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Budgeting 101: The First 90 Days (What To Expect)

”Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” – Ayn Rand

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people that they don’t like.”  – Will Rogers

 

If you’ve ever tried and failed at building a successful budget, then this post is ready-made for you. I always say the budgeting is “just enough” like rocket science that it causes most of us to want to walk away at the first sign of difficulty. But the truth is, budgeting is super important if you ever want to take control of and win with your money. And, I really don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that, because of the long-term positive effects of budgeting on your money and your life, that the 90 days that it usually takes to learn this skill might in fact be 90 of the most important days of your life.

Why is budgeting SOO difficult and way too easy to walk away from? In my experience it’s because our overall personal finance situation and just dealing with money in general has A LOT of emotion attached to it. It’s not just some detached “set of numbers” we’re sitting down to account for. 

Actually, if that were the case, we wouldn’t even begin to bother with it, because it would likely trigger immediate onset narcolepsy. :) No, budgeting is hard precisely because it’s a set of real numbers that are often painfully reflective of the unwanted chaos in our lives, our jobs and our relationships. And, it can cause all kinds of negative emotions, especially if things aren’t going so well.

Additionally, what can further explode our emotions are the negative compounding factors of disorganization, being behind on bills, living paycheck to paycheck and  knowing we have a mountain of debt to address.

 

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All of these factors can cause extreme levels of anxiety, particularly when we “dig into it” and things are “adding up”, it’s SUPER easy to just walk away from the process altogether. After all, who could endure that constant barrage of anxiety and dread without some sort of light at the end of the tunnel?

So, this pernicious sense of dread and overwhelm is precisely what I want to both address and give you some tools to overcome so that you can move into the “budgeting as a lifelong skill” category. 

Part of how we encourage our students to start and stick to a budget is to set the proper expectation of how long it’s going to take to “get good at it”. In my experience both personally and as a coach, it takes about 90 days to “get good” at budgeting.

And the amazing thing about it is that, successful budgeting or “cash flow planning” will take your understanding of your money from being like a foggy, narrow and treacherous mountain trail you’d rather avoid, to a bright, pleasant, clear, freshly paved country road that you’ll want to come back to again and again.

By the way, another post I want to recommend to you: Budgeting 101: How To Build A Budget (You Can Actually Stick To). I highly recommend  you consume that one after you’ve consumed this one. 

Also, click the image or link below for a free downloadable/printable PDF guide of the same material. 

Free downloadable/printable PDF budgeting guide.

 

As we get started, here are two key pieces of encouragement to keep in mind:

  1. No one is a “born budgeter”
  2. You must write your budget on paper for the first 90 days.

 

No One Is A “Born Budgeter”

No matter where you are along the continuum of building your budgeting skills, the fundamentals are the same. And it’s important to understand that they can absolutely be learned. Just know that if you’ve been frustrated in the past, it’s normal. There’s a tendency to think that some people are “born budgeters” or that some people just have the “talent”.

Let me assure you that, after having learned budgeting myself (the hard way) and having taught it to thousands of students over the past decade, there is no such thing as “talent” for budgeting. Nope. Rather, budgeting is absolutely a skill and one that can be learned by anyone, no matter how many times they’ve tried and failed in the past.

The key is to have a “why” and a strong desire for learning it, a process for acquiring the skill and resources in place to help you get unstuck when you’re stuck and to encourage you when you feel like a failure.

And be warned, you will almost certainly feel like a failure at first. Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed consistently that this process takes about 90 days of concentrated effort to garner success. So, be patient with yourself and get help if/when you need it.

To illustrate, the process usually goes something like this:

Month 1: Controlled demolition. You get started, but the chaos is overwhelming to the point of being almost unbearable. This is where many walk away. It’s tough to get organized and then, once you are there’s going to be stuff you forget. It’s normal. It’s natural. Resolve to “fail forward” and to not quitting and you’ll be alright.

 

Month 2: Some wins, coupled with an almost equal amount of frustrations. You’ve got some training wheels, but still manage a few crashes. It’s okay, keep going, it’s going to get better. :) Month two may sometimes be more frustrating than month one if only because you’ve tasted some wins. The setbacks and shortcomings will pass. Just stay in the game and you’ll be golden.

 

Month 3: It all starts coming together. “Man, I can really see myself getting good at this!” At this point, you’ve made most of the mistakes you’re going to make and you’ve probably experienced some great consistency. If you’re feeling confident enough, you could even consider pivoting to an “app” or “spreadsheet” for month 4’s budget. But be warned, you might want to wait and just do it on paper for a few more months.

 

On Paper For The First 90 Days

I often get the sideways, neck tilted, puzzled look from new students on this one, like I’m a relic from the stone age brought back to life by some chocolate and strong smelling salts. “But, why, dude?”, is usually what it signifies. It’s a fair question, so let me explain.

Maybe you’ve tried in the past to learn budgeting using an app or a spreadsheet. I get it. I did that too. But like I mentioned earlier, I was never successful at budgeting until I abandoned trying to learn “two things at once” (i.e. budgeting AND and “app” simultaneously) and instead focused first on the budgeting skill. And the best way to learn the foundation is to just do it on paper for the first 90 days.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the temptation to just go download the latest “app” thinking that it will be the ready-made answer to solving your money problems. Heck they’re even marketed that way and who could blame them for doing that. I mean, who doesn’t want “the easy way out”? Most of us do, including me most of the time. :)

After all, it sounds positively delicious, right? “At last! Get control of your money, inside this life-changing, wealth-building, finance-altering” budgeting app” (of course, this is an exaggeration, but not far off…).

The problem with learning how to budget as a skill is that it’s a giant beast of task for most of us to begin with. When you layer trying to learn an app or navigate a spreadsheet you multiply the level of complexity to a space far beyond what most of us mere mortals can tolerate.

The result is usually complete demoralization and abandonment of the process altogether.

I don’t want that for you. I want for you to succeed and to get control over your finances in a way that’s both realistic and sustainable in such a way that it becomes a lifelong habit.

This is why I recommend you start your budgeting journey on paper, at least for the first 90 days. If, after this first 90 day cycle, you’ve developed the skill to a degree where you feel comfortable moving your budget into an app or spreadsheet, then great. But I long for your success, and the best way to do that is to commit it to paper for the first three months.

 

And just to make it as easy as possible for you, here’s the perfect little downloadable budgeting printable for you to use. Click here, download and print out.

 

Okay now that I’ve convinced you to do this thing on paper for the first 90 days, let’s next talk about the 3 steps to your newfound bulletproof budget: 

1) organizing your finances (the pre-budgeting process), 

2) putting those organized finances into a written budget and 

3) developing the habit of tracking expenses (this makes it SO much easier to stick to your new budget).

Again, I cover the whole process in much more granular detail in my post: Budgeting 101: How To Build A Budget (You Can Actually Stick To). It even has a free downloadable/printable PDF guide to walk you through the process.

Free downloadable/printable PDF budgeting guide.

 

Conclusion & Call To Action

So, in this post we’ve covered all the reasons that most of us walk away from the budgeting process. We’ve talked about the fact that, setting the expectation that the learning curve is going to be about 90 days helps to reduce that sense of overwhelm and sets the proper expectation that this is a “skill to be learned” rather than a “talent” one naturally possesses.

We’ve also established that the best results you’ll get from this 90-ish day journey is to commit to doing it on paper rather than in an app or other type of budgeting program. Remember, we want to focus on learning one skill during this first 90 days and THEN, once we’ve “got it”, can move over into an app or program.

Remember that, no matter where you are on the budgeting learning curve, it’s going to take about 90 days of consistent effort for you to feel like you’ve constructed some competency.

And again, we’ve outlined that the 90-day process will likely look something like this:

 Month 1: Controlled demolition. 

Month 2: Some wins, coupled with an almost equal amount of frustrations..

Month 3: It all starts coming together. 

 

Also, by way of review, here are the next three steps in the “budgeting 101” process.

1) organizing your finances (the pre-budgeting process, 

2) putting those organized finances into a written budget and 

3) developing the habit of tracking expenses (this makes it SO much easier to stick to your new budget).

And again, I cover the whole “learning how to budget” process in much more granular detail in my post: Budgeting 101: How To Build A Budget (You Can Actually Stick To). It even has a free downloadable/printable PDF guide to walk you through the process, which you can download by clicking on the image or text below.

Free downloadable/printable PDF budgeting guide.

 

Call to Action

And finally, I want to encourage you and challenge you to get started in this process. You can do this by downloading our Budgeting 101: How To Build A Budget (You Can Actually Stick To) guide. The downloadable pdf contains all the printable forms and instructions you need to get this process started.

So, I’d LOVE to hear from you. The biggest compliment you can give me as your coach is to share your progress and your takeaways in the comments below.

I wish you nothing but great success in your personal finance endeavors and please let me know how I can help you accomplish your goals.

 

What To Do Next

Now that you have that as a basic framework for budgeting, the next step is to get as granular as possible with the rest of your financial life. I want to offer you another completely free resource that will help you map out your money with even more confidence.

Ready to get total control over your money? Introducing My FREE 8 Steps To Erase Debt Guide

These are the steps I personally followed to obliterate $43,000+ of debt in 2.5 years

Maybe your number is bigger, maybe it’s smaller. Either way the principles are the same and I want you to have them.

  1. Stop All Retirement Investing (Until Step 4)
  2. Build A Budget
  3. Starter Emergency Fund of $1000
  4. Eliminate Debts Smallest To Largest (a.k.a The Debt Snowball)
  5. Full Emergency Fund of 3-6+ Months’ Expenses
  6. Invest A Minimum of 15% Income Into Retirement Accounts (and increase savings rate to 50%+ if possible)
  7. College Funding (if applicable)
  8. Pay Off The Home Mortgage
  9. Build Wealth, Serve, Be Ridiculously Generous And Go FI (Financial Independence)!

I’ve created a simple, easy to follow “8 Steps To Erase Debt” guide that you can use as your foundation as you navigate the absolute annihilation of your debt forever. 

 

Here are some additional options to help you accomplish your personal finance goals:

  1. Check out our YouTube Channel for "how to" video guides.
  2. Join our Zero Debt Tribe Community on Facebook, a group of friendly, like-minded personal finance enthusiasts, budgeting nerds, debt-eliminators and “FI-ers” who are there to help each other succeed? Click here to request to join for support and encouragement!
  3. Our library of Free Products & Printables.

 

What do you need help with the most right now?

And finally, I want to encourage you and challenge you to get started in this process. You can do this by downloading this blogpost as your guide. The downloadable pdf contains all the printable forms and instructions you need to get this process started.

So, I’d LOVE to hear from you. The biggest compliment you can give me as your coach is to share your progress and your takeaways in the comments below.

I wish you nothing but great success in your personal finance endeavors and please let me know how I can help you accomplish your goals.

To your freedom,

Brad

Your Virtual Money Coach

[email protected]

 
This post may contain affiliate links. If you click & make a purchase, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you) that helps keep Zero Debt Coach up and running. Read my full disclosure policy.

 

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