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If you look at the bylines for most of my freelance writing, you’ll notice that I’m often referred to as a “budgeting expert.”  I love having a monthly budget.

Over the last 20+ years, I’ve spent considerable time learning how to manage money. I dove headfirst into the financial deep end, through books, blogs, YouTube videos, online courses, and countless money conversations over the years. The education never ends.

I don’t know everything (and probably never will), but I’m confident that I make more good decisions with our money than bad ones at this point. 

That’s a good thing, right?! 

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that I’m a big believer in budgeting. Barb and I have had our share of financial setbacks and obstacles over the years. It was a monthly budget that pulled us out of the water and placed us back on solid ground. 

Here’s the thing.

Budgets work. Sometimes. 

Sometimes? Why only sometimes? 

REASON # 1 — People 

People make budgets not work. Whether it’s lack of consistency or pure laziness, sometimes budgets don’t work because people aren’t disciplined enough with their time, focus, and money. We don’t give our monthly budget a fighting chance.

REASON # 2 — Budgets

There are so many budgeting methods. Not all budgets work for everyone all the time. Not all monthly budgets are a perfect fit regardless of income, career, life, and money goals, or regardless of current life circumstances. 

Some budgeting methods are great at certain points of your life but eventually their effectiveness wears thin. 

Here’s the reality for us. 

We’ve had our share of budgeting successes and failures over the years. We’ve outgrown some budgeting methods. We’ve crashed and burned with others. We’ve downloaded and tested dozens of budgeting apps. We’ve even tried the “ Anti Budget” w which is just another form of budgeting. 

As much as I love budgeting, I’m not convinced that I’ve found the best method for us to use going forward long term. So, despite being in a good place right now, financially speaking, we’ve decided to make a change. 

WE’RE BREAKING UP WITH OUR BUDGET. 

That’s right. We’ve decided to move on. Thank you, next. 

I’ve decided I’m not going to sit here and continue to give budgeting advice on Family Money Adventure and not follow it myself. This is the beginning of a DEEP DIVE into the world of budgeting and money management. 

Our Budgeting Past 

My professional career began at age 15, setting up pavilions for corporate and family picnics at Dover Lake Park Water Park. My early years also included working at a nursing home and  library. There was also a brief stint as a roller rink DJ. In all that time, I have no recollection of ever budgeting money. I’m not sure that I ever lived by a monthly budget before getting married. 

I worked. I got money. I paid bills. I spent money. I had no money. I worked. I got money. That was my “circle of life” at the time. 

The Dave Ramsey School of Budgeting

Barb and I got married in the summer of 2002. Shortly after, I took a job as a youth pastor at a small church in rural Indiana. A year into our time as Hoosiers, our church started a new class called Financial Peace University. It was based on a personal finance curriculum created by Dave Ramsey. If you’re familiar with the envelope system, that’s a huge part of Dave’s philosophy and methods. 

My memory is blurry, but I don’t remember changing how we managed our money right away. At some point over the next several years, though, the envelope system became part of our budgeting DNA. We still partially use an envelope system for some of our money, but it’s a small part of our overall monthly budgeting strategy. 

Here’s the thing. Since I worked on Sundays, I missed half of the classes. I had good intentions to read the books and have discussions with Barb. That never happened. I have since read most of Dave’s books and have gleaned some personal finance gems from within the pages. 

But I love credit cards. I love credit card rewards. That’s a no-no in Dave’s world, which is advice I’d agree with for many people. It’s about being responsible with credit cards. 

In all fairness, Dave’s target audience is people buried in debt. His “all in” methods make total sense for people in dire financial situations who’ve been managing money poorly. Some people probably swear by his budgeting methods or at least parts of his philosophy. 

 I’m cool with that. 

Zero Sum Budgeting

I’ve always loved to travel. A few years ago, I discovered the world of credit card rewards.

I WAS HOOKED. 

Reading travel rewards blogs became my pastime, which led me to Club Thrifty.

Holly and Greg Johnson run one of my favorite websites in the world. Through Club Thrifty, I learned many of the travel hacking strategies I use today to travel for free. 

Club Thrifty is an excellent source for personal finance advice. Holly and Greg also wrote a book called Zero Down Your Debt. You can check out my book review here

The book works through the concept of zero sum budgeting. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this is a Dave Ramsey philosophy too. I’m sure he didn’t create it, so I don’t want to give him too much credit. But Holly and Greg explain it so much better. 

We’ve used zero sum budgeting the past several years to help us achieve some major financial goals in our lives as well as keep our money in order. It’s been good to us. 

But it’s not without its flaws and we’ve reached a point where we want to take a step back to see if there’s another way that’s more in line with our needs. Zero sum budgeting is a great monthly budget method that works for tons of people I know. We may end up going back to it, but we want to take a break to explore other ways. 

Budgeting Apps and beyond

I love budgeting apps. Well, at least the idea of them. 

I love the ability to track spending easily. Being able to set spending and savings goals and link all of our accounts in one spot is AWESOME! 

There’s so many budgeting and money management apps available. I wish I could say that they’ve revolutionized our family finances. 

THEY HAVEN’T. 

I’m fairly certain the issue is me. It’s “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to following through using budgeting apps. 

I’m sure there’s a way to automate the settings to receive notifications and reminders. But I hate getting other notifications on my phone. Would it be any different just because it’s budget related? Probably not.

Budgeting and Irregular Income 

This past November, I quit my job of 14 years and became a full-time freelance writer.

Pursuing this dream is probably one of my greatest personal accomplishments.

My income has steadily increased as I’ve gained more experience and writing clients. It’s also changed from weekly paychecks to irregular deposits throughout the month. 

I’ve researched how to budget with an irregular income, but I’m still in the process of refining this.

It’s a work in progress

What The Future of Budgeting Looks Like For Us

I’m going back to school. 

Well, not really. 

But I am researching as many monthly budgeting resources I can. This is for us obviously, but also for all of you too. 

I’m examining every budgeting method like I’m a Master Chef judge inspecting a contestant’s dish. Let’s discover what works and what doesn’t.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey so we BOTH can find the best family budget for our needs. 

I BELIEVE IN BUDGETING. 

I honestly do and know that there’s a monthly budget out there that will move us towards our goals of financial freedom and away from the headaches and burdens of our budgeting past. 

What budgeting method do you use and why? Let us know in the comments below.

Kevin Payne

Author

Kevin Payne is the co-founder and budgeting and family travel expert behind FamilyMoneyAdventure.com.

Kevin is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance and travel. He is a regular contributor to Forbes, The Ascent, Student Loan Planner, and FinanceBuzz. His work has also been seen on sites such Credit Karma and Millennial Money.

It's Not Me, It's You: Breaking Up With Our Monthly Budget