A successful budget in X hours per month?

How much time do you personally spend on tracking and budgeting each month? And what does it take to be successful?

As a newly married person, it’s become apparent that my now-shared process needs a total overhaul. The 5 min weekly spending check-in I’ve maintained for years just isn’t going to cut it!

Would love to hear more from folks who feel they’ve cracked the code. Do you have a solid routine to stay on track with your budget? Has your process evolved over time?

Enlighten the rest of us— we’d love to hear what’s working for you!

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Great question. For me how time I spend on it and how much time I need to are pretty different.

I like to keep pretty close track of things so for that my actual need would look something like this:

  • Making sure all of my transactions are loaded and categorized 3-4 times a week, and that no categories look like they’re in danger of going over… I have a lot of accounts that require manual intervention to stay refreshed, so this can take 10-15 minutes each time.
  • Every Saturday I make sure everything is refreshed (including investment accounts) and take a close look at everything to make sure things are going like I want them to. Probably another 20 minutes.
  • A day or two before the end of the month, I set up my budget for the next month. Because I budget for all irregular expenses every month (i.e. I save a little every month for that annual auto insurance payment) this can go pretty fast. I can typically do this pretty quickly by just copy and pasting the previous month’s figures. Then I’ll go through, examine how much money came in that month (each month I budget around the previous month’s income), and make any necessary adjustments. I’ll also tweak any categories that are trending differently. I probably need 30-40 minutes for that.

So overall, maybe 2 hours a month to keep pretty close tabs on it. In reality, I can sometimes be obsessive and spend a lot of time examining trends and tweaking categories, combining and splitting things… but that has less to do with maintaining the budget than it does with managing and refining the process. Always seeking that “perfect” process and solution, which doesn’t actually exist and even if it did, would constantly change.

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Hi @krista:

I login to Tiller about 3-4 times per week to keep up-to-date on categorizing transactions and download new balances for all of our accounts. This is important for my wife and me, because we use AppSheets to track our Tiller status on our smart phones. This ensures that we both have the most up-to-date information upon which to make decisions on the fly.

Then, once about every two weeks, we have a “Board Meeting” where we talk face-to-face about recent activity, how much the boys are eating, why her sister returned her birthday present, why I overspent on my allowance (again), what expenses are coming up, etc. (For example, just this morning, my wife said, “Why did we close my IRA?” (She received a notice in the mail.) I reminded her that we didn’t close it: we moved it to another advisor.) This kind of dialogue is really important, since we are learning that communication about spending, budgeting and expectations is as important as keeping the numbers straight.

Depending on the activity, these board meetings can take 10 minutes or up to one or two hours where we review every category and its activity, every account balance. Lots of coffee, humble, honest appraisals…but we have learned that this is the most important part of sharing money and a budget: talking about it all and making sure we see the same picture at the same time, and in that, there is tremendous freedom.

We spend several days at the beginning of the year developing our spending plan, too.

Does that help?

Best!

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