In principle, budgeting sounds fairly easy. You start with your income, keep track of your expenses, and set aside savings toward your goals. Simple, right? Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done. Budgeting requires two things that many people don’t seem to have a lot of these days—time and discipline.

And let’s be honest here. As human beings, we’re hard-wired to repeat activities we take pleasure in, as Freud pointed out many years ago. We also tend to avoid activities that are not so enjoyable. This is why finding a budgeting system that works for you is important. It has to be effective enough so that your finances work for you. And at the same time, it must be easy enough to do so that you actually, well, do it regularly.

This is where backwards, or reverse, budgeting comes in. Especially during periods of your life where you are pressed for time. For example, maybe when you’re newly hired and you find yourself really giving your 100 percent effort toward your job. Or maybe you just had a baby and the hours of your day are caught up with childcare. In situations such as these, you can opt to use a simpler, no-nonsense form of budgeting.

So how does backwards budgeting work?

First of all, a change of perspective is needed with backwards budgeting. In the more traditional method, first you track expenditures into specific categories. Then you look at how you can make adjustments in your spending in order to put away more towards savings. In other words, considering what you spend takes first priority when you budget, right? And whatever remains after all your expenses is what you save.

With backwards budgeting you do things in reverse. What this budgeting method does is that it changes your priorities—because with it, you prioritize saving before expenses. This causes you to adjust your spending rather than your saving. It also ensures that you are keeping yourself on track toward fulfilling your financial goals.

Financial planner Ken Robinson explains it this way, “Instead of figuring out ‘Where do I cut back and therefore how much can I save?’, just make a decision about how much you’re going to save. The ‘where to cut back’ takes care of itself.”

But what are you saving for? With traditional budgeting, you start with expenses. With backwards budgeting, you start with your goals. Keep in mind that its best to include your emergency fund and retirement fund as part of your goals. This is important no matter how young, or old, you are. And then, aside from these two, start dreaming. What do you want? A car? A trip to Europe? To open your own business?

Again, we go back to human nature, having a dream in front of us motivates us to work for it. And in this case, work means putting aside savings and living within an allotted budget.

The backwards budgeting formula

The formula for backwards budgeting is simple:

Net income (salary after taxes) – savings = living expenses.

You might be saying to yourself right now, how much should I be saving? Why not use the 50/30/20 method where half of your budget goes to necessities? You’re left with thirty percent to discretionary spending and then twenty percent to savings. We write all about it here, “Simplify Your Budget With the 50-30-20 Rule?”

Therefore, if you make S$ 5,900 a month, the twenty percent for your savings would be S$1,180, that you’ll put away for your wedding, a vacation, or a new car— whatever your long or short-term goals are. Of course, if you’re still building up your emergency fund, as everyone should, then set aside half toward your emergency fund first and the other half toward your other goals. This means that you have S$ 4,7200 a month to live on, and so you adjust your lifestyle accordingly.

Now, if you are paying off a loan or perhaps even some credit card debt, it’s wiser, of course, to get these paid up before saving towards your dream. While realizing our dreams should be an important part of our lives, we must be women who are financially responsible.

 

Don’t be afraid to start small and keep things simple

And, one more thing. Keep the amount you allot for savings realistic. If you need to start small—just a few hundred dollars a month—for example, that’s just fine. Better to start small and add to your savings next month than to realize you put too much money away and cannot make ends meet. Remember, this is supposed to simplify your life, not make things more difficult.

If you need more practical advice on getting into better shape financially, check out our article on getting financially fit here.

Pro-tip: Automation can be your close ally when it comes to backwards budgeting. Set up an automatic withdrawal of twenty percent from your paycheck to be transferred to another account. This way you won’t even see it in your regular account. If you don’t see it, you won’t spend it.

The beauty in this method is that you don’t have to keep overly meticulous track of individual expenses. As long as you stay within your budget and you are putting aside your savings regularly, that’s pretty much it. You free yourself from no small degree of busywork. As I said earlier, this method is particularly useful during times in your life when your plate is very full indeed.

Because, if you think about it, what is the purpose of budgeting anyway? It is not so you can trace to the last cent where your paycheck went. As Patrick Brewster writes, “The real purpose of budgeting should be about tracking where your money is going so you can make better decisions with it….When you save enough for your goals, then you gain the financial freedom to spend the rest of your money on anything you please.”

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Anna Maria Romero is the Deputy Director of Lifeline Foundation by day and a freelance writer by night. Lifeline Foundation’s advocacy includes empowerment through financial literacy, which is why she has written and taught on this subject on numerous occasions. An educator by profession and training, Anna Maria graduated from the University of the Philippines, cum laude, and taught for more than two decades, having opened a school in 1995. She stepped down as as principal of South City Central School in 2015 in order to pursue a career in the non-profit sector. She is a contributing writer to an online news site, and has been on the creative team of “This Journal Will Actually Change Someone’s Life” since 2008, which is published by FreeSpeech Publications in Manila, Philippines. Anna Maria is a passionate advocate, volunteer, organizer, counselor, communicator, editor, and traveler, who’s always ready to pack up and go where she’s needed.

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