How I Finally Made Budgeting Fun (Really!)

Budgeting, having fun at it (really!), and investing towards my child’s future

I started budgeting later in life than I would have liked.

When I turned 30, I had this terrifying and sad realization: I had no control whatsoever of where I was putting my money.

This, despite the fact I was a successful project manager How the heck could I be better at managing someone else’s money than my own?

I had to do something.

I thought my engineering background would help me come up with a good template to start (at least) recording where my money goes.

Knowing the “where I am now” would make the “this is where I want to be” easier. That only took me halfway.

I hit my first wall when I realized that the format and making my budgeting template look nice was the easy part. The difficult parts were:

  • The discipline to make sure that I updated my dashboard at least twice a month. Maybe even make it fun?
  • Getting my expenses updated the easiest way possible to my file.
  • Sticking to my budget!

Now, the first years of putting myself through the process of building this budgeting discipline were daunting.

Because of some technical limitations (ahem…ignorance), I started by literally collecting receipts everywhere I could and updating my expenses manually in an Excel spreadsheet. I dreaded the process every time I sat down to update this file.

Soon after, I moved to the US (I’m originally from Mexico, but that’s a subject for another article), and the fact that we use credit and debit cards most of the time made tracking a bit easier.

I figured there were a lot of integrations I could work on to import my transactions (in a definitely-not-seamless way) to my existing budgeting tool.

Around that time I also got married.

I no longer had time to both gather my latest financial data and analyze it to make decisions around my family’s financial goals.

I was ok with our budgeting routine (it was still more like ‘meh’) – but I didn’t give up on finding better options.

Roughly, our strategy was (and is)

We sit down at the beginning of the year and set our financial goals for the year to come. Once we’re comfortable with those goals, we plan our spending in each category.

Every month we then follow up on how we are performing compared to our budget. Every time we spend less in a “focus” category, we put the difference in our savings account. At the end of the year, I take that sum and put it in our investment accounts.

We took a similar approach to increase our “rainy-day” funds. At first, it didn’t seem like we were saving a lot of money. But trust me – those small chunks went a long way.

Still, budgeting wasn’t fun…

It was a chore and remained a chore for 2 or 3 years. Worse, I was still spending too much time gathering and entering data, and not enough using that data to make decisions.

But by late 2020, my wife and I were expecting our firstborn, Emmie. As I was preparing our budget for 2021, I came upon the site that changed my whole budget experience. I was lucky enough to find Tiller after months of looking for a good solution online to update my bank balances from one site (as opposed to getting individual Excel sheets with different formats from each bank).

I had tried apps for budgeting, but they don’t have the integration capabilities I needed (Tiller can connect to a lot of financial institutions that those other apps can’t.) After I set up all my accounts in Tiller, I went from spending 2 hours on my finances to barely 30 minutes.

Having more time to focus on strategy rather than trying to get the expenses in a single place allowed me to:

  • Have more time to think strategically. We can work on 1-year and 5-year plans. I can forget about wondering if I have accounted for all my expenses and I can make better decisions with the information I have.
  • Follow up on retirement accounts!
  • Make it fun. I spend some of the time we save every week on making the file fun to read. Now we also get a bit competitive from time to time to see who comes up with better ways of shaving some dollars off of some of the budget categories.

Now I look forward to that time during the weekend when I get to update my budget planner and see how creative we can get to make the most out of our money.

If you are curious about how Tiller works or our budget template, hit me up on LinkedIn and I can share a blank copy with you.

I can also give you some pointers as to how I fill it up and other ideas you can try out. I went down this road so that you don’t have to!

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Oscar Saavedra