I used to think budgeting was all about the dollar amounts. Numbers, numbers, numbers. But recently I’ve discovered that an old fashioned, printed calendar can streamline the path to a budget that is realistic and workable. Let me tell you why.
1. Calendars Help You Visualize Your Flow of Money
Studies show that 65 percent of us are visual learners. That means we will relate better to and think more clearly with materials that give us a visual framework.
Enter the humble calendar. Standard U.S. calendar layouts show one month at a time, with 5 rows that translate into full (and any partial) weeks, and 7 columns starting with Sunday on the left and ending with Saturday on the right.
Since the majority of bills are monthly, they can be plotted on the day of the month they’re due. And when you also write onto the calendar the days you get paid, you begin to have a better idea of how your money streams in and out of your hands.
Here’s an example:
If we were to write in the dollar amounts too, an even clearer picture would emerge.
2. A Calendar Can Jog Your Memory
When you start your budgeting process by looking at the current and/or upcoming month, you will remember special events that you otherwise might forget to add in to your budget. That baby shower scheduled for the end of the month reminds you to add funds to the gift category to cover the present you’ll need to buy. The holiday weekend so graciously pointed out by the calendar helps you set aside money for the celebration with family.
Without a calendar in front of you, it’s easy to think in broad categories and forget about realistic specifics. And if your budget doesn’t fit with your life the way you will actually live it, then you’ll be quick to push the unrealistic budget aside.
3. A Calendar Can Help You Develop Self-Control
That’s a strong statement, but I believe it’s true. By using a calendar, it’s almost as if you are displaying the concept of money across time. You can visualize that each paycheck or other form of income has to last a fixed amount of time before the next one comes in. And when the funds in a particular category are exhausted, looking at the calendar can encourage you to wait the few days until the next payday. The visual helps you say, “Hey, it’s just 4 days until there will be more money in the eating out category. I can wait that long by making do with what’s in the house.”
A calendar helps you see that you are not depriving yourself forever. You can be building self-control and financial stamina by using a calendar when the going gets tough.
4. A Calendar Speeds Up the Creation of Your Spending Plan
Once you have your bill due dates and paydays plotted on a calendar, the step to creating a spending plan is much easier. (I also like to use the term income distribution plan, since you’re actually divvying up – or distributing – each paycheck or other income source.)
Just by looking at the calendar example shown earlier, we see that the first paycheck has to provide the funds for the rent and the student loan, and we can use the last paycheck of the month to pay the utilities and car insurance. (A strong case can be made that you shouldn’t wait to use the paycheck on the first of the month to pay for rent that’s due on the first day of the month. But you get the point of this illustration.)
Thoughts on Print Versus Digital Calendars
I mentioned above that a calendar is a boon for visual learners. When you further decide to use a printed calendar, writing due dates and maybe even dollar amounts on it, you add in another learning modality: the physical or kinesthetic style. There’s something about using a piece of paper and a writing implement that helps you sort and retain information. Yes, I know that using a smart phone and typing on a calendar app uses your hands (or at least your thumbs), but research shows print has benefits over digital. I’m sticking to my recommendation of using print calendars if at all possible.
Starting to create a budget from scratch can be daunting. Make it easier on yourself by pulling out that free calendar your dry cleaner gave you, or printing one out from your personal office software, or use the one provided by MyBudgetMentor in the Resources, here. Take a few minutes to plot when each of your major bills are due and when you get paid.
This budget trick has helped others make a realistic budget faster, and I’ll bet you’ll find it helps you, too.