Budget: a two syllable word which makes many of us groan. For some reason people tend to dislike the word “budget” it has a negative connotation and often brings to mind the thought of stress over money and lifestyle deprivation. In reality, budget is a great word, and budgeting is a great concept. While the idea of budgeting may not bring you excitement, it is crucial to your financial health. Throughout my experience as a debt resolution attorney for over 20 years, I have become very familiar with typical budgeting mistakes and how to fix them. Nearly everything worthwhile comes with a learning curve and budgeting is no exception. There may be various reasons why your budget isn’t working, and most have simple fixes!
Here are five reasons why your budget may not be working in your favor and how you can fix it.
"It’s so important to have a 'what if' fund to avoid relying on credit cards, personal loans, and other forms of self-imposed debt."
1. Not making friends with your budget
Don’t laugh but I have known people who would rather have dental work done than work on a budget. For them, a budget is an enemy. If budgeting makes you cringe as well, my first step would be to tell you to wave the white flag!
The Fix: A budget is your ticket to getting out of debt, saving money, and achieving your financial dreams. In short, your budget is the best financial friend you can have. For those who are resistant to make the leap from foe to friend, I suggest naming your new budget. Name it Desire for something you’d like to be able to afford eventually, or Bill because you want to emulate Bill Gates. Whichever name you choose, the second you give your new budget a name it ceases being an enemy and starts being your friend.
2. It’s Not SMART
“Smart” budgets are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and trackable. Have you ever thought to yourself “I’ve been good about my spending lately” only to take a look at your account balance and wonder where all your money has disappeared to? If your budget does not accurately reflect your expenses every month or sets unrealistic spending limits, there is no way it can work.
The Fix: Making a SMART budget can be scary because it requires you to get down in the nitty-gritty of your bank statements each month. It can also be time-consuming to make a SMART budget. Do it in a place where you have minimal distractions and where you feel relaxed. Whether it is in a bubble bath or in bed, being in a stress-free environment will make creating your budget that much easier.
3. Omitting One-Time Annual Expenses
If you’re not tracking your expenses accurately, this may lead you to go over budget. Keeping track of consistent monthly expenses like mortgage and utilities is easy because you pay these monthly. However, your once-a-year or semi-annual expenses like taxes and insurance premiums have to be a component of your budget as well.
The Fix: The more details, the better! When you first begin budgeting, make a new budget for each month and mark on your calendar which months you pay your annual or semi-annual expenses. This also includes subscriptions, dues, membership fees, annual credit cards fees, etc. After you get the hand of it create a new budget every six months, or when something significant changes in your financial situation.
"Have you ever thought to yourself 'I’ve been good about my spending lately' only to take a look at your account balance and wonder where all your money has disappeared to?"
Photo Courtesy of longliveyourmoney
4. Not Preparing for the Unexpected
Just when we may think we have a handle on our lives, unexpected turn of events can happen, whether you are faced with a busted air conditioner or an impromptu trip to the ER. If you do not have the funds to cover these unexpected expenses you can dig yourself into a hole called debt. It’s so important to have a “what if” fund to avoid relying on credit cards, personal loans, and other forms of self-imposed debt.
The Fix: Incorporate into the expenses portion of your budget called the “what if” fund. Make regular contributions and if you take money from it be sure to replenish what you took out. This fund can rescue you when trouble occurs, or act as a welcome source of cash when you need it most. Having the fund available will give you an extra layer of security and serve as an incentive to continue budgeting.
5. You’re Not Sticking to it
By far the most common reason your budget isn’t working is because you simply are not abiding by it. Whether it is an inability to say “no” or because you aren’t paying attention, the bottom line is it can’t work if you do not stick to it.
The Fix: Budgeting can be like working out; you are really motivated and excited at first, but slowly you get tired and lose interest. It is essential you push through this boredom. If you are struggling, consider budgeting with a friend! Just like you may exercise with friends, budgeting with friends can have the same effect. You can motivate and push each other to get the most out of your budget.
Once you begin budgeting and see how easy it is to turn your bad debt into good debt (and reap the financial awards that come with it), you will wonder why you ever thought it was an impossible task. Your budget shouldn’t be an added stressor but a source of stress relief. Remember your budget is your friend and just like any other relationship you need to give it proper tender loving care, set a date for it regularly.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.