Forget the Gym, Become a Buff Budgeter in 2019 – The Avid Investor

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Forget the Gym, Become a Buff Budgeter in 2019

With the start of a new year, we often view January as the perfect time to reexamine and reinvigorate our lives through better personal practices, from dieting and exercising to smarter budgeting. Yet with the gyms packed, and fast food lines empty, I can’t help but wonder, are people planning to work on their 2019 monthly budget & finances as hard as their waistlines?

 By the time when most people fall off the exercise wagon and the gyms return to their regular occupancy in early February, many budgeters also fall off the budgeting wagon and consumer debt returns to its typical exorbitant levels. The best way to stick to a new habit is to follow Charles Duhigg’s advice and make it “10 seconds easier” by using smart practices such as planning and automation. In the end, working out in the gym is much harder than working out your budgeting muscles. Consider these 5 simple truths about smart monthly budgeting to become a ‘buff budgeter’ in 2019.

  1. STUDY: Read your monthly bank statements and credit card statements to create an honest snapshot of what you actually spend each month.

The easiest way to lose control of your budget is to wholeheartedly ignore it. The best and (worst for your budget) mechanism to facilitate budget blindness is the unexamined use of a credit card.

Major banks have created a culture of credit card enthusiasts by positively associating consumerism with the perk of earning points, rewards, and the exclusivity of memberships. Without an actual budget to structure your spending, this style of ‘credit card cowboy’ budgeting can easily snowball into big consumer debt.

If you’re new to monthly budgeting then I highly recommend discontinuing use of any credit cards during this period. It’s like cutting back on fast food when you start your New Year’s diet. You might like cheeseburgers and fries, but deep down you know that eating this will only hurt your efforts to get back in shape. Credit cards are the fatty foods of personal finance. Stay away from credit cards while you fine tune your monthly budgeting in order to avoid running a monthly budget deficit (ie you spend way more than you earn).

  1. TRACK: Use a  personal budget tracker (Like the Avid Investor 2019)or a spreadsheet to create your newly refreshed 2019 budget plan.

Creating a monthly budget is not hard. Keeping a monthly budget is the hard part. In order to create a budget you can actually keep, you need to answer two questions:

  • How much money do you make monthly (your monthly income)?
  • How much money do you spend monthly (bills & expenses)?

  • Knowing the answer to these two questions sets you above the average person who has only a loose idea of how much money is coming in and going out each month.

    Once you know these numbers, write out the average flow of bills and paychecks. Here’s a sample budget I made that shows paychecks coming in and bills going out, organized chronologically.


    1st PayCheck


    2nd PayCheck







    1st -15th


    Cell Phone






    VISA Credit Card



    AMEX Credit Card



    Car Loan Payment #2



    CHASE Credit Card



    STUDENT LOAN payment








    1st - 15th Overhead (Money Going Out)


    CASH BALANCE 1st half of month









    Car Insurance



    Credit Card



    Rooms To Go Credit Line






    Student Loan Payment



    Car Loan Payment #2





    16th - 31st Overhead (Money Going Out)


    Cash Balance 2nd Half of Month







    1. TRIM: Once you have your cash flow outlined it’s time to make some Marie Condo style cuts.

    Even the tightest budget has room for a little additional squeezing. Take a look at your budget and statements that you examined earlier. What expenses are recurring and which ones are unplanned?

    Be honest and reasonable with yourself. What can you cut back on? What can you go without in order to balance your budget?

    Budget cutting ideas: Too many streaming services such as HBOGo, Hulu, Netflix; Frequent dinners and drinks out; one more example??

     SOAPBOX BREAK: Americans have the worst possible example for balanced budgeting in our federal government. Regardless of the party in power, our government runs on a deficit budget year in and year out, meaning we spend significantly more money than we make.

    While the government can enjoy this comfort since they literally print USD cash, the most reliable, steady currency in history. Households do not enjoy this convenience. If you consistently run a deficit in your monthly budgeting, you will end up in debt at best and out on the street at worst.

    After you’ve cut your budget down to the real necessities (with a few wants kept in there), put your credit cards in a drawer to avoid temptation, and get back to living your life. Spend the money you’ve allocated and save any extra cash flow that comes your way into retirement or emergency savings.

    1. PRACTICE: Treat your monthly budget like a sport that you’re slowly getting better at.

    Make a plan for how much money is coming in and how much money is going out, and then stick to your budget. See how close you can get to landing right on the nose of what your budget plan shows.

    I practice something that I learned from corporate finance called ZERO BALANCE BUDGETING. “Traditional budgeting calls for incremental increases over previous budgets, such as a 2% increase in spending, as opposed to a justification of both old and new expenses, as called for with zero-based budgeting.” -

    I modify this style of corporate finance to fit personal use.  This means that each personal expense needs to be regularly justified on a regular basis. The other component of this budget style is that your primary necessities checking account, the one responsible for paying the bills, should be at or close to a ‘Zero Balance’ ($0.00) at the end of each month. That sounds scary, doesn’t it? But it’s really not.

    This means that every dollar you earn is allocated to bills, savings, retirement, and allowance or ‘Fun Money’, as I call it, paid to yourself. I use two separate checking accounts to facilitate a Zero Balance personal budget style. One account is nicknamed “Necessities” and the other is nicknamed “Fun Fund”. My paychecks are deposited into the Necessities account, which I then allocate according to the Money Road map shown above. The goal is to always know your bills and expenses within at least $100 accuracy. That means buffering your necessities account with an additional $100 above what you think you’ll be spending each month. *TIP: Attach a savings account to your necessities checking account to avoid overdraft fees if you happen to miscalculate your budget one month.

    The second checking account in this system, the Fun Fund, is your personal allowance paid to yourself. The one job you have with this account is to spend every last dime on something fun and frivolous each month. When the Fun Fund runs out of money you simply wait until the next pay period to receive your next allowance. This is an easy way to avoid tedious tracking of all expenses coming out of a single checking account.

    SIDEBAR: I came up with the 2 Checking Account Zero Balance Budgeting by realizing the simplicity of separating money available to spend vs money that must be saved for bills and recurring expenses. I have to give credit to T. Harv Eker’s book, “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth”, for the initial inspiration to budget with this method. I went back to read this book recently and found it too hokey and new-agey to enjoy, but it was impactful and helpful to me years ago when I needed it most. Give it a read and try to ignore the cheesy aphorisms.

    1. GROW: Surround yourself with friends and like-minded money conscience budgeters to change your money norms and daily spending habits.

    This doesn’t mean that you need to dump all of your friends and attend an accounting convention to find replacement tightwad’ friends. The thing about money is that it’s a constant presence in our lives. Some people spend their paycheck before it even arrives. Others think before they spend and try to focus their finances towards ‘must have’s’ and savings prior to ever spending a dime on ‘want to have’s’.

    If you are one of the many Americans living paycheck to paycheck, I feel your pain. I’ve been there, and no tip or trick is enough to fix your budget. What can help lead you toward a path of greater financial freedom is a shift in mindset. One of the best ways to do this is to begin reading financial blogs and newsletters. There are people, including yours truly, out there who have real budgets and give honest advice on how you can improve your personal finances. I love and strongly recommend the blog penned by the blogger “JMoney”.

    JMoney writes as though he’s talking to a friend. You can find real advice and completely transparent updates on how J’s investment, financial, and personal life are going.

    Reading someone’s thoughts like JMoney helps you to enter a community of real people trying to do better financially. This is a small step that can really make a difference the next time you have to make a budgeting decision, such as contributing to your ROTH IRA or buying that new phone you hadn’t planned or budgeted for.


    We’re all on a financial journey. Whether you’re just starting out or nurturing a growing portfolio, the New Year is a perfect time to reexamine expenses and strategize new ways to grow toward greater financial freedom and peace of mind. Before you know it you too will become truly buff... in budgeting that is. 


    I personally have decided to revamp my student loan payoff plan. Much like a new gym regimen, this plan is going to require that I cut back in areas and cough up a lot more cash during bonus season than I traditionally have been willing to do, but in the long run I will be able to pay off my student loan debt a couple of years sooner than I had anticipated.

    As a kick off to my new accelerated student loan payoff plan I even used my recent slot machine winnings to make a second additional loan payment this month.

    Me winning $$$ from a penny slot machine!


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