Let’s be real, Singapore isn’t a cheap place to live in. Despite losing our top spot as most expensive cities to live in, we still rank pretty high at 4th (technically 2nd since the first 3 cities are tied for first).
As a young adult, have you ever reached the end of the month, realising the balance in your bank account hasn’t changed since the start of the month? Or even worse, significantly declined? But, what’s worse, you can’t even remember what you spent it on! As the saying goes:
“What is not measured, isn’t managed.”
And it’s true. For most people, they don’t know where their money is going (or they just don’t like to think about it).
Budgeting is one of the ways to manage your money. It ensures that you know your inflows and outflows, and how you can find ways to cut back on unnecessary expenses and curb that lifestyle inflation.
Before you say it, yes, budgeting is a bit of a hassle. It might feel troublesome to keep recording your expenses in a tracker. I did feel the same way initially, as a student, tracking my expenses. But I pushed through, forcing myself to create the habit of tracking expenses and budgeting for big items that I had to save up for. Likewise, once you build this habit, it’ll become second nature to you! Besides, there are plenty of ways to assist you in your budgeting journey nowadays. I’ve included our very own TortoiseMoney Budget Tracker which you can download at the end of this article as well!
What is Budgeting?
I’m sure most of you reading are already familiar with the concept of budgeting. But for those who are new, budgeting is an estimate of inflows and outflows, for an individual. It allows you to track your inflows and outflows and can be a key tool to managing your money and working towards your financial goals.
Inflows for most people are our paycheck from work. However, Inflows are not just restricted to just that. Inflows can also include:
- Interest Income: This can come from your high-yield interest account or bonds
- Dividends: This comes from Dividend Stocks such as DBS and Vicom.
- Side Hustle: Any side business or income that you might make can fall into this category. This may include part-time tuition, online/Carousell businesses or freelancing services, among others.
Outflows are simply expenses. How you want to categorise these expense are up to personal preference but some common categories are:
- Food: Everything you eat goes here
- Transport: This can include car payments, concession card cost, bicycle maintenance, Grab/Gojek etc.
- Housing: Rental and/or housing loan payments go into this category
- Bills: Phone plan, utilities and subscriptions (like Spotify and Netflix) fall into this group
- Insurance: I usually separate insurance payments from bills so that I know how much I spend on insurance exactly.
How much to budget for each category leh?
For myself, I will first track a month without setting a limit. This gives me a gauge of what my spending habits are like. From here, you will be able to evaluate whether you’re spending too much and how far you are from your personal target savings rate.
Let’s say you want to have a savings rate of 50% with a take home pay of $2,400 (meaning spend $1,200, save $1,200). But after one month of tracking, you realised you spent $1,400. Well, that’s $200 too much.
From here, you can see where you can cut out the $300 from your spending. $100 off Grab, $30 off Bubble Tea and maybe another $70 off shopping after work…
Once you’ve decided where to cut these expenses, set these figures as your budget for the next month, and continue tracking.
Then, reevaluate your performance at the end of the month. If you’ve made it to your targeted 50% savings rate, good job and keep to it!
But how to track though? My memory not so good...
Fortunately, it’s 2020 and we have a variety of tech solutions to help you stay on track to meet your budgeting needs.
My personal favourite is to use Excel/Google Sheets. Both are quite similar in function and allow flexibility and customisation in the way I budget. The charts are great to visualise the records as well and as a person who loves charts, it’s definitely a motivating factor too to see the chart inching up month on month. Get your TortoiseMoney Budget Tracker here!
But for those who prefer a more mobile option and have everything in a single package ready to be used, there are multiple apps for your phone available as well. Most of them function similarly, but with slight differences to cater to personal preferences. As far as my experience with Budgeting apps go, most of them do get the job done.
Tips to Stay on Track!
Now that we got the steps out of the way, let me share some of my own tips that have helped me stay on track!
Budgeting for Fun Money
Most people forget this part of their budget, the Fun Money. Fun Money is just money that you’re willing to spend on yourself for, well, fun! Arcades, a Universal Studios trip, a staycation or anything can fall into this category. Forgetting Fun Money often results in less than realistic budgets which makes it difficult to stick with it in the long run. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint! We are Eliud Kipchoge, not Usain Bolt!
Budgeting for Fun Money allows you to spend (within limits) without guilt. This allows you to keep going strong and allows you to stick to your own budget! And most importantly, budgeting for Fun Money keeps us happy as we allow ourselves a treat once in a while.
Having trouble hitting your desired savings rate? Fret not, you can automate your savings by setting up a recurring fund transfer (via online banking) from the account your employer pays you to a separate account set aside just for savings (ideally a high-yield one). Spend only from your spending account and you won’t even need discipline to keep your savings safe from frivolous spending!
Using Payment Apps/Card Statements
One tip that can help with tracking your expenses if you can’t remember where you’ve been in the day, would be to use the Transaction History of your payment apps like Paylah! or your Card Statements to help you trace your footsteps.
Get a Budget Buddy!
One final tip is to find someone to keep you accountable. Your partner or a close friend can help you keep to your budget and you help them keep to theirs. Definitely makes it better at the end of the day, when both of you are able to achieve your financial goals!
Managing your money definitely isn’t as glamorous as investing or early retirement for sure, but it is a key stepping stone to getting there. Budgeting provides the funds for investing and investing gets us closer and closer to our FIRE dreams. Happy Budgeting!
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels