Transcript: Budgeting | A Most Misunderstood Word, with Eowyn Levene

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Eowyn Levene 0:00
Welcome to Creatives Do Money. Each week we explore the topics of everyday money management, solo business ownership, and how we’re fueling our creative futures. I’m your host Eowyn Levene, money coach, longtime self employed massage therapist, and watermelon enthusiast, and I’m on a mission to help you build a lasting financial stability. that frees you up to do your creative work without hustling anxiously for the next dollar.

Eowyn Levene 0:27
Oh, my goodness, what a week, I’m recording this the week that our United States federal administration changed. We have a new president and our first ever female Vice President, our first ever Black and South Asian vice president. Big changes, big changes, and hopefully moving on to brighter horizons. I’m feeling hopeful. But it’s been a lot. We’re living through a lot, folks. And I’m also just experiencing the dichotomy of these huge world affecting events and the nitty gritty daily life, thoughts, advice and ideas I’m going to touch on today, which is around budgeting. budgeting is just one of those things that gets down to the minutiae of life. And it’s really about what we do in the day to day and it feels it feels in polarity to these large questions. I just want to acknowledge that polarity, but then also to say, Hey, we’re still in our daily lives, we’re still here, deciding what to eat, what to wear, what to think, what to feel, what to do with our body, what to do with the money that we have available to us, like all of those day to day questions, they remain.

Eowyn Levene 1:39
And so I want to get into budgeting with you today. And I’m actually sent him to do so. I’m gonna spend, I think, probably three episodes on budgeting because it’s just that important. It really is. And I want to share with you the approach that has made so much difference in my life. And people that I know, in clients that I’ve worked with. Yeah, I’m, I’m looking forward to getting into it. So I split it up, because it’s a big subject. And I think there can be some real barriers to push through when it comes to even thinking about budgeting, figuring out how it might fit into your life, letting go of some of the grossness around the word itself. So I mean, budget can really be a dirty word. I know it was for me for a really long time. So I’m not about the moralism around, like sexuality and dirtiness. But I think you know what I mean, by dirty word, it’s a word that’s considered taboo, or anathema, or something we don’t want to touch. Yeah, it sounds, it sounds like something big gross corporations do. And it sounds boring and dull, it sounds complicated, and something that you’re going to fail out like a diet. So there’s nothing appealing about the word budget, I can tell. But as I said, I am genuinely excited about talking with you about this topic.

Eowyn Levene 2:56
Honestly, having avoided budgeting for a decade, I’ve come to really love it, I feel 100% comfortable with the system that I’ve developed. It’s specifically a system that I’ve adapted from a variety of different kinds of budgeting, and then created some of my own tweaks. And it really works when you live with variable income. And I am confident that I can handle the money in my life effectively from now on out whatever happens, I can’t guarantee the income, I can’t guarantee the life circumstances. But I know that whatever arrives in my bank account, I will handle it responsibly and as effectively as I can. And it’s really down to that budget. So I’m not perfect by any means I make mistakes. Sometimes I’m spending in a way that doesn’t necessarily serve my best interests. But the habit of budgeting is so deeply ingrained. Now, I don’t even think twice about it. So I want you to ask yourself, if you thought budgeting, by the way, budgeting is just shorthand for planning how you’re going to spend your money and then following through with that plan. So if you thought that budgeting could be quick, easy and painless once you put some work into learn it, would you do it? So I suspect the question might be Yes, and hence what I’m sharing with you today. And over the next couple episodes. I want to let you know that quick, easy and painless budgeting on variable income is entirely doable. And it’s really the key to how I went from constantly struggling with credit card debt and money management in general, to a place of confidence and capacity around money.

Eowyn Levene 4:38
So before I dive in a couple quick notes, if you’ve been listening for a while, you know I love a good side note. One, I think it always bears repeating that despite talking about personal finance in the context of this podcast, I am not discounting the systemic problems that make modern life really hard to afford in many cases, especially here in the USA. The fact that I do decent living wage, affordable good education, health care, childcare and housing is out of reach of millions. it’s unconscionable, and our society has so much to do in addressing the systemic causes of inequality and poverty. So when I’m talking about budgeting, and what we can change in our personal lives and our finances, I like to make it crystal clear that there’s only so much that we can do. And it’s not only about pulling ourselves out from our bootstraps.

Eowyn Levene 5:29
The other note that I want to make, and it’s on the same theme of the limits of what we ourselves can do. It’s just a note that I didn’t improve my finances alone, I’ve had a lot of help along the way, from my parents, from my community, from the governmental system, from the healthcare system from so many places. We don’t exist in a bubble. I’m also part of a two income household with no children, which creates a very specific set of circumstances. Although – hoooo boy! – have the furbaby bills been piling up this year! We’ve been having, we’ve been having a lot going on with our poor cat, Olive.

Eowyn Levene 6:07
Okay, so those side notes aside, I’m still going to talk about budgeting today. Because despite any and all of the support that we get, we’re still making those money choices day in and day out. Do we order a restaurant meal for delivery or not? Do we finally open a retirement account? Do we make an extra debt payment this month? These questions are with us every day. And these day to day choices determine what we make of the money that we do have of the lives that we do have right now. And budgeting is the most effective way to make the smartest choices with the money that you have. And if I hadn’t started budgeting and kept to it consistently, I wouldn’t have my current results of being credit card debt free, with multiple kinds of savings. Last year, I maxed out my Roth IRA, and much more. So none of those things would have happened as fast or at all if I wasn’t using a budget and the right budget at that.

Eowyn Levene 7:03
Alright, back to the main event today. For money, especially as creative and healer types – my friend Charles would call us healer feelers – the word budget brings up some very specific thoughts. And if you would rather smuggle a skunk – I was pretty pleased at coming up with that – if you would rather snuggle a skunk than deal with your money, then some of what I’m going to tackle today is likely to sound familiar. I’m going to take you through some of the common misconceptions about budgeting. And these are the misconceptions that might be keeping you from learning it once and for all. And it’s my sincerest hope for you, dear listener, that if you don’t already, you start planning your spending and learn to love doing it.

Eowyn Levene 7:47
So what is a budget in the context of your personal finances, we’ll get into the specifics more next time but simply puts your budget is your organized calendar and to do list, aka your planner for your money. So it’s not just a to do list. And it’s not just a calendar, it’s both of those things. And truly, we all budget already to a degree even if we’ve never created a spreadsheet in our lives. When you take a look at your bank balance, and then think about your current and upcoming income, you look ahead to your spending obligations like rent or credit card payment, you’re effectively budgeting you’re looking at how much money you have, and you’re deciding what to do with that money. What I’m talking about when I use the word budgeting is creating a more intentional and detailed process for yourself that helps you plan your money more effectively. And it helps you reach your goals and it helps you reach goals that you hadn’t previously believed possible. You take yourself through a more rigorous process.

Eowyn Levene 8:48
The first misconception I have in mind is that budgeting is really hard to do. AKA you tell yourself budgeting is something I will never manage to do. And I’m not gonna lie to you. It takes some work upfront to learn how to use a budget. And anyone who tells you differently either never had trouble keeping their finances in order to begin with, or they’re just not being 100% truthful. It takes some work. And there’s effort involved. Like with anything worthwhile. When you build your first budget, you have to gather your numbers because you want your budget to be based on your real life. You need to know what your average spending is in different areas. You need to be tracking your income regularly and so on. But it’s like anything challenging at first you break it down into parts, you get yourself help if you need it, you stick with it over time and you get better you get more used to it, you lay down some neurological tracks in your brain. So when it comes to this thought about budgeting being really hard or it’s something you’ll never manage to do. I want to just tell you this, your past your past does not dictate your future success. That’s true with budgeting and any other area of your life your brain might tell you otherwise to try and spare you that effort of trying something new or restarting something again. But it’s a simple fact that if today you decide to learn a system of budgeting that will actually work in your life, and you stick with it over some months, you’ll find it’s not hard at all. At this point, you just have to take my word for it if you haven’t already gotten into budgeting yourself. But I’m also here to help if you’d like, I’m here for one on one coaching, you can also join the plum tree community, ask all the questions, read the articles, show up for money, co working sessions, and actually do this thing. It’s there for you.

Eowyn Levene 10:34
Alright, the next common misconception that I experience, it’s that budgeting is thought to be really complicated, and something that’s really out of reach if you’re someone who considers yourself bad at math. And to this misconception around budgeting being complicated. It’s complicated in the sense that cooking a nice meal or driving a car is complicated. If you’ve never cooked a meal before or never driven a car, you have to go through a process of painstakingly learning how to do this thing. And you spend some time you get some instruction and you practice. And then eventually it starts to feel easy. And you don’t think anymore about what it means to have a pan over medium flame or whether a chicken is done and where to put the thermometer to check if that’s the case, you know what a simmer versus a boil is. So my point is simply that any skill can feel complicated at the beginning. And frankly, I don’t think budgeting is anywhere near as complex as cooking is. So yeah, there’s some learning involved, I’m really I’m not going to deny that. And I remember a frustration of mine. And I still notice it to this day that folks who are already super into budgeting will mention using a budget very casually, if it’s as if it’s no big deal to do so. And that I really I don’t think it’s true. I think it takes strategy and time to learn it and get it right. But that doesn’t mean that it has to feel complicated, or something that you’re going to be bad at. There’ll be some experimentation, you’re going to learn the basics of how to structure your budget, what the sections are, what numbers you’re going to need. And then you’ll start following the plan and do a monthly review process. And you’ll tweak it from there and make it right for you.

Eowyn Levene 12:18
As for the mathematics, but if you can use a calculator or spreadsheet to add and subtract numbers, you are good to go. It’s not necessary to use a super fancy spreadsheet with a bunch of different pie charts and percentages. You can do that if you want. But the math skills required are at the most basic level, I’m pretty sure that you are mathematically ready for budgeting. It is a linear process, though. And it’s systematic. And not all of our brains work in the same way. But if you’re using a structured system, that’s straightforward and clear. I know that anyone who tries can make it work for them, no matter what half of their brain functions most highly.

Eowyn Levene 13:01
Next up on the common misconceptions about budgeting list is it involves discipline. budgeting is hard and involves discipline. So again, there’s some truth in this it does. There is some discipline involved in learning to use a budget and then doing it over time. until it becomes a habit we have to employ some of our I’m going to do this thing, even though I don’t really want to. And I’m going to keep at it until it becomes easier. That’s true when it comes to developing the habit. More often than not, the question of discipline comes up for folks when they think about sticking to a budget about making that plan to their money, but then actually following through spending no more than what they intend to spend or actually putting the money in savings. And that’s often where we think it’s going to get really hard. We might dream about our six month emergency fund. But when it comes down to the day to day changes, we’d rather well snuggle a skunk – I wanted to use that again – and this is so relatable.

Eowyn Levene 14:05
So usually when a budget is mentioned, the person often is talking about quote unquote sticking to a budget, which is just one word away from sticking to a diet, which is an epically unfun thing to contemplate. budgeting is often talked about in the context of sticking to a budget which evokes these feelings of dieting, something I will fail at. And that common language does no favors, because it can lead to feeling like we’ve failed before we’ve even started researching and trying it out.

Eowyn Levene 14:37
But that off putting language aside, what about the discipline needed to actually stick to the money plan that you’ve made for yourself? Two things on that when it comes to building the habit you have to decide that you wanted and then work at building that habit like you would anything else.

So this is kind of where adulting comes to play. You have to show up for yourself say I want this skill. I want to do that. thing and notice is going to improve my life, and then you’re going to work at it. I will say though, it’s not going to be as hard as you might think I’m coming to you from the other side of this process, I want to just say you can totally do this. It’s a skill you can learn over time, you can do this. And you can actively generate feelings of determination and enthusiasm for yourself by practicing thinking thoughts that give you those exact feelings. Picking the mantras, affirmation statements that help you show up for yourself and learn this skill is going to set you up for success. As well as just getting really clear on why you want this thing and then deciding that you want to.

Eowyn Levene 15:38
But when it comes to sticking to your budget, to following your spending plan, there’s a couple of tactics that really set you up for success to make the process easier to maintain. The first way to set yourself up for budgeting success is that you have to start from where you’re at right now. If you currently spend 300 a month on restaurant food, and that’s way more sense than makes sense for your income levels and your life. The answer is not immediate, massive restriction. If you go from spending 300 on average a month on restaurant food to suddenly giving yourself $50 a month to spend on restaurants. Because you think that’s the correct amount, you are just setting yourself up for frustration and likely failure. And what follows immediately on failing is then you start to doubt yourself and your ability to use this process, we generally don’t make big change immediately. And more gradual changes to your budget will serve you better in the long run, you’ll increase your chance that you’ll follow your plan and that builds confidence and momentum. So when you create your first budget, start with your real life numbers. And if you want to lower your numbers, just do so by five or 10%.

Eowyn Levene 16:51
So the second thing which is going to set you up for success is you need to allow for spending on the things that light you up that you enjoy. Even in small amounts, you need to make sure you’re putting some money towards what you love. That might look like a loaf of crusty bread from your favorite bakery now and then, or you really love crafting small animals from wall and topping up your suppliers every couple of months means that you can continue to do that. Making sure that you put some money towards what you love means that changing your spending elsewhere in your life will feel so much more doable. The fact that I get my beautiful bloomy rind goat cheese from Moxie Ridge Farm at the Union Square farmers market now and again, it makes me super happy, I’m so glad to do that it’s $12 a pop and it’s worth every dollar supporting local, sustainable and regenerative agriculture is a huge value of mine in life. And anyone who knows me well knows my cheese enthusiasm. So I budget for those cheeses on purpose because it gives me a sense of enjoying my life and treating myself and it makes it much easier to put a lot of my money towards paying off debt or savings.

Eowyn Levene 18:11
So if you follow these two guidelines of starting where you’re at, and building in some happy spending, and if you choose a method that sets you up for success, if it’s the right method when you have inconsistent income – and I promise we’re gonna get into this next week – I’m not just constantly dangling this in front of you, you’ll find the habit of budgeting much easier than you expected. And that the initial discipline and hard work that you put in is going to pay off so much sooner than you realize.

Eowyn Levene 18:39
We’ve come to the last misconception that I want to talk about today. And it’s a big one. It’s the idea that using a budget is… drumroll …restrictive. And you know, the restrictiveness of budgeting was something that I implicitly believed for years. And I think it’s the belief that kept me from budgeting the longest. I was anyway feeling restricted in my spending because I had so much credit card debt. And I hadn’t already figured out that the way that I think about my life is what determines whether or not I feel restricted. And so I hadn’t realized that yet. And I was just in it just feeling that every available cent had to go towards the debt and that there was no room to spend on anything else. And I was just generally feeling restricted. And the idea of adding a budget on top of that existing experience of restriction just made me want to run for the hills, there was this looming specter of years of deprivation and being a slave to something external that made me want to do things I didn’t want to do. It was a mess and full of drama, and I just avoided it. But in hindsight, I reall y had things upside down. Using a budget would have led me to getting out of debt so much sooner. But you know, that’s where I was then. And I’m not beating myself up about it. It’s more just now I have the insight to understand that the budget would not have been restrictive and it would have freed me up in the long run. So I’m sharing the story just to demonstrate that I really get this misconception. And the idea of deprivation and restricted and restriction and budgeting can be a huge blockage when we think about starting to use a budget. But what I’ve discovered since I started playing my money in this way is – and here’s where the magic comes in – if you set the budget up in the right way for your life, and if you keep your goals and your particular life vision, top of mind when you budget, you’re actually going to find the experience of planning what you do with your money, really freeing. And believe it or not fun, which I know I’ve talked about already, both with guests, and so episodes, but budgeting can genuinely end up being a fun experience.

Eowyn Levene 20:45
Once you get the skill under your belt, you no longer have this niggling sense constantly that you’re overspending or the sense that you’re not taking proper financial care of yourself and your family. No more vague sense that you’re forgetting a bill or that something is just out of whack financially, there can be a ton of low grade anxiety, independent of any challenges you have paying your bills that come without getting down there and your numbers. And when you get down there and your numbers and you plan your spending, there’s real peace on the other side of that. Now some of it is is simply about the fact that you’re giving yourself some structure, you probably already know this from creative projects, that giving yourself some structure actually brings up a lot of clarity and a real experience of freedom. You have complete carte blanche on a on a project, you can get overwhelmed by all the choices and the different directions and sort of get stuck in decision fatigue and you never really moving ahead. But if you’re given a very specific brief whether by others, we yourself the work and the creativity flows much more easily. It’s true also about using a budget, you’ve given yourself some structure, you’ve given yourself a sandbox in which to play, you’re essentially saying I will play here in the sandbox, I will not play elsewhere and enjoy your little five year old life is sandbox.

Eowyn Levene 22:08
So as I’ve mentioned a couple times, I’m going to talk about the principles that make up the budgeting approach that really works for those who have variable income. We’re going to get into that in the next solo episode. So So two episodes from now. And before you shudder at the thought of listening more about budgeting or thinking about planning your money, will it help if I tell you that my budgeting process takes me around 10 minutes total each week. And that’s backed up by around five to 10 minutes a day of logging transactions. So if that helps, it takes me around 10 minutes I sit down, I look at where my balances are at, I decide what I’m going to do with the money that’s come into the bank account in the previous week. And then I’m off to the races. And it’s it’s a quick and seamless process at this point.

Eowyn Levene 22:55
We can wrap it up here. I really hope this episode has been helpful. And I hope that if the sense that budgeting is really hard and something you wouldn’t manage, if you’ve been thinking you’ll struggle at it, because math isn’t your strong points, or that it’s going to be really restrictive or involves more discipline than you have available and you’re just going to fail, I hope this has helped a little bit to shift your expectations and your hopes about what budgeting might do for you. I really mean it when I say this can make all the difference in your financial life.

Eowyn Levene 23:29
Between now and then something you can do to prime the pump further around budgeting is to get clear on why do you want to spend the time and put the effort in to learn how to budget? How will your life change? What will it look like? What goals will you achieve more effectively or at all because you have more agency with how you handle your money. Build that vision for yourself and it can pull you along as you learn these new skills.

Eowyn Levene 23:53
Speaking of priming the pump, I have a free PDF and audio guide that might interest you might be helpful in getting you ready to change how you handle your everyday money. The guide is called 3 Simple Steps to Improving Your Finances even When Your Money is a Mess. And it walks you through some quick and three steps you can take to get yourself ready to be the best steward you can be of the money that you make. To get the guide, swipe scroll down and click through whatever it is to the show notes. And you’ll find a link there to sign up.

Eowyn Levene 24:25
You can also just download the guide by signing up here:

Eowyn Levene 24:26
Thank you for being with me here today. I never take your time or attention for granted. I’m grateful and I look forward to next time.

Eowyn Levene 24:42
Special thanks to Michael P. Atkinson for help with producing this episode and for composing its beautiful music. If you enjoyed listening today, I hope you’ll return and tell your creative friends and colleagues about it and also to take a moment to leave a review wherever it is that you listen. positive reviews make a huge difference and getting the word out about creatives to money. And in the meantime, wishing you all money, business and life success, whatever that means to you.