When my friend Heather Conkin reached out at the end of 2018, wanting to share her easy budgeting trick, I was intrigued. When she shared the article, I was not only so excited by her budgeting hack (yes, it’s really good), but I was also so impressed by her writing. She was able to wrap up and articulate how so many people feel about tracking their money and share the journey of how — and why — she changed her mindset around money. I love this article and I know so many of you will as well.
I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person when it comes to money. I admit what I don’t know and embrace what I do. I try to learn more. I read the books. I do the budgets. I save. I look for sales. I’m intentional with my purchases. But for the longest time, the primary emotion I had around our finances was angst. We weren’t reaching our goals. Our budgets weren’t working. No matter how much we made it never felt like enough. On paper, making our money work for us should be easy, but what I felt was the opposite of ease. I don’t want to beat up on us too much, because we did make incremental positive changes along the way, and had it not been for mistakes, angst, and course correction, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Where is that you ask?
It is the feeling of freedom around money instead of insecurity and limitations.
It is a solid savings account instead of an unplugged drain at the bottom of it.
It is the confidence that there is always enough.
It’s waving goodbye to fear when it comes to money.
I want to share with you some practical ways we slowly flipped the switch and started making our money work for us instead of being ruled by it and scared of it. But first I want to tell you this. We aren’t totally debt free. We don’t have some inspirational story about how we are retired at 36 sailing the world. Honestly, for me, those stories were never helpful because they just reminded me of how far I was from where I wanted to be.
But we HAVE made major progress with our wealth, budgeting, systems, and mindset around money. And at the end of the day, I believe it’s just a feeling we’re searching for when we dream of reaching goals, whether they are related to money or not. So why not feel the way you want to feel now? Here’s what we did.
We Changed Our Mindset
I start here because I think shifting your mindset from lack to abundance is the most important thing you can do in order to make progress with not only the amount of money to your name but with your relationship with money. This can be tricky, it takes patience, and it’s truly a practice. Sometimes when you try to focus on abundance, all you feel is lack and that only exacerbates the problem. It’s important to notice how you feel. For us the primary shifts we made to accomplish this were that we stopped seeing money as an obstacle and started viewing it as a stepping stone.
The second thing we did was to focus on being fully present. The cool thing about this one is that it can light your whole life on fire (in a good way!) not just improve your financial situation. When we’re focused on the present moment, we’re not focused on lack. We’re focused on NOW. Doing this makes it a lot tougher to worry about that sofa you want to buy that you can’t afford.
I always thought communication was a strength in our marriage. And it was. Except for when the topic of money arose. I’d get defensive. He’d shut down. We’d avoid conversations. We had a lot of growing up to do, however, we slowly committed to regular conversations about our finances. And you know what? We actually started to enjoy it. And you know what else?
We started to make more progress.
We Stopped Being Afraid of Money
This one is right up there with changing your mindset. I think so many of us are afraid of money and carry all sort of weird feelings around it. Money is amoral. It is neutral. It’s simply a means. Early on in our marriage, one of us completely avoided it. So much so that they avoided even looking at bank statements. The more we avoided facing the music, the scarier it was to deal with it. Somewhere along the way, we realized that even though it was initially painful to start looking at statements, taking inventory, and reconciling, the uncertainty was what hurt much worse. We no longer have fear over facing the facts of our finances and all it took to overcome that fear was action.
We Made it Super Simple
I wish I could use emojis in this article. Because I would be using the “raising my hand” emoji right now, so just use your imagination, ok?
Who hates budgets?
Who hates tons of categories for the minutia of life?
Anyone else lose their mind when faced with an itemized list?
I see you.
Well, you know what? That may work for some people. If it works for you, rock on with your customized macros in your color-coded spreadsheet. (insert fist bump emoji)
This has never worked for us. Making a million categories for things felt limiting, and although what we spend each month is roughly the same, our circumstances and our desires change.
Want to hear our ridiculously easy budget trick? We don’t really have one.
Not in the traditional sense as described above. We have our fixed expenses. We make sure those are covered. Everything else? For the most part we wait to purchase “nice to haves” until the end of the month. We don’t impulse buy, except for the occasional dinner out, and even then those days are usually scheduled. That may sound super restrictive for some people, but for us, we’ve found major freedom in this approach.
We Budget MONTHY not Bi-weekly
This one was the final piece of our money puzzle. Making the switch from working from each paycheck to working from a monthly amount of money was life-changing. We’d always look at what we had on a monthly basis, but the money was coming in bi-weekly and we always ended up running into hiccups.
How do you actually DO that? Here’s how we’ve set it up.
We have 2 checking accounts. The main one pays for all the fixed expenses. The mortgage. Our mobile phone bills. Our utilities. Our ever-important Netflix account charges. My husband “owns” that account. We have a second account set up where most of our variable spending comes from. Our groceries. Anything related to our children. Anything I want to buy for the house. I “own” this one.
We both have visibility to each account and know what’s coming in and out. When we get paid, 100% of our checks are deposited into savings. Then, each month we fund our respective accounts with an amount we’ve agreed upon. The beauty of this is that we truly live off of a monthly amount of money AND we effortlessly save. Did it take some time to figure out an amount that works for us? Yes. Did we face some major trial and error? Yes. Was it all smooth sailing? No.
Was it worth it? YES.
We are still a work in progress. We will probably course correct and make adjustments to our finances as we’ve always done. Priorities and circumstances will change which will likely lead to changes in how our money is working for us. However, by building a solid financial foundation in these areas, we experience freedom instead of fear around the topic of money. Doing the work to get to the other side of fear over money is liberating not only in regards to our finances.
Doing this has freed up other space in our brains. We have the space to think about doing good work in the world. We have more room to allow for creativity and growth. And hopefully, we can help others do the same.
Heather Conkin is a mom, wife, podcaster, freelance photographer + writer, and media dabbler. She loves discovering new podcasts, reading, exploring, eating and laughing. She is passionate about connecting people and good conversation. Heather lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband, two kids, and golden retriever. You can learn more about Heather at www.heatherconkin.com or connect with her on Instagram @heather.conkin.