Budgeting helps you find money where there was none

Published first on read.cash

So, as far as I know, everybody’s first instinct when it comes to trying to accrue wealth tends to be “How do I make more money?”.

I know it is my first instinct, even though I have been thinking about and reading and watching finance stuff for a couple of years, now, and all of the competent resources tend to tell you that making more is not necessarily a solution to one’s current money woes.

And yet, it still is my first instinct. I want to achieve X or Y goal and I need money for it, my mind scrambles in order to find some new avenue through which I can increase my income. The problem is that, short of scams or a lucky draw of the lottery or a very timely sell of stocks or crypto assets or a sudden inheritance, there are not many ways in which one can increase their income on a whim.

Just like most things that are worth it, achieving a sense of financial security (or awesome wealth, if that is your goal), take a ridiculous amount of time. Especially if you are not born into money or have an incredibly keen sense of accounting or business.

Being frugal is a suggestion that comes often, and sometimes uttered by people who either act condescending towards you or don’t know your situation, or both. Frugality is nice and all, and there is something to be said about how good thrifting is both for your wallet and the environment; but I have found frugality will get you nowhere without budgeting.

As the title of this short blog post that I am writing on a bit of a whim states, budgeting will help you find money where there was none. It is true. But not because this will magically make every paycheque bigger, but rather because it will help you know exactly where every single cent from that paycheque goes.

I’m not kidding. Ideally, you should know what your money is being spent on. Whether you correct some spending habits or not is up to you, but knowing is the first step and one of the most important ones if your goal is to be somewhat financially free in the future.

It’s like the basis of your strategy: First you know what (or how much) you’re working with, then you allocate it and you make sure that you stay within budget, and then growth stems from there. Obviously this budgeting has to work in favor of and alongside other things, like paying-off debt, investing and saving, in order to work appropriately, but let’s start simple.

I have budgeted in two different ways before: in percentages and in amounts. Percentages tends to work better during very predictable timeframes and for more general purposes, whereas amounts are a tad more adaptable and fluid. At least this is what I have found in my particular case; if it works differently for you, that’s great. I haven’t tried a mixture of both yet, but I am sure that that is a thing that could work.

Bear in mind that I am not a financial advisor, nor do I have all the answers and I am as much in this journey as the next person is, but I thought I’d share this because, even if it hasn’t fixed all of my problems, it has definitely helped. Also, I am aware that a big part of this post comes from a somewhat privileged position (ie. I have a steady job and have had one for several years now), but I hope that whatever your situation is, this helps in some way. 🙂

Budgeting 101

First we need to know what our monthly expenses are. In my hypothetical situation, these are the monthly expenses I deal with every month:

  • $50 for rent
  • $10 for groceries
  • $7 for utilities
  • $7 for pet food

And my paycheque every two weeks is $100 dollars. So for monthly expenses, I spend roughly $74 out of $200 in an average month, and that leaves me $126 to spend on whatever I please, right? That’s how it works.

Eh, no, not really.

That $136 should be assigned to something from the beginning. Like paying off debt, or saving for retirement, or for a new something, or to put towards investments, but it should not just be left to be spent all willy-nilly with no purpose at all.

So we have two paycheques then. If we budget with percentages, the distribution could look like this.

Paycheque 1

  • 50% for rent
  • 5% for groceries
  • 7% for utilities
  • 3.5% for pet food
  • 30% for Credit Card payment
  • 8.5% for Rainy Day

Paycheque 2

  • 5% for groceries
  • 3.5% for pet food
  • 50% for Investments
  • 31.5% for Credit Card payment
  • 10% for new thingy that I want

Since we are working with very small hypothetical sums, these percentages would work also as amounts. As I mentioned before, I find that using percentages work really well especially in the middle of the year, or in seasons where there’s no unexpected expenses (that you can think of) or special occasions.

I would recommend always having a Rainy Day fund and either some stocks (or crypto assets) or an investment account (or all of those) so that your money can make money for you. But that’s outside the scope of this.

I don’t think you need any fancy app or software to budget. Personally I have found that libreoffice or a notebook work wonders. I have been using the BulletJournal method for a couple of years now and at the start of each month I break down my future paycheques. It’s incredible how much it helps.

One strategy I have found that helps me a lot is to keep, for example, a separate savings account for rent, and to put slightly more money in there than my monthly rent amount. Say I pay the $50 in rent every month, but instead I put $55 in that account, and I spend less money in some other area. This will grow your savings without you necessarily thinking of it, and it doesn’t hurt since you already budgeted for it.

Also I have to emphasize how important it is to prioritize paying off debt ASAP. Budget for it. You can save and pay off a credit card at the same time, it’s not impossible, but the focus has to be on the not-owing-money part of it. If you owe money, and that debt is just generating interest, you’re just digging a bigger hole for yourself. But if you just funnel money into your debt, you don’t really feel like you’re getting ahead in life.

I would recommend budgeting an amount every month and applying the 80/20 rule to it in order to pay off debt and growing some savings: 80% of that amount goes to debt and 20% goes to savings. Once the debt starts decreasing enough that you can breathe again, you can even flip the amount and watch your savings grow, until the debt is payed off and you can focus 100% of that amount to savings only.

What if you don’t have a fixed income?

Well, that should be addressed the same way: allocate every dollar, euro or peso every time you get payed. Give it a job. In time the money you get from these freelance jobs or what-have-you should start to feel like a paycheque.

As with most things, the hardest thing to do is to begin. If you’re anything like me, once you have numbers going on in your head, you’ll find it hard to stop. Every dollar will need to have a purpose, and there’s no reason why that purpose shouldn’t be “eating take-out” or “a new game”.

Just remember that before you burden yourself with more work or before you fall for a fast-money-making scheme, sometimes rearranging wat you already make could start solving your problems and taking you in a direction you’d like.

Thanks for reading.

“The colour of Bee Larkham’s murder” – Review

This book reminded me a lot of The curious incident of the dog in the night-time (Mark Haddon, 2004) , due to it’s topic and choice of protagonist, as well as its portrayal of autism.

Adding synesthesia and face blindness into the mix, however, made this whodunnit a very fascinating read. I thought that keeping every character as a stroke of color made it even more engaging and interesting, and made the reader feel like they were truly experiencing the world through Jasper’s eyes.

The act of placing the reader inside Jasper’s mind was and experience that i found enjoyable but that also made me impatient. At various points in the book I grew slightly bored with the pacing, and annoyed with jasper’s obsessions about certain things. This never stopped me from wanting to know what happened next, however, and I think that that is commendable. I don’t have to fully enjoy or approve of a protagonist’s actions in order to be completely entranced by a book. At first it did bother me, but the more I thought about it the more remarkable I think it is that Harris’ book managed to suck me in to such an extent in spite of my mixed feelings towards Jasper and other characters.

I still believe that the book had some pacing issues, and it also felt like one of the core problems of the plot was somewhat overlooked (to mention it would be a spoiler, I think, but suffice to say that it has to do with Bee Larkham herself). A lot of it seems to be based on the premise that “hurt people hurt people”, which is true to an extent, but also a bit simplistic. I suppose it also could be part of the author’s intention, what with only having Jasper’s point of view and experiences as a frame of reference.

All in all, I found it a very enjoyable read, and would recommend it.

Rating: 3.8/5
Published by: The Borough Press, 2018

A couple of book reviews

The lovely bones (Alice Sebold, 2006)

This book is definitely an important one, given its topic and the raw depiction it has of rape, murder, and the way it can go unnoticed and/or unsolved. That on its own makes this book an important novel. I also understand its cathartic nature, given that the author wrote it based on personal experience.

As a novel, though, it has a lot of aspects that I don’t quite enjoy, and the more I think about it, the less I find I like this book, which is a shame.

The things that rub me the wrong way start with the the mom’s affair with the policeman. Not necessarily the way it happened, mind you, because I know that people deal with grief differently and cope with loss in different ways (though, let me interject that the affair did feel forced, and that both her and the policeman behaved like absolute terrible people given the situation, but I guess that’s the point). No, the thing that bothered me about the affair was the way the mom just abandoned the family for a decade or whatever and then she came back and met relatively little resistance from the dad and the sister (the little boy’s reaction was the most realistic one I think). Like, the dad is accepting her back just like that? Because of what, some warped concept of love in which it forgives even the unforgivable abandonment of her family in an incredibly painful situation? No, screw you, you made choices that made your family’s difficult situation even harder and a saintly dad character who forgives anything is not only unrealistic, but lazy for the sake of a pseudo-happy ending.

Then there is the idealization by a lot of the males in the book for the “exotic, mysterious, sexy-but-distant foreign woman”, who makes them fall in love with her just by looking at her. Don’t feel great about this sexist/racist trope either. It also never goes anywhere; the author kinda toys with the idea of the dad having an affair of his own, but no, he is too pure for that.

Then there’s the fact that the main character comes back from the dead only to fulfill a sex fantasy and does not in any way give her grieving family any closure or respite. What.

And the rapist/murderer is never caught, and dies a “karmic death” under a pile of snow, which fair enough, is somewhat satisfying, but nowhere near as good as him facing the music and paying for his crimes.

“Oh”, I hear you say, “but him not getting caught makes it more realistic”.

Yeah, sure, but my suspension of disbelief was already through the roof after the dead-girl-possession-sex-fantasy-fulfillment described above.

So yeah. This book is mostly well written, and touches on very important subjects that must have been REALLY hard to write about, and I commend the fact that they’re being talked about. But as a novel it’s so-so at best.

Rating: 2.5/5

The shape of water (Andrea Camilleri, 1994)

I had never heard of this series until my book club received a copy from BlindDateWithABook.com.

I don’t think this book was for me. The case itself was somewhat interesting, but the way the book was written failed to engage me. The dialogue seemed like it was written for a very cheesy soap opera, and there was a very surprising amount of sexism and racism that felt like offhand comments unnecessary to the story itself.

Then, all the characters seemed to have a very similar deductive ability to that of the main character, so all the answers sort of landed on his lap? That takes away from the fun of a whodunnit, in my opinion, but then again I haven’t really read many in the genre. Oh, and the fact that the ending had no real resolution, with no one facing justice or being confronted about the murder(s) really felt like the book was incomplete.

Rating: 2.2/5

Chuck Palahniuk – Fight club (review)

The Chronicles Of Cowboy Jimmy images Fight Club Book ...

I am not going to start this review with the clichéd repetition of the book’s mantra, as I am tempted to, but I as I know plenty of others have done already.

Instead, I will say that I wish I hadn’t watched the movie starred by Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, and directed by David Fincher in 1999, since it took away from me the joy of finding out the biggest twist in the story (which I won’t comment on if you have not, at this point, either watched the movie or read the book).

This is an excellent book. Dark, yes, but not as dark as I am led to believe that his other books are (by my girlfriend, who has read most of them). I like the short story quality that each of the chapters has, and I like how every single piece of seemingly “useless” trivia mentioned within the book ties to the story in a neat, delightfully cohesive fashion.

It was such a good read that I finished it in just a couple of days, hypnotized by Palahniuk’s prose and the dystopian nature of the piece. I also find myself increasingly distrusting of high-end food establishments after reading it.

It is terrifying, however, to find out how misunderstood the book (and movie) are. The whole idea is to take a jab at toxic masculinity, the “hey let’s see whose dong is longer” and “boys will be boys”; but it became some sort of a ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ in that people who are toxically masculine got inspired by the book. Not changed, Not horrified. Inspired. I still remember that one time a coworker asked me to join a fight club, back in México, in 2015. He might have been joking, but he might have not, and given his character I’m more inclined towards the latter.

I believe that the book is a masterpiece of fiction, with a satisfyingly rounded character and story arc and a successful “back to the beginning” feeling at the end. I’m almost a little too afraid of checking out Fight Club 2 (a graphic novel), afraid that it will mess with what I consider to be one of the best novels I’ve read this year.

Rating: 4.3/5
Publisher: (Edward) Norton

Isaac Asimov – I, robot (Review)

I, robot is a collection of stories related to the fictional robopsychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin, and is set in the late 21st century. It is told as a dramatization of past events involving the inclusion of robots in human life, starting in the early 1990’s and throughout most of the 21st century; it is told by an unnamed reporter who interviews Dr. Calvin and publishes these stories as an hommage to her work and life.

Isaac Asimov’s collection of stories was originally published in 1950, and is part of a broader series, The Robots Series, though from what I hear ( I haven’t read the series) it is set thousands of years before the rest of the series, which converges with Asimov’s other great series, The Foundation series.

I grew up in a house full of science fiction books; Foundation, Battlefield Earth and others were all over my parents’ studio, and though I pretended to read some of the Foundation series when I was finishing elementary school, I’d be lying if I said I understood it or remember any of it. However, Asimov’s name and his huge oeuvre of more than 400 books has always stuck with me, and as an aspiring writer even in my childhood, I admired how prolific he had been. Bear in mind that at the time I knew nothing of his work, just the number of books alone was enough to amaze me.

Eventually I read some of his short stories, translated to Spanish, and I found I enjoyed them quite a lot, which was good since I had spent so much time admiring him without knowing what his work was actually like. What a relief.

So now I was somewhat excited to read I, robot, hoping to like it a lot, but at the same time weary that this would maybe mean that I’d have to also read the rest of the Foundation series.

Turns out I did enjoy this book; even though some things about it are worth pointing out for being sexist or to an extent boring, it was not a bad read at all. Let’s be honest here, whenever you crack up a book written in the 50’s you are bound to find at least some sexism or racism, no matter the genre or author.

And this was not an exception, beginning witht he very first story, Robbie’s “villain” is a housewife who behaves like the trope of the wife that has to be better than her husband, just because, and in so doing she refuses to listen to the voice of reason (the husband) and the suffering of her little daughter. Suffering caused by herself, I might add. At this point I just took a breath and sighed heavily and moved on, hoping above hope that the rest of the book wasn’t like this at all.

I was pleasantly surprised in that regard, since the main female character of the book, Dr. Susan Calvin, is actually a pretty fairly written character (obviously given the limitations of Asimov as a writer of female characters, as admitted by him at one point).

However, there is a certain thing that happens a lot in Asimov’s stories, in which the protagonists happen to be just the right amount of smart to solve the situations in front of them, so the stories are sort of plain. Let me rephrase that, most of the stories are sort of plain. I actually found the last three stories in the book, which featured Calvin more prominently than the rest, quite enthralling and fun.

The stories also serve as a timeline of Asimov’s early growth as a writer. The stories get more complex and literary. At first most of the action and solutions are happening in dialogue form with brief spasms of description, reminiscent of how old action heroes used to have to explicitly say what they were going to do, talking to themselves and to the reader directly. By the end of the book, though, this has changed drastically and the prose is therefore more enjoyable.

As a side note, I find it always funny when reading old science fiction and encountering phrases like “I took motion pictures of him”, or having all the characters smoking a lot, or the complete absence of something like the internet or smart phones. Not that it’s the author’s fault, though, it just amuses me how they failed to think of those things (even though they imagined their elements separately) as something as huge as it is today.

I am looking forward to the next book in the series, The Caves of Steel, which thankfully doesn’t have a movie cover. I think that that is one of the tackiest things editor’s can do to books in order to sell more, after a movie comes out: plaster the movie poster there as the cover. Alas, that was the only edition I found at the time.

Rating: 3.5/5
Bantam Spectra, 2004

P.D, I need to clean my oven.