Book Review: You Need A Budget by Jesse Mecham

You Need a Budget: The Proven System for Breaking the Paycheck-to-Paycheck Cycle, Getting Out of Debt, and Living the Life You Want*

By Jesse Mecham.  Publisher: Harper Business

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

BOOK JACKET SUMMARY

Think of a budget as a lifestyle-design blueprint. It’s a working plan for taking your life from where you are now to where you really want to be: Zero debt. Homeownership. Retirement plans. Travel. More money for eating out. Much less frustration and anxiety. Pick a goal that speaks to you and budget your way to success!

In this indispensable guide—the first book based on the successful tenets of the award-winning financial platform—you’ll be given the tools to learn how to track your expenses, stick to a spending plan, and make your money work for you. 

By learning to budget, you can finally break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, become debt-free, and save more. As Jesse Mecham shows, a budget won’t make you feel more restricted—it will make you feel free. You Need a Budget outlines his four simple rules to completely revolutionize the way you think about managing your money: 

1. Give every dollar a job. Take your cash, checking, and savings accounts and assign jobs to that money. Begin now with what you have on hand. Pick your priorities and make sure your dollars are helping you move closer to the things you really care about.

2. Embrace your true expenses. Identify your larger, less-frequent expenses—such as insurance premiums, birthdays, holidays, car repairs—and break them into manageable monthly amounts. This will help you even out your spending, decrease your stress, and make better decisions.

3. Roll with the punches. Life always changes and unexpected expenses happen. If you need to change your budget, just do it. The YNAB philosophy not only tolerates changing your budget; it encourages it.

4. Age your money. Increase the time between earning and spending, and finally, break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.

These four rules are the pillars of a tried-and-true system that keeps you engaged with your money. Following the rules, you’ll learn to adjust your habits, become proactive, and ultimately control your finances. Say goodbye to stressing over last month’s statement and say hello to taking charge and finally building the life you want.

Budgeting means that, soon enough, you’ll have money sitting around (just in case your car or home needs a repair), and finally be able to do the things you’ve been dreaming about—like take a Hawaiian vacation with your honey—knowing that the rest of your life is covered.

In November I started a free trial of the YNAB budgeting software. I love the flexibility of the system but I struggled to get a hang how to make it work for us, so when I saw the release of a YNAB book I preordered it to my kindle hoping for help and an insight to the YNAB method so I could get control of our budget better.

I love knowing where our money is going and seeing debt being paid off, yet I still stress out like crazy when I know I have to sit down and pay bills. Watching all that money just go poof is depressing.  I know its important, but I am still building our systems and I still want to avoid looking at the numbers. The stress of trying to sit down and deal with money is SO much worse than the actual budgeting.

In the introduction, Jesse says, “ when we’re stressed about our finances, its because we’re not sure our money decisions are aligned with the life we want to be living”. I can still feel the ring of truth to this deep in my heart. The reason I spend money the way I do is because I don’t have a concrete goal for the life I want to be living. I have a general idea and a hope that it will magically happen some day. But taking the responsibility to change my behaviors to ensure I reach those goals is a new thought for me.

THE TRUE STRENGTH OF YNAB

Most budgeting systems are controlling, and strict. With little flexibility. They seem to focus on reducing spending by cutting out all non-essential items.  Instead of asking “can I afford this?” YNAB encourages you to ask yourself, “does this move me closer to my goals?”

The difference between the two is a mindset switch from deprivation to empowerment. I am not avoiding the things I love because I can’t afford them, but I am choosing to make or skip a purchase because I have a specific goal in mind.

THE BOTTOM LINE

If you are new to budgeting you should read this book. Simple as that. It doesn’t drown you with tons of personal finance knowledge and focuses on the personal aspect of personal finance.  While Jesse encourages readers to slay debt, he also believes we all need to make the decisions that are best for us.

After covering the four core concepts the book goes over some specific situations like budgeting as a couple, getting out of debt, and teaching kids budgeting. Along the way, there are examples from real-world people that help illustrate the philosophy and how it can be implemented by real people – not personal finance experts.

Surprisingly, the book is NOT a marketing tool for the YNAB Software platform. Jesse openly admits that you could use a spreadsheet program to meet all your budgeting needs. That being said after reading the book I feel more ready and able to use the YNAB platform to reach my financial goals.

Book Review: Broke Millennial by Erin Lowry

 

BOOK JACKET SUMMARY:

Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck and Get Your Financial Life Together (#GYFLT)!

If you’re a cash-strapped 20- or 30-something, it’s easy to get freaked out by finances. But you’re not doomed to spend your life drowning in debt or mystified by money. It’s time to stop scraping by and take control of your money and your life with this savvy and smart guide.

Broke Millennial shows step-by-step how to go from flat-broke to financial badass. Unlike most personal finance books out there, it doesn’t just cover boring stuff like credit card debt, investing, and dealing with the dreaded “B” word (budgeting). Financial expert Erin Lowry goes beyond the basics to tackle tricky money matters and situations most of us face #IRL, including:

– Understanding your relationship with moolah: do you treat it like a Tinder date or marriage material?

– Managing student loans without having a full-on panic attack

– What to do when you’re out with your crew and can’t afford to split the bill evenly

– How to get “financially naked” with your partner and find out his or her “number” (debt number, of course)  . . . and much more.

Packed with refreshingly simple advice and hilarious true stories, Broke Millennial is the essential roadmap every financially clueless millennial needs to become a money master. So what are you waiting for? Let’s #GYFLT!

I was hooked from the back cover. As a thirtysomething who is just starting the debt relief portion of my personal finance journey, I hoped that Erin had some wisdom to share and I was not disappointed.

On page 3 Erin shares a story that sums up my former relationship with money, “…money just really stresses me out! I just don’t pay attention to it and then I hope I have enough at the end of the month.”

Who doesn’t relate to that at some point in their life? I know some people who are nowhere close to the millennial target market of this book that still uses the hope and pray method to manage their finances.

I found this book written in a friendly easy to understand voice, more like a friend giving me advice than a teacher admonishing me for showing up unprepared. But as an almost thirty-six-year-old, I am probably in the outside age range of Erin’s target audience.

As I read I kept my daughter (18) and my sister (21) in mind. What do I want them to know as they just begin their adult lives? Well, honestly I’ll just be giving them copies of this book but for the purposes of this book review I’ll point out a few things that really jumped out at me.

Highlights

Chapter 4 – Dealing with the Dreaded B Word (budgeting)

This chapter covers three different styles of budgeting: the cash diet, tracking every penny, the envelope system (split into traditional vs digital) followed by budgeting 201where she talks about advanced systems like percent budgeting and zero-sum budgeting.

First, the chapter covers the concept of a cash diet as a budgeting style. Basically, use only cash to pay for things because scientists have proven we spend less when we actually pay with cash. I think doing a cash diet as a reset for a few weeks or even a month is a great activity I think it is impractical for long time use considering how digital life has become. And while you can do it long term the book does say that a cash diet and the tracking every penny style of budgeting should be used “for at least two weeks by everyone at least once in their financial lives.

The longest section of this chapter is the zero-sum budget, “the black belt of budgeting tactics.” A stance I fully agree with. She breaks down the zero-sum system into easy actionable steps:

  1. Know your income
  2. Crunch your bills and lifestyle costs,
  3. Employ your dollars
  4.  Evaluate your spending categories
  5. Time to get your penny tracker on
  6. Prioritize your categories and trim the fat
  7. Get a month ahead
  8. Always run the numbers and adjust accordingly.

All in all, this is a great short summary of a topic whole books have covered. Informative but not so much as to be overwhelming.

Chapter 8 – Yikes, I already have consumer debt. What Now?

Unfortunately they will both have to deal with student loans at some point so I found this chapter to be great as a bit of an advanced primer on how to handle paying on their debt when it comes.

The chapter does primarily deal with credit card debt, offering three methods to deal with it – snowball or avalanche, balance transfer, or personal loan. Inside those three topics, she addresses the importance of paying on time, what your APR means and how that can affect your balance and different things you need to watch out for as you talk to companies about handling your debt such as an upsell of add-on insurance.

I really loved the end of the chapter where Erin reminds us that “you can’t succeed without changing your habits” and then gives a great step by step plan to deal with debt on page116:

Five actional steps to crush your consumer debt

  1. Forgive yourself
  2. Face the numbers
  3. Pick a method (snowball vs avalanche)
  4. You can do it on your own
  5. Stick with it
Things I Would Change About the Book:

Erin starts off with a great memory of selling donuts and her first interaction with earning money starting the book off in a very friendly memoir style. My favorite quote from page 3, ““…money just really stresses me out! I just don’t pay attention to it and then I hope I have enough at the end of the month.”, Is actually part of a conversation Erin had with her friend. While she does remain friendly throughout, it becomes a little more just the facts as the book moves on into the meat of personal finance.

In part, I expected this, after all this is a book about finance, not a memoir. Still, I would have loved to see a few more quotes and anecdotes from other millennials new to dealing with their finances. Sharing even a few stories in this manner would have added a break from the core financial teachings and given a greater sense of relatability. Knowing that Jen, 26 from Somewhereville USA had struggles and is working on them would give me someone else to relate too, especially since Erin is the expert who comes across as friendly but not struggling with debt and money as much as other millennials.

Overal

Broke Millennial by Erin Lowry is a great primer on how to be an adult and handle your finances instead of avoiding them and hope it all just works out. Filled with the information we should have learned either in school or from our parents and probably didn’t. Definitely going to be part of my gift for any recent graduate in my life.