Yesterday I spent a couple of hours helping a friend set up his first budget in YNAB. After a series of unfortunate events in his life, he’ll be relying on credit cards, assistance from his church, and help from friends and family to get through the next couple of years.
Budgeting is all good times when your inflows exceed your outflows and you’re able to save a little money from every paycheck. Growing category and bank balances keep you grinning.
But if you’re struggling, like this friend of mine, every budgeting session sees the debt balance grow, with no room for fun or important savings goals.
I told my friend it won’t be easy, but during this struggle, it’s crucial that he keep his financial truth in front of him.
“Budget your inflows, record your transactions, and hang in there,” I told him.
You Can Take Back Control
If you’re like my friend, dealing with a practically-hopeless money situation, don’t let yourself believe the lie that “budgeting is pointless until things stabilize.”
Bailing on your budget removes the hard numbers from your financial trial, leaving only stress, shame, fear and guilt.
Remember – budgeting is Magic:
If your problem is mostly lack of income, your budget perfectly quantifies the shortfall, allowing you to deal rationally with concrete numbers instead of vague hopelessness.
On the expense side of things, your budget focuses you on structural problems rather than minutia. In other words, your budget makes it clear your $500/mo rent is hurting you more than two $8 matinee tickets per month. You may need to get out of your lease and move in with a family member instead of beating yourself up over going to a movie when you’re ‘so broke’.
This doesn’t just apply to budgeters in dire straits, either.
I only spent 3.5 years in college, but during that time I accumulated $15,000 in debt, never giving much thought to the future cost of my current expenses.
With no plans for grad school, I knew the repayment of my loans would begin within a couple of years of borrowing the money, and I still borrowed and spent casually.
I can only imagine how debt could get out of control for a young med student who might not have to make a payment on that money for 7 to 10 years. Small, steady indulgences over a multi-year education could add five figure chunks to final debt tallies.
Your Budget Will Tell You the Truth
But a clear budget could keep that student’s awareness high, keeping the loan balance low simply by acknowledging it.
The bottom line is: if circumstances have thrown your financial life out of balance, with your expenses shooting past your income – you can’t afford to give up on budgeting. Your budget will tell you the truth, and you know what they say about the truth.
So hang in there.