A goal without a plan is just a wish. – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Every year I spend about 30 minutes to a few hours to do something that I consider integral to my financial well-being. I call it an annual budget/ money summit and the new year is the perfect time to do one because starting a new year is like a clean slate.
This is better than New Year’s resolutions. Those can be done or not, but you will absolutely spend money this year. And you can spend it well or badly. You can change your money habits. You can set goals and achieve them. It all starts with a plan.
The difference between a money summit and a budget is that you aren’t just planning for a month, you’re planning your whole year. Things that may seem low-cost on a monthly basis, may shock you when you see how much you’re spending on them yearly.
Step 1: Evaluate your budgets/ spending
It takes more than just adjusting your last monthly budget to make a new money plan. If you’re already a budgeter, pull your budgets from the past year and look through each line for the past year.
Look at your regular line items for each month one by one. Did you overspend? Under-spend? By how much? Was it only around holidays? Or during the summer?
Say your grocery budget was $300 every month this year, but you spent closer to $350 every single month. It might be time to adjust your budget so you can spend that $350 guilt free and not worry about where to “steal” that overage from elsewhere in your budget.
In your new proposed budget, really consider each line item and expense. Look back onto costly mistakes or events that happened in the past year and think about how you could pay for those that may happen again. Look forward and incorporate planning for known future expenses (birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries) and try to anticipate any budget busters that may come along.
Looking forward may involve setting up some sinking funds to save up for those expenses.
If you aren’t already a budgeter, start with our How to make a budget guide here to learn how to set up your first budget. You can and should still have a money summit, but you may have to evaluate your spending by looking back into your bank account statements to see where you’ve been spending and how much.
I recommend taking about 3-4 months worth of expenses (spread out through the year, so January, May, September and December of this year) and calculating how much you spent on average in the categories you’ll be making in your budget. This should give you some realistic guidelines for starting out.
Step 2: Dream some dreams
Now is also the time to decide what money goals you would like to meet this year.
Do you want to get out of debt? Pay down credit cards? Save for a vacation or a new car? Maybe you want to buy a new couch.
All these things are very do-able, especially when you break it down month by month.
Now is the time to figure out when you want to take that vacation or buy that couch and then do the math to see how much you need to save to make it happen. If you can get that number to work in your budget, you’ll get to do the thing you want. Easy peasy.
The same goes with debt. If you have debt and want to eliminate all or some of it this year, calculate how much you can allocate out of your budget to do it and set goals to get it done. Make sure to reward yourself as you’re sacrificing and paying off debt by marking milestones – like for every $5,000 you pay off, decide to treat yourself to something small ($20-$100) to keep you on track and motivated to keep paying off debt.
Step 3: Balance it out
You’ve probably done a lot of money shuffling and the budget may not total up anymore. If you’ve increased several categories and your income isn’t increasing, you’ll also need to shuffle expenses from somewhere else to get back to a zero-based budget.
It’s okay to change your mind and really think on what is worth your money… especially when you are looking at how much said item will cost over the next year.
My BEST advise for a money summit is to have no “sacred cows.” Every expense, membership and want is up for debate. If you’re not sure on something, consider cutting an expense for 2, 4 or 6 months, with that cost going toward one of your goals instead, and seeing if you really miss it. Seeing yourself get closer to your money goals may be more fulfilling than the original thing that money was going to.
Step 4: Sit on it
Save and close your budget and sit on it for about a week so you can go back in with fresh eyes and make sure all your bases are covered.
You may remember an event or future expense that you can’t overlook and will have to change your budget to account for. If you are married, make sure your partner makes a pass or two and approves it in its entirety. If you’re single, consider having a trusted friend take a peek to offer advise on if you’re being realistic or not.
Remember that this budget will be the basis for your entire year. You can certainly change it if needed, but it’s doubtful that as the year picks up, you’ll have time to make large changes.
This budget can be your playbook to massive financial success if you’re willing to give it the consideration and attention it deserves. Just imagine the financial situation you could be in next year at this time if you can meet all the money goals you’ve set.
Good luck and happy budgeting!
- What is your number one money goal for 2018?
- What is one money mistake you made this year?