When you create a budget that works for you, you gain a sense of peace and freedom that comes with taking ownership of your finances. Although there are many approaches to budgeting, certain systems prove to be more effective than others. Zero-based budgeting is an easy and reliable method to achieve your financial goals. The concept of zero-based budgeting is simple: When you create your budget, you assign a role for every single dollar of your income.
By knowing exactly where your hard-earned cash is going, zero-based budgeting eliminates uncertainty and increases confidence in your financial decisions. Could a zero-sum approach to budgeting be the key to helping you regain your financial freedom? We’ll walk you through the specifics of this detail-oriented budgeting method so you can decide if it’s the right choice for your situation.
What Is Zero-Based Budgeting?
In short, zero-based budgeting is when you allocate every dollar you earn so that your income minus your expenses equals zero. If you earn $3,000 a month, the entirety of that $3,000 is accounted for in a zero-based budget. The goal is to avoid having extra money at the end of the month so you make wise spending choices.
Your budget should allow for spending money on monthly expenses like groceries and utilities, as well as “fun money.” Rather than waiting to see what’s left over after taking care of bills and other essentials, a zero-based budget forces you to make financial decisions in advance. If you truly want to align your actions with your financial goals, you’ll realize that every penny needs a purpose to make the most of it.
By forcing you to decide how much of your income will go towards goals like paying off debt or saving for a house before you even receive your check, zero-based budgeting encourages you to stick to your goals.
Is Zero-Based Budgeting Right For You?
Zero-based budgeting can be for everyone. A damaging myth of budgeting is that it’s only for people who lack the discipline to hold themselves accountable. No matter how much you’re struggling or thriving financially, you can benefit from taking control of your money with a zero-based budget. If you’re still skeptical about zero-based budgeting, take a look below at how it compares to the four other most popular budgeting alternatives, including the 50/30/20 method:
- Zero-Based Budget: Make sure your expenses match your income each month so that your earnings minus your costs equal zero.
- “Pay Yourself First” Budget: Dedicate money to savings and then the remainder is free to be spent how you choose.
- Envelope Budget: Divide cash into physical envelopes filled with the exact amount of money you can spend on that category.
- 50/30/20 Budget: 50% of your income is for essentials, 30% is for personal expenses, and 20% goes towards savings.
- Value-Based Budget: Calculate the monthly cost of each need based on your values, then choose how to stretch your income to meet those needs.
When you don’t know exactly how you intend to divide your money each month, it’s easy to fall into spending traps. A zero-based budget using a digital budgeting tool is a great way to set yourself up for success and stick to your plan.
How to Create a Zero-Based Budget
Develop a zero-based budgeting plan by making it as simple as possible. Your main objective is ensuring your expenses match your income during the month. Don’t overcomplicate the process by stressing about making the “perfect” plan. The best part about creating a zero-based budget is that it’s easy to adjust month-over-month.
1. Record Your Monthly Income and Expenses
Write down every single monthly and seasonal expense to set yourself up for success. If you don’t know where to start, you know you’ll always have to factor in the cost of housing, utilities, transportation, and groceries.
Next, consider expenses you’re saving for, like a new car, a birthday or anniversary gift, etc. With a little bit of forethought, there shouldn’t be any surprises. It’s wise to set aside cash for unexpected or one-off expenses so you’re not immediately dipping into your emergency fund.
2. Adjust Your Budget Until Income Minus Expenses Equals Zero
When you’re new to zero-based budgeting, don’t worry if your income and expenses don’t balance each other out at first. It’s likely that you’ll have to reduce recurring costs or increase your earnings to reach a zero-sum. Canceling unnecessary subscriptions, packing your own lunch, skipping Starbucks, and starting a passive income-generating side hustle are all helpful.
Using an app with a budget categorization feature is particularly useful when you’re in the trial and error phase. Otherwise, it can be tedious and discouraging to manually re-adjust your budgeting strategy.
3. Track and Optimize Your Monthly Spending Accordingly
A zero-based budget is rarely flawless the first time around. Thankfully, you can optimize your spending by reallocating your funds as often as you need to during the month. Be sure to set yourself calendar reminders to have budget check-ins on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, especially if you’re working on budgeting as a family.
There are countless ways to increase and decrease your dollar allocations according to what makes the most sense for your circumstances. Oftentimes, three to six months are required to master zero-based budgeting. Once you get the hang of it, chances are that you’ll enjoy reaping the rewards so much that you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.
Pros and Cons of Zero-Based Budgeting
There’s no right or wrong answer to how you choose to manage your finances, but the key is that you need some kind of systematic approach to handling your money. Budgets are essential to help you build an emergency fund, save for retirement, pay off loans, or grow wealth through investing. If you aren’t sure that zero-based budgeting is the best strategy for you, we’ve outlined the pros and cons below.
Business management expert Peter Drucker is well-known for saying, “you can’t improve what you can’t measure.” If you want to make progress towards your financial goals, you need a way to define and track where your money will go. If you’re not convinced that a zero-based budget will work for you, don’t force it. You can always give it a try for a month or two and fall back on a different budgeting solution.
Zero-based budgeting is an easy and effective method to help you achieve your financial dreams. Don’t miss the chance to get the most value from your money by budgeting. We’ve summed up our main points below.
- Zero-based budgeting is when all of your income minus all your expenses equals zero. Every dollar of your hard-earned cash has a specific, purpose-driven role.
- Having a zero-based budget allows you to make your income go further by proactively allocating your funds to different areas of spending and saving.
- Using a digital budgeting tool like Mint helps to set yourself up for success and hold you accountable in your zero-based budgeting goals.