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Making, Sticking To, and Loving Your Budget

US budget 2007
Image via Wikipedia

[This post is the fourth in my Back to School Series]


What a scary word! Whenever I hear the word ‘budget’ I immediately feel sort of overwhelmed. This is because I hate thinking about money. I can’t stand it! I’ve never liked money (not that I’ve ever had any debt or problems with it) and I probably never will enjoy it! It just makes me uncomfortable. Sure, I enjoy making it, and spending it, but my immediate reaction when I’m forced to actually think about it is a strange sense of discomfort. Don’t ask me why this happens to me, but I’m sure others can relate – maybe you feel tense when it comes to money? I think most people do, for any number of reasons.

One of the things that does help with my (unnecessary) anxiety is creating a solid budget. Why?

Reasons I Love Budgets

  1. I always feel like money is slipping through my fingers towards unknown sources, which is stressful! By using a budget and by tracking everything I buy, I’m able to get everything out into the open. I’m not constantly trying to remember what I’ve been buying lately, it’s suddenly dead simple to see that I’m bleeding money because of going out to eat. Suddenly, my finances aren’t so mysterious, they’re manageable.
  2. By looking clearly at my personal finances, I’m able to start controlling them. I can set myself limits, which end up saving me money!
  3. I end up having more money for the things I’d really enjoy having in my life, by cutting out the unnecessary expenses I always forget about. I don’t end up throwing away money on things I don’t love, by staring my finances straight in the face.
  4. I can start freeing up money for things I love: setting aside some money each month for travel, future plans, shopping trips.. :)
  5. I’ll be able to avoid going into any serious debt by way of tracking my purchases, and not just blindly swiping credit cards. Key word there: blindly. Budgets don’t let me hide from the truth!
  6. Budgets take the scary out!

Alright, I hope I sold you on budgets (no pun intended!) because I really feel they’re like the coolest thing going. Take control of your life! (Have I mentioned lately that I’m a huge nerd? K, good.)

But now you’re all: “But I don’t know how to make a budget or use Excel!”, “What if I get all crazy when I go to the mall and I throw my budget out the window??”, “I have no idea how to live frugally!”..etc.

Luckily for you, I have compiled a lovely list of resources for your perfect budget, how to actually stick to it, and maybe even love it!


Budgeting Links

Image via roblee

The budget I have recently adopted is Jenny’s simple 4 Step Budget from Life After College. It’s so simple to use, especially if you have a Google account. If you don’t, you could easily reproduce her idea with an Excel or Word document, or even a very well organized paper system. If you’re looking for a simple, easy to use system, I recommend this one.

If you’re looking for more variety, or perhaps a more complex budget, check out this list of budget templates from Budgets are $exy. Actually, if you have the chance check out his whole website. It’s a fantastic resource for people with big long-term financial goals (he’s trying to become a millionaire!).

If neither of the above works for you, I suggest looking through the other, numerous budget template options listed in Google Docs or checking out the ones in your word processing/spreadsheet program already on your computer.


Frugal Living Links

Image via electrofantastic

Gala’s Guide to Sane Spending is a down-to-earth view of some budgeting lessons we all tend to forget every once in a while..

Zen Habits has a Cheapskate Guide: 50 Tips for Frugal Living, as well as the Golden Money List, which is jam packed full of articles on how to get more out of your financial life!

From College Fashion: 3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Money In College; the 2nd way is one technique I have to do more of!

48 Things Frugality Has Taught Me from The Simple Dollar reminds me of the little things in life, and how they don’t always require money.

A list of amazing resources from Money Ning on frugal living offers advice for every occasion.

A couple practical tips from Foximus, simple and quick to incorporate into your routine.


More to love..

With a little planning and dedication, I believe that you’ll find that “you’re richer than you think!”. Budgeting can be fast & straightforward, yet save you lots of money! To spend on things you really love! Who’s with me?

What are your strategies for keeping your finances in line? How do you save money? Let me know, I’m always learning!

Happy budgeting!


The Non-Believer’s Guide to Easy Organization

[This article is the first in my Back to School Series]


So your days of summer laziness are numbered. In a week or so, your precious freedom will be no more, and you’ll be thrown back into the cruel world of early mornings, late nights, and more assignments than you can count on both hands.

[pause for screams of horror]

Never fear!

Even a very minute amount of planning and a teensy bit of organization can save you bucket loads of stress and end up translating into mountains of free time for you to get on with..stuff that isn’t school.

But maybe when it comes to organization, you’re a disaster. Maybe it bores you, maybe you think you don’t need it, maybe you prefer to be frazzled and stressed all the time because that’s when you ‘do your best work’. Yeah, right. In fact you might even say that you don’t believe in organization, or that it wouldn’t work for you.

If so, I have an answer to your woes:

Easy Organization for Non-Believers!

I promise I’ll make it easy! Just adopt a couple of these little methods and you’ll be golden, baby. Your whole life will be spread out in front of you, you’ll be able to prioritize, you’ll never forget anything, and you’ll be cool as a cucumber. Sounds good to me, so let’s get going!

1. An agenda/hipster PDA/smartphone.

In my opinion, the number one way to get and stay organized is to have your choice of a portable calendar with you at all times. It can serve as a headquarters for your other organizational systems (like to-do lists or budgets, see below) and it really couldn’t be simpler to use. The most important features are:

  1. Daily slots for filling out homework or readings
  2. Monthly calendar pages (you can avoid this by using a wall calendar, see #2)
  3. Space for extra notes

Millions of people swear by this system, because it is as easy as falling off a log. Seriously! You get homework? You write it down. You write in appointments for the future, dates of important events (like exams..ugh) and plans you have with friends. Then, every day it’s easy to see what’s upcoming and what needs your immediate attention.

And there are tons of different options for every type of personality:

  • Loose-leaf binder-style daily planners: Filofax, Day-Timer, Franklin Covey, Staples Brand, etc..
  • Bound-page planners: Moleskine, Quo Vadis, etc.. (Chapters carries tons of styles)
  • Phone with calendar function
  • Hipster PDA (if you have dated pages, otherwise it’s just more of a to do list!)
  • DIY! Some people are unhappy with all the styles of planner, so they buy a regular notebook and draw in the calendars/dates/spaces for writing. Time consuming, but at least you get it exactly like you want!

Okay, are you sold yet? I promise if you actually start using a portable calendar (it takes 21 days to form a habit!! Give it a shot!) your life will become simplified. It’ll take some of the stress out of school. All your readings and assignments will be in one centralized location, not scattered on scraps of paper. There’s no need to turn on your computer, the information is always right there!

Plus, there’s customization. Buy pretty pens in a rainbow of colours, decorate the outside with magazine collages or bumper stickers, draw and scribble over all of the blank pages! Dress it up! Make it look like you. :)

I have always used, and always will use an agenda. What would I do without it!? This is my #1 pick for organization!


2. A great big wall calendar.

Photo thanks to courtneybolton

If the idea of carrying around your life in a day planner sounds too ‘Type A/anal” for you (it’s not! it??), my next best suggestion is a wall calendar, hung front and center in your room.

It’s the same idea as an agenda, but requires a bit more organization up front. It would entail: at the end of the day, collecting all the little scraps of paper/vague memories of your professor saying what your homework is and writing the important dates up onto the calendar. This system would be excellent for people who like to see the big picture, right in front of them. Since the boxes on most wall calendars aren’t very big, this wouldn’t work too well for small, day-to-day things you have to remember, but this combined with a notebook of to-do lists could work quite well!

Actually, I think a great system is to have both an agenda and a wall calendar. That way you get the best of both worlds: you make it easy for yourself to remember things that cross your mind, and you can see clearly and unambiguously when things are due.

An alternative to having a physical wall calendar would be having an electronic calendar. Again, it would serve better as a big-picture kind of thing, but would be a nice alternative to the wall calendar. Two great online services are Google Calendar and 30Boxes, but you could always use the one that comes with your computer. And with the magic of technology these days, you can even sync it with your phone and have an electronic two-in-one system!


3. Some kind of simple filing system.

Photo thanks to macbeck

I know, I know. You’re like..”Filing? Who do you think I am?”

Look, I’m not exactly the filing type either. In fact, I’m exactly the opposite of the filing type, making me prone to losing important stuff like reference letters, Visa bills and my copy of the lease. Which forces me to become the filing type. Vicious circle. Anyways, if you adopt what I like to call “pretty much the easiest thing ever” (aka filing) then life is simple! Except when you can’t find the aforementioned documents from before you started filing. Damn!

Steps to becoming a Filing God:

  1. Acquire an accordian/drawer/filing cabinet/box and some file folders.
  2. Label said folders with headings like: Bills, Important Documents, Reference Letters, Old Essays (heehee), Letters, etc.
  3. Sort what little documents you can find, and then vow to always use the filing system from now on!

Again, why not make it pretty? Choose a bright pink accordian or a stack of boxes in bright red and yellow, with purple folders and yellow labels. Have fun with it!


4. An assortment of to do lists!

Photo thanks to notahipster

Okay, okay. I know my crazy is coming out. What would you say if I told you I used all these methods? Oops. I’m crazy. But I promise they do help me to control my chaos. To do lists are probably my all-time favourite method of keeping my sanity. They are the greatest invention, period.

You already know what they are. So here are some new ways to do them:

  • Make a grid list: the headings being your classes or other commitments, and listing your tasks underneath
  • Prioritize the tasks with your own system of numbers, letters, coloured highlighters or stickers
  • Do it on your computer with Doomi, Simple Task, Evernote, or Anxiety; or on your phone with all sorts of free apps
  • Include other important things like exercise, calling your friends, and things you find fun. That way, you won’t get burnt out by all the work you have to do, and you’ll make time for those things
  • Get a pretty notebook and divide it into sections (school, apartment, friends, fun, etc) for ongoing to do lists; or write a new to do list for every day


Other Helpful Tips:

  • Set alarms or reminders on your phone for super-important events
  • Use Google Docs for long-term organization of things like doctor’s appointments, your budget and your life list.
  • Write notes to yourself for daily reminders, like ‘eat your veggies!’, ‘call your mom’, and ‘sit up straight!’. Always have post-it notes around for this very purpose!
  • Try and have a place for everything you use on a daily basis, and always put things back into the places they ‘belong’. Try keep those spaces uncluttered! That way, you won’t misplace anything important.
  • Keep an ideas book if you’re so inclined: mine is a big fat basic Hilroy that I carry everywhere to write down inspiration, things to look up online, ideas for blog posts, quotes I like and facts from articles. It keeps my head clear, and gets everything important down on paper. Instant memory!


Go forth with organization inspiration!!

There you have it folks. Tons of ways to make organization fit into whoever you are. Because it really doesn’t matter what type of person you are, not many of us have an elephant’s memory! So if you’re an artist-type, design and paint your own wall calendar, big and bright on the wall. If you’re a prepster, you shouldn’t have any problem adopting a sleek Filofax (maybe like that one from 27 Dresses?). If you’re indie/hipster, get yourself a stack of index cards and get to work making your perfect system! Any way you slice it, people need a place to permanently remember their thoughts on paper.

So I urge you: go forth with organization inspiration! Blow yourself away with your newly found memory and creative outlet (in decorating your planner, using it as a sketchpad, drawing with pretty pens, etc!) and time will open up for all sorts of other adventures.

And let me know: how do you stay organized? What’s your special system, trick or habit? Write it in the comments section or drop me a line, and I’ll add it to this post!

Until next time, organization gurus…


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