I hate money. I hate that I need Money. I hate that I have to work for it… I hate managing it.
On the other hand, I love games. Not just any games though… the real “grindy” treadmill games, that take days and months to progress through. If only my budget was a game like this. That had tiered rewards, goals, and objectives you had to achieve to move up to the next level…. If only that game existed. Well, as far as I could tell it didn’t, so I built it myself. It’s not flashy or pretty to look at, really it is just three google spreadsheets. But it is fun to play and at the end of the day the result is more money to use on the things I want, when I want them… and it even has hidden treasure. Let me show you what I do to play games with my money.
1. Build Your Character
Your Budget Character is defined by two main attributes Income and Expenses. I keep it simple by rounding income down, and rounding expenses up to the nearest whole dollar. List everything you have to pay for monthly.
Don’t complicate this. Any money coming in is income. Project it out through the year and don’t worry about being exact to the penny, estimate and remember to round down. You will be coming back to these numbers and adjusting them as the year goes on.
Complicate this! Be honest and list everything you pay for monthly. Food, taxes, medicare, social security, retirement fund, kid expenses, rent, car payment, credit card payment, student loan, netflix, hulu, amazon prime… everything.
This is perhaps the most important part. Identify the long term expense and goals you need to save for. List when they are due then divide the amount you need by the number of months you have to save for the expense/event/goal and add it to the total of your Funded Items monthly expense. For example if your Insurance premium is $600 and it is due in July, (assuming you are starting in January) you have 7 months to save for an pay the bill. $600 divided by 7 equals about $86 per month (remember to round expenses up). So you now have to obligate $86 per month to make this annual payment.
Once you make the payment in July you now have 12 months to save $600 for the next insurance premium so you only have to set aside $50 per month to hit the goal… hidden treasure you have $36 to re-allocate!
2. Pick your Quests
Budget Quests are objectives you are taking steps to complete. Want to spend $2000 on holiday gifts this year? Each month you will need to set aside about $170 but when the time comes you will be fully funded and prepared to spend! To figure out how much money you have to work with simply subtract your expenses (including funded items) from your income. The total is your discretionary amount you can use to fund things like Christmas presents, vacations, and new computers.
Three Items I would recommend constantly funding are a Home Repairs Fund, a Car Maintenance Fund, and a Crisis Fund. Consider these mandatory storyline quests. These are the expenses that will creep up on you and ruin your plans if you don’t prepare for them in advance. Don’t let them ruin the game!
3. Powers and Resources
Here is the fun part. A couple of the largest expense categories should be fairly broad and hopefully have a good amount of dollars put towards them every month. This is where your power increases to have more fun and adventures in the game world. I have three Pools to draw from; Food & Sundry, Kids, and Play. Each of these categories include money that is discretionary, meaning that I can choose from a broad range of items within the category to spend the money on. Here are some examples.
Food & Sundry
- Grocery Store
- Cleaning supplies
- Minior maintenance items
- Going out to eat as a family
- Registration fees
- Art Supplies
- School Supplies
Play & Entertainment
- Date night
- Going to eat out as a family
4. Game Play
There are Three game play types. Daily Quests, Weekly Dungeons Runs, and Payday Raids.
Daily Quests make up the majority of the budget game play. This is the grind. Check out this Narrative example:
You emerge from the bedroom, eyes blurred from the sleeping spell cast on you the night before.. or was it the ale… who cares! You stumble into the kitchen in search of coffee, eggs, and bacon… damn your luck it seems the kinder-trolls have eaten all the eggs and bacon again and the supply of coffee has run out. You must act, and act quickly before the Elf Queen awakes and rampages through the house… you know breakfast and strong coffee is the only thing that will save you… You must venture out and secure these vital supplies before all is lost. Do you accept? A quick scan of your resources pool shows that you have $50 remaining for Food & Sundry, not a lot… but payday is tomorrow so there are plenty of resources for a small supply run. Off you go.
You quickly get dressed and head out the door and jump in your car shivering in the cold as the beast powers up. On the way to you notice some fast food options, and say to yourself “I can just swing through and save myself some time and pick up some breakfast burritos or sausages biscuits… wait I could get one of those mystical coffees from the drive through that the Elf Queen loves…” you shake your head to break the distraction… those “conveniences” would deplete my Food and Sundry resources too quickly. Activating your sprint ability, you blaze past these threats and press on to the store.
As you arrive at the store you immediately notice a game the kinder-trolls have been whispering about. It is on sale for $20… what a bargain. You quickly glance at your Kids budget ($100) and determine this is something you have the resources for, you swoop it up already planning the afternoon fun in your mind. On to the market, you grab two dozen eggs ($3), two pounds of bacon ($6), and a can of dark roast coffee ($6). Once you check out, you note your expense deducting $20 from the kids bucket and $15 from the Food and Sundry bucket. You smile to yourself knowing you saved quite a bit by avoiding the fast food traps on the way to the store.
As you start up the car to return home with your rewards you glance down and… oh no! The fuel level is low… not enough to make it home from the store. You need gas, so you glance again at your Food & Sundry Budget, now just $35 and think to yourself but that’s only half a tank of gas and it will leave my budget spent for the rest of the day until payday tomorrow. Then You remember the play budget… quickly checking you see it is still at $200. You can tap into the Play bucket for this one. You swing into the gas station fill up the tank ($50) then head home with your rewards.
Weekly Budget “Dungeon” Runs
The next thing you need to do is set aside some time on weekly basis (Sunday) to do a run through of the budget. This is your chance to check the status of your discretionary resources and to check on income and expense status. You also get to go through your inventory (bank account) and see how much cash you have stashed away for your upcoming funded items. Get ready for the daily grind coming up next week!
On Payday you get to hit major milestones. One of my favorite things to do is check off the funded items and refresh the Powers and Resources pools. Any unspent discretionary money from the powers and resource pools can now be rolled into paying off debts or put towards other long term funded obligations. This is your chance to get ahead of the game. Fund an obligation early and you free up more money for other obligations of discretionary spending pools… BOOM more hidden treasure!
This gets even more fun when you are working together with a partner. I built a spreadsheet using google sheets that Anna and I share making real time updates easy, even from our smartphones.
That’s it, just a quick glimpse at how I turned my budgeting, money managing nightmare into a game that I can play… complete with hidden treasure, quests and kinder-trolls.
If you want to discuss things a little further, check out our closed facebook discussion group to share your thoughts and join in the discussion. Or you can email me directly at Jon@masteryofskill.com. If you are interested in further reading check out other Food for Thought articles and learn all about the Archetypes of Skill. You can also sign up to receive The Friday Huddle, a short weekly email from me that gives you the tips, insights, and musings that have gotten me through the week.