Friday, October 2, 2015

Personal Finance with Student Loans (Part 1): Budgeting

I am often asked by colleagues about how I manage my families money. Or more accurately, I love the discipline of personal finance to be measurably satisfying so I never stop talking about it. I'm the guy that entered receipts into Quicken for 10 years for what appeared to be religious reasons. So, perhaps being exhausted with my line of conversation, (rarely) interested people break down and ask me about it.

First if you need a good framework on what to do with what money you have, Start Here.  

If you notice, Step 0 is Budgeting & Planning.  
Fundamentally, you have to spend less than you earn.  In order to do that you have to first clearly understand how much you spend an how much you earn.  Planning/Budgeting helps you do that with precision (and accuracy).

Think of "Planning" as the words part of the plan: I want a house, I want to pay student loans with interest rates greater than 4%, I want a new gaming computer.  Think of Budgeting as the "Numbers" part of the plan:  I will spend $300 per month towards student loans beyond the minimum.  They are both fluid and mutually reinforcing, and can take your goals and make them real.

For budgeting, I HIGHLY recommend YNAB. When I got it, I hated it. I thought it was broken, terrible software.  Turns out that my budgeting practices were terrible and broken, the software was phenomenal.  So now I recommend it to everyone.  I awkwardly talk about it at dinner parties. I teach my colleagues when they ask. 

Why is it so great?
First, since YNABing for about 18 months, I now have a laser-like view into our money, and know exactly how much we can afford to spend where.  Pre-YNAB we would let money accumulate in an account and spend it on extra student loans.  Then we would forget about Disability Insurance, or Taxes. Uggh.  

Second, my wife delegated finances to me long ago.  We used to fight about her giving me receipts to enter into Quicken.  After hours of painful work, I still had no clue where we were financially.  Now she can enter expenses on a slick mobile app (or leave them on my desk) and I can show her, at any moment, exactly where we stand financially.  The amount of transparency has made conversations about money painless instead of painful. 

How long does this take?
Months 1-2 are hard.  You don't have enough money, you want too many things, You forget categories, etc.  By month 3, you can spend probably 1 hour a month on your budget and be good to go.  And remember. Earning more money NEVER solves overspending, only a budget does. 

Once you have budgeted, let's talk about Loan management...

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