, that's a choice, it's not a sacrifice.
Doug Hoyes: I can make my own coffee in the morning or I can go to the coffee shop.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Absolutely, we're always making choices about what we're doing with our money. Sometimes we're doing it unconsciously and all I'm trying to do is say to people get out of unconscious. I want you back into consciousness so that every decision you make is one that is actually serving your needs.
Doug Hoyes: So again you want people to think, that's the whole idea.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Totally, I want you to think and I want you to accept responsibility for the decisions that you make, stop playing the martyr.
Doug Hoyes: And so, when I talk to people I have the exact same discussion with them. Well, you need to keep track of where your money's going. Oh, I don’t have time, I don’t have time. And I understand exactly what you're saying, yes you do, you just don’t want to or you don’t want to see what it's going to reveal.
One of the things that I say to people and you tell me if I'm way off base here on this 'cause maybe this is the easy way out, is I say to them okay what I want you do is set up all your payments to match your pay cheque. So, if you are one of those people who gets paid every week at work, your pay cheque automatically gets deposited into your bank account every Friday, well pay your hydro bill every Friday. Take your monthly amount divide it by four and automatically set it up for your bank to send the money every Friday. So that, in effect, it becomes a one week budget. The money comes in and I buy my groceries, I pay a quarter of my hydro bill, a quarter of my phone bill, I put a quarter of it into a separate bank account to pay the rent at the end of the month, is that cheating do you think?
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: No, I don’t think it's cheating. One of the things that I tell people to do is to match their bill payments with when the money comes in. So, I tell them to get a calendar and plot where their pay cheques come in and plot when their bill payments are due on the calendar. And make sure that they have a matching amount so they're not running into overdraft problems. And a lot of people don’t realize it, but if you have more bills coming in off your first pay cheque then you can pay, you can move one of those billing dates by calling the company and moving it.
So, whether they do it your way and do it on a weekly basis or they actually match their cash flow to the calendar when the money's coming in and when it's going out, what they're doing is they're taking responsibility for making sure they're only spending as much as they have.
Doug Hoyes: Yeah and I agree, you match it with your income. If you're a pensioner and you get your pension at the end of the month, well okay, then it doesn’t make sense to be paying things weekly you have to manage on a monthly basis. But that's really what budgeting is, then; whatever word you want to use. It's looking ahead to the future, seeing what's coming in, seeing what's going out, matching it all up so at the end of the month you're at worst even and hopefully you're building into savings into that budget as well and then you're good.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Absolutely, and then so when I try to, in this book, in Money Talks, try to tell people about how to help other people budgeting, one of the points I try to make is that there are lots of people out there that are very concrete; talking about money in the abstract, talking about budgeting in the abstract doesn’t work for them. So, you need to get yourself a big piece of cardboard and some red kidney beans and make those kidney beans be worth a certain denomination of money. Hand them their money in beans and then make them allocate the beans to the various segments of their budget so they can see the beans going away. Because in the abstract, they can't relate, but make it concrete and suddenly it makes sense.
Doug Hoyes: And that's why a lot of people like to spend cash as opposed to using a debit card or a credit card and I mean you're the popularizer of the jar method, I believe.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Money jars.
Doug Hoyes: The money jar which is exactly the same thing, you can see through jars. You can see the money and then I don’t get into trouble. So, the new book is called Money Talks, which of your prior books delved more into the pure budgeting area, then?
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Debt Free Forever. Debt Free Forever was the process book that talked about things like making sure you understand where you have been spending your money, so how to do a spending analysis. Creating a budget that's realistic that you can actually stick to, getting a debt repayment plan in place so that you're not just making payments, you're actually making payments with a view to an end. And doing things like setting goals and making savings happen.
Doug Hoyes: Excellent. So, if people would like to understand the process, Debt Free Forever is a good book and that's available at bookstores everywhere on Amazon and so on. And if they want to know how to talk to people, their family members, friends, whatever, about some of the money issues they're having, then Money Talks: When to Say Yes and How to Say No, that book is what they should pick up.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Absolutely.
Doug Hoyes: Thanks very much, I appreciate that Gail, thanks for those insights.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: My pleasure.
Doug Hoyes: So, there you have it. Gail Vaz Oxlade's view is that the reason we don’t budget is not because we don’t have the discipline, time or skill to do it it's because we don’t want to limit what we can spend. If we have a budget and we decide in advance where to spend our money, it becomes very difficult to spend on impulse. Some of us love impulse spending so we don’t want to budget because we know it will curb our spending or at the very least make us feel guilty if we don’t follow our budget.
I think the key point Gail made is that it`s not a sacrifice to forgo spending, it's a choice. As I always tell people you can only spend that Loonie once, so decide in advance where you want to spend it. Make a conscious choice. Gail also said that it only takes her one hour and 15 minutes a month to budget. She spends an hour during the month and 15 minutes at the end of the month to pull it all together. That's not a big time commitment when you consider how many hours a week you work to earn that money.
So, as I said at the start of the show, I think budgeting is a waste of time for some people. What do I recommend instead I`ll give you my complete plan to manage your money without budgeting right after this quick break.
Doug Hoyes: Before the break I said that budgeting is a waste of time for some people. Notice that I said some people. If you`re disciplined and have the skill and patience to work with numbers, great. I run a large business with dozens of employees and there's no way I could run a business without a budget. I need to know where our money's going and I need to make plans for the future, that's a budget. It`s a list of where your money has gone or will go, by putting it in writing you can see where you may be spending too much and you can make changes. That's the point of budgeting.
So, if you want to budget, it's conceptually very simple: keep track of everything you spend.
Carry one of those small golf score pencils in your pocket with a scrap of paper and write down every penny you spend or keep every receipt. At the end of the day, bring them home and put those scraps of paper and receipts in a folder or on a bulletin board. You can sort them by category and then once a week or once a month transfer the totals to your main budget to see where you're at. Of course if you have a computer and a spreadsheet or you use a budgeting app you can do all this electronically.
But here's the question: are you going to do that? Will you keep track of all of your money? Will you write down every purchase? Most people have good intentions when they start out but they get busy and after a week or a month they get behind and they get discouraged. That's why I believe for some people budgeting is a waste of time.
So, what's my solution? What's my secret to not budgeting? Here it is: pay your bills as frequently as you get paid. That's it, that's the secret. So, if you get paid every week, pay your bills every week. If you get paid every two weeks, pay your bills every two weeks.
So, what am I talking about? How does that work? Well, let's take typical bills like your hydro bill or your cable bill. You get a bill every month from the hydro company and it says on it your bill is due on the 17th of the month. So, what do you do? Well, you have a calendar, you try to remember to pay that bill on the 17th of every month or maybe you send them a post dated cheque or maybe you set it up to pay it on the 17th through your online banking, through your internet banking. Okay, that makes sense.
But what happens if you get paid twice a month on the 15th and the last day of the month? Okay, I guess paying a bill on the 17th of the month isn’t a big deal because your pay cheque comes in on the 15th. But what if your hydro bill is due on the 13th? Well, it's two days till payday, but my bill is due today. Well, now I've got to start doing some fancy budgeting. So, my solution is pay your bills as frequently as you get paid. So, let's go back to your hydro bill. Let's assume it's $100 a month. Yeah, it's probably more than that but it makes the math simple if we use that number. And let's assume you get paid every week. Well, it's pretty simple you want to pay hydro $25 every week. At the end of four weeks you'll have paid them $100, that's what your bill is every month, you're good.
So, here's how I do it. I go into my online banking and I would program a bill payment for every payday. So, if I get paid every week and my hydro bill is $100 a month, I would program it in to send hydro $25 every payday. So if payday is Friday, I'd set it up to send them the payment every Friday. Pay your bills as frequently as you get paid.
Now I know you're sitting there going okay that works fine for something like hydro or cable because I actually send the payment to them, either by cheque or by electronic banking, but that's not going to work for something like my car insurance or my rent. Because that's a payment once a month and the way my landlord works, they want to take the payment out of my account on the first of every month. I can't say to my landlord, hey look I'll send you a certain amount every week or every two weeks. If your rent is $1,000 a month you can't say to your landlord, okay here's the thing I'll send you $250 every Friday. Your landlord's probably going to say no, no that's not the way we work, I don’t want to be having to figure out if you made your payments. I want all the payments the first of every month, that's how it works.
Now maybe your landlord will let you pay every week or every two weeks, fantastic do it that way then it works out great. But if they won't do it then there's a solution to that, too, in fact there's a couple of ways to do it. One way would be to simply leave the money in your bank account so that it's there on the 1st of every month. So, if your rent is $1,000 a month and you get paid every week, in your brain or on a piece of paper you just have to say to yourself, okay every pay cheque I have to leave $250 in my bank account. So, after my first pay cheque of the month there's got to be $250 in there, by the second $500, by the third pay cheque $750, by the time my fourth pay cheque comes in there'll be $1,000 there, which will cover me for the first of the next month. That works, it's a good solution.
The other way to do it would be to actually set up a separate bank account for your monthly bills so things like rent, car insurance, anything that only gets paid once a month you could set up a separate bank account. And if you use one of these online banks, a lot of them will let you set up as many bank accounts as you want. You want to make sure you're not paying huge service fees by setting up extra bank accounts, but that's a way to do it. So, you set up a monthly bill paying bank account and every week when you get paid, you electronically send the appropriate amount of money into your monthly bill paying bank account. And again it sounds complicated when I explain it but it isn’t because once you set it up on the computer, it just happens every month automatically.
So, with my rent, I need to put $250 every week into that bank account. With my car insurance let's say that's $200 a month, okay every week I've got to put $50 into my monthly bill account. Or if I get paid every two weeks, I put $100 every two weeks into that bill account. And then it doesn’t matter what day the hydro or the insurance company or my landlord is going in to take the payment out, as far as I'm concerned every payday the money's being transferred over so by the time the payment is due on the first of the month, let's say, it's already there. And again, because I have extra pays during the year if I get paid weekly or bi-weekly by the end of a year, I should have an extra month's rent, an extra month's car insurance sitting in that account.
And the same system works perfectly well for any expenses that aren’t every month. For example your license sticker renewal on your car, well you only do that once a year. Okay, well if your renewal is going to be $120 a year you need to put aside $10 a month. If you get paid bi-weekly you need to put aside $5 every pay cheque, so, again no problem when you're setting up that transfer into your bill payment account. I've got to put this much for rent, this much for car insurance and then this much for things that don’t happen every month - things like the license sticker for my car for example or birthday presents of Christmas presents or summer vacation or anything else that I want to save for. And of course you can set up a separate savings account purely for savings as well. That works perfectly well.
So again, my point is pay your bills as frequently as you get paid and that way the money is gone from your account, right away, immediately. And so, whatever's left in your bank account after payday, that's what you've got to live on between now and your next payday. That's your grocery money, your gas money, your spending money, anything else you need. There may not be a huge amount of money left in your bank account at the end of payday, but all of your bills are paid so you're not racing around trying to figure out what needs to be paid and when it needs to be paid. That's a simple easy system.
Now is that what you should do? Hey, that's up to you. If you know how to budget, if you like to budget, if you want to budget, fantastic do it that way. But if you're one of those people who say you know what? I'm just not going to be able to do it then my secret to not budgeting, pay your bills as frequently as you get paid. It works for a lot of people. That's how I would avoid budgeting, I'll be right back to wrap it up. You're listening to Debt Free in 30.
Let's Get Started Segment
Doug Hoyes: It's time for the Let's Get Started segment here on Debt Free in 30. In the last segment I said that in my opinion the best strategy to manage your money if you don’t want to make a budget is to pay your bills as often as you get paid. So, if you get paid every week, you pay your bills every week. I give this advice because it makes your life easier.
For example, let's say my cable and internet and home phone bill is all bundled together and it's $200 a month. If my Telco sets my due date on the 14th of the month and I get paid on the 15th, I've got a problem because my bill is due before I get my pay cheque. With my approach of paying your bills as often as you get paid, instead of trying to come up with $200 on the 14 of every month, I split the bill based on the number of pay cheques I get in the month. If I get paid every week I pay $50 every week. If I get paid bi-weekly, which is every two weeks, I pay $100 every two weeks. The main benefit of this approach is that I'm spreading out my monthly bills over all of my pay cheques so I don’t have to take the hit on any one pay cheque.
But there's another hidden benefit to this approach. If you take a monthly bill and divide it by four to pay it weekly or divide it by two and pay that amount bi-weekly, you end up making an extra month's payment every year.
Here's how it works. If you get paid every two weeks there are two months every year where you get three pay cheques instead of two. The exact months change every year but you get paid 26 times a year, so every year you have two months with an extra pay cheque. It's the same concept if you get paid weekly, except there are four months every year where you get an extra pay cheque.
So, if you pay $50 every week towards your $200 cable bill, every month where you get five pay cheques, you make five payments on your cable bill so you've actually paid $250. That means that at the end of the year you've made a full month's worth of payments and you didn’t even notice it. At some point the cable company will phone you up and say hey dude you paid us too much you have a $200 credit on your account. Wouldn’t that be great? Imagine what it would be like to have the bill collector phoning you and saying we owe you money. That would be pretty cool.
Now of course you may have an unexpected expense one month that puts you behind, but if you have a credit built up on your cable bill and your hydro bill and all of your other bills, you can skip a payment with no worries. That's peace of mind. It's like a forced savings plan. And it gives you peace of mind knowing that you're always ahead on your bills.
And if you never miss a payment and you do get a month ahead you can take a month off from payments and use that money for something else. You can decide that if you're a month ahead on your bills at the start of December you don’t need to pay your bills that month so you can use that extra money for Christmas. Or you may decide that you want to skip a month in the summer so you've got some money for your summer vacation. Or maybe one month of the year you use that extra money for savings. Perhaps that's the month you make an extra contribution to your kids RESP or your RRSP or your TFSA.
Imagine that, extra money. Wouldn’t it be great to not have to play catch up? That's the beauty of not budgeting but instead paying your bills every time you get paid. Give it a try.
You may be thinking okay this is great for bills where I send in my payment like my hydro bill but what about monthly payments that automatically come out of my bank account like my rent and car insurance? No problem, this approach still works. You either leave the money in your bank account each month or you set up a separate bank account for your monthly bills and just transfer the appropriate amount to your bill paying account every payday.
I remember meeting with a woman a few years ago who had over 20 bank accounts. She banked at one of those online banks so there were no service charges. So, she could open as many bank accounts as she wanted and that's exactly what she did. She had a separate bank account for every expense she had every month. She had a bank account for groceries and for haircuts and gas for the car and every other expense. Every payday she would transfer her budgeted amount for each expense into the appropriate bank account. So, if her food budget was $100 per week, every week she would transfer $100 to her food bank account. Then she would use her food bank account debit card, which was attached to that bank account, to buy groceries. Once the money was gone from the card, that was it, she couldn’t spend anymore. Now personally, I think having 20 different bank accounts is a bit excessive, but I guess it's the electronic equivalent of Gail's spending jars method so maybe it's not quite as crazy as it sounds.
Here's my final piece of advice, there are lots of different money management systems out there and no one system will work for everyone. Pick a system that works for you. If you want to have 20 different bank accounts and if you think that will actually simplify your life, great, do it. Start simple and only make it more complicated if the increased complexity gives you a greater benefit. Pick a system that works for you.
That's the Let's Get Started segment on our special budgeting edition. I'll be back after the break with a final wrap up right here on Debt Free in 30.
Announcer: You're listening to Debt Free in 30. Here's your host, Doug Hoyes.
Doug Hoyes: Welcome back, it's time for the 30 second recap of what we discussed today. On today's show Gail Vaz-Oxlade said that the reason we don’t budget is not because we don’t have the discipline, time or skill to do it, it's because we don’t want to limit what we can spend. We think of a budget as a sacrifice, but Gail says that's the wrong approach. She says it's not a sacrifice to forgo spending, it's a choice. And if we choose wisely we can be financially successful. That's the 30 second recap of what we discussed today.
Normally at this point in the show I give my take on what we discussed today but I spent the entire second segment of the show giving you my take on budgeting. I said that budgeting can help you manage your money, but only if you're willing to take the time to actually do it. Gail said it takes her one hour and 15 minutes a month to keep track of her money. She's an expert with lots of experience so it may take you longer when you're first starting out.
So, my advice is pretty straight forward: start with an easy approach first. Set up all of your bills to be paid as frequently as you get paid. If you get paid twice a month, pay half of each of your bills twice each month, easy. Then once you've got that up and running, that's when it makes sense to start a budget. By that point you'll already have a good handle on your monthly expenses so budgeting becomes an exercise in fine tuning your income and expenses. You're not starting from scratch so it should be easier to get going.
That's our show for today. Full show notes are available on our website, including links to Gail's new book and also the previous book she mentioned where she discusses the "Gail way of budgeting". And we've also got links to two videos I recorded about my approach to not budgeting. So, please go to our website at hoyes.com, that's h-o-y-e-s.com for more information. Thanks for listening. Until next week, I'm Doug Hoyes, that was Debt Free in 30.