The No-Budget Spending Plan

by | Dec 26, 2011 | Cash Flow, Life Aspiration Planning, Weekly Column

Here’s a new twist on an old New Year’s Resolution: If you want to give yourself the security of financial independence, try budgeting the way many wealth accumulators do.

The secret? They don’t budget.

Your first reaction might be, “Of course these people don’t budget! They have so much money, they don’t need to.”

That may be true for some of those who have money today, but I’m referring to people who want to remain wealthy or those who are “wealth accumulators.” These are people who don’t start out with money, but who build up significant wealth over time.

Many successful wealth accumulators don’t follow a detailed budget in the traditional sense. Instead, they develop the habit of living on less than they make. They do this by setting clear priorities. Here is how it works:

1. Out of every dollar earned, take taxes out first. If you receive a paycheck from an employer, this is done for you. On any earnings where taxes aren’t withheld, estimate the amount of tax you’ll owe and stick it into savings.

2. Take out 15% to 30% to invest for your future. When you’re just starting out, you may have to begin with a much lower percentage, but begin and be consistent. Research tells us if you have 30 years until retirement and you plan to live for 30 years after retirement, you need to save 17% of your salary to maintain the same standard of living upon retirement. When you get a raise, contribute two-thirds of it to your investments and use one-third for increasing your lifestyle. If you want to become financially independent, this step is essential.

3. Save another 10% to 20% for emergencies and short-term needs like vacations, Christmas, and replacing vehicles. Again, you may have to start with a lower percentage, but begin with whatever you can, and be consistent.

4. Take out 5% to 10% for giving.

5. Live on the rest. Pay the bills as they come in, and use what’s left over for discretionary lifestyle spending.

Sounds simple, right? Of course, “simple” isn’t necessarily the same as “easy.” By now, if you’ve done the math, you can see that following this plan means living on as little as one-half to even one-third of your gross earnings.

If you’re living from paycheck to paycheck, just barely managing to pay the bills, the financial advice to live on half of what you make goes beyond absurd. It probably seems impossible. It may, in the short term, be impossible.

Yet there are ways to live on less than you earn, even if to begin with it’s only a little less. Share a cheap apartment with a roommate. Drive an old car that you don’t have to make payments on. Eat at home. Buy used furniture and second-hand clothes. Get a temporary second job solely for the purpose of building up some savings.

What is most important is developing the pattern of living on less than you make. Fostering a frugal mindset is absolutely essential if you want to achieve financial independence. When you commit to saving first—even if you can only save a small amount—you have made one of the wisest financial decisions you can ever make.

This non-budgeting spending style takes away much of the pressure of trying to follow a rigid budget. There’s no need to keep track of envelopes or categories. You’ve made the hard decisions first, and you get to spend everything in the checkbook.

Budgeting without a budget can turn you into a wealth accumulator. It works because you take your future off the top.

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