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Often people ask me for budgeting tips. It could be a general question such as what’s the best way to budget, or sometimes it gets a bit more personal e.g. how much do I save and how much do I spend?

I don’t get into exact numbers when talking about my personal budget, but what I do share is percentages. I like to breakdown my budget into percentages to see how much I’m spending and saving. How I budget is irrelevant to everyone else; budgets are unique and my priorities will always be different from others.

Too often we get caught up comparing ourselves to others. The term “Keeping up with the Joneses” usually applies to spending but it equally applies to saving. We might convince ourselves that spending every thing is normal because our friends are doing it; alternatively we might think that we need to save more for the same reason. Getting advice from others can help, no matter what, you always need to budget for yourself.

budget for yourself, not someone else

Stop comparing yourself

For whatever reason our brains are wired to compare ourselves to others. The Joneses have a big house, a fancy car, and they take vacations every year, so that means we should be able to afford that too right? The thing about the Joneses, they’re probably broke.

Too often we see what others are doing and use that as a way to justify our own spending – that really doesn’t make any sense. Our incomes and priorities differ from others, so when we build our budgets it’s based on our own income and expenses. Just because others are putting everything on credit, it doesn’t we should too.

The same concept applies to saving. Some of us convince ourselves we don’t need to save yet, or we don’t need to save more because no one else our age seems to be doing it. What exactly does the savings rate of our peers have anything to do with us? We all know that the earlier we save, the more we can make from compound interest, and obviously saving more can only benefit us so why compare? How we save and spend should always be based on our own individual goals.

Don’t get upset

As weird as it sounds, sometimes getting advice from someone who has control of their finances can be a bit upsetting. We see that they’re saving a ton of money and we may not have even cleared our debts yet, so how can we possibly get to where they’re at? Again it’s all perspective, it doesn’t matter what someone else is doing, we just need to focus on what we’re doing.

When we create our budgets we need to base it on our individual needs. If we have debt then obvious that should be one of the things we tackle first. Once we’ve addressed that, saving becomes a lot easier.

Also don’t forget that everyone values things differently; it’s okay to spend more on travel or eating out as long as we’re meeting our savings goals first. What we shouldn’t be doing though is sacrificing our savings to justify our spending.

Final thoughts

I like to think of personal finance as a map. Everyone has a different starting point and a different final destination. It’s okay to get advice from each other but in the end, we’re going to pick the route that suits us best. Just budget for yourself and don’t worry too much about what others are doing.

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About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

4 Comments

  1. Avatar Isaac on October 5, 2015 at 9:53 AM

    I think this is great advice Barry. Budgets are very personal and I also believe that there is no one right way to budget your finances. What I sense and hear from a lot of people is that budgeting is too restrictive. I personally take a unique approach to budgeting that quite frankly, doesn’t even feel like I’m following a budget.

    It starts with a plan. In my case, I’ve identified aspects of my financial life that need to be addressed. For example, I get an understanding of how much I need to contribute to my mortgage payments every month, how much to individual RRSPs, RESPs for our kids, life, home & car insurance, etc. We commit to these fixed monthly expenses which get withdrawn from our bank account on an automatic basis. If we’ve fully committed to our medium and long-term goals in this way, I accept that the rest of the money that is earned in the household is spent. Taking this approach, neither my wife or I feel that we are complete prisoners to our medium and long-term goals. We are afforded the ability to spend the rest of our household earned income in a manner which meets our needs and wants.

    I think as always, without a plan, or call it a budget, you haven’t established where you’re going and what you’re doing. At a minimum, it is important to have some idea how you plan on spending your money.

    • Avatar Barry Choi on October 5, 2015 at 10:02 AM

      Isacc,

      You’re right it’s very personal and no two budgets are alike. I’m disciplined enough to know how much I need to save so I don’t worry too much about spending what’s left. Some people need to budget for every dollar just to keep them honest.

      As long as you have a budget in place that works for you, I don’t think anyone can criticize your plan too much.

  2. Avatar seattlegirluw on October 6, 2015 at 2:25 PM

    Yep, I used to drive myself crazy trying to fit the budget to what I thought it “should” be. But I was comparing us to healthy people, people who liked to cook, etc. When I inevitably failed, I’d spend valuable energy beating myself up about it. Once I planned our finances around our circumstances and abilities, things got a lot easier. We’re still careful about spending, but I don’t have to deal with shame spirals and other unnecessary stress.

    • Avatar Barry Choi on October 7, 2015 at 1:45 AM

      Seattlegirluw,

      Yes it can be extremely frustrating to budget when you’re comparing yourself to others.Every situation is different so it’s important to focus just on your own finances.

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