Who Really Follows a Budget?

I had a client come in last week to create a budget. As usual, I pulled out my template which attempts to capture all of one’s income and expenses for a given month. The budget worksheet we use at my firm is very detailed and includes all household expenses, funds which get earmarked for savings and investments, transportation costs, insurance premiums, etc. My most common experience when creating budgets has been that more money exists than one realizes. On paper, it seems near impossible that a shortfall could exist. It’s the casual discussion afterwards when the “oh yes, I’m addicted to downloading music” and “I needed those sunglasses” comments come out.

This morning I’ve come to a new realization: Most people will probably never follow a budget. While we’re on the topic–budgets are annoying! They make you feel like you don’t earn enough money and they force you to scrutinize how often you cut your hair and buy a scratch-off lottery ticket. So, my plan is to begin a new approach. When someone asks me to help them create a budget, I’m going to ask “why?”
As a financial planner, I think we should hold off on creating the detailed budget until after we fit the budget into the broader context of a financial plan. Why? Most people don’t follow the budget anyway, so we may as well try to find some other solution. Perhaps an investment program can be tweaked to create more income. Perhaps try transferring some of those stocks into bonds or a savings account which can provide a stream of monthly income. Or, some people need to take a closer look at their w-4 (tax withholding) form and use that as a budgeting tool. If you’re on a salary and get a tax refund every year, you’re effectively letting the IRS hold your money for you–and they don’t pay you any interest for it. This is a very common financial no-no. Adjust your withholdings, if possible, so that you don’t owe much or receive a refund when April rolls around.
What else can you do? Earn more money! At the end of the day, there are really only two ways to improve a budget: lower your expenses (that’s a joke for most people) or you can raise your revenues. We’re in a technological phase right now which allows people to make a few extra bucks doing all kinds of simple things from their computers at home. Do them! Make a few extra bucks. Part of the reason many young investment bankers save so much money is that they work 80 hours a week. Even if they wanted to blow $10,000 on a cruise or eat fancy meals, their schedules don’t allow for it. How’s that for clever budgeting.
My point is, if you’re having trouble with the budget, their may be more realistic solutions than simply itemizing your expenses from month to month. Think about how and when you earn money. Think about how and when you spend money. Consider how your taxes get paid and whether you could put a better strategy to work. Think about your savings plan too. Is your current allocation (stocks/bonds) the way it should be? Best of luck to all on this never ending and often frustrating task.
Do you have comments or questions? E-mail Russell.
Russell Bailyn

Wealth Manager
Premier Financial Advisors
14 E. 60th St. #402
New York, NY 10022
(212)752-4343 *31
Securities and certain investment advisory services offered through: First Allied Securities, Inc., a registered Broker/Dealer. Member: FINRA/SIPC. Premier Financial Advisors, Inc. is a Registered Investment Advisor. First Allied Securities & Premier Financial Advisors are not affiliated entities.

2 thoughts on “Who Really Follows a Budget?”

  1. We agree!!! Who needs a budget…people need a financial plan!
    The problem is most folks think figuring out a financial plan is too hard. I used to do it in a giant spreadsheet. Then I built my spreadsheet into an easy to use website. I believe it will allow everyone to easily create a lifetime financial plan.
    Russell, I’d be very interested in your opinion of the site…good or bad.
    If you have time, log in and give it a try.
    If you like it let me know.
    I enjoy reading your blog!!!

  2. Budgets are a bad idea. They contradict everything Americans are raised to believe. Better idea, Use your companies 401K to the match, max out a Roth IRA, and whatever money is left is yours. To make this work set up a systematic investing plan. it’s what I do, and I never feel guilty when I spend money.

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