The Beauty Of A Budget: How To Hack Your Own Bank Account

Money is awesome, yet mysterious. Many of us don’t feel like we have a complete grasp on the stuff. Ben Hamley is the partner and strategy designer with Business Models Incso it’s kind of his business to have it together. He’s sharing his very own cash-flow document with us and wants us to think about money a little differently.

In fact, a good way to consider the movement of money is to think about it like time travel. Borrowing money is just bringing money forward in time; you’re really borrowing it from future you. Saving money is just sending money into the future, for future you to bath in like Scrooge McDuck (PSA: bathing in money not recommended).

How can we learn to time travel? Budgets

Yeah, I said it. Budgets and time travel in the same sentence.

Everyone talks about how important budgets are (because it’s true; they are). The problem is, budgets are not real life. Budgets don’t have friends. Budgets especially don’t have friends who call them on Sunday afternoon and want to grab some chicken wings and hit the movies when you’re supposed to be saving for that trip.

Budgets are also normally done in Excel (which is usually boring), but budgets are just numbers, and really – money is just numbers, too.

Budgets, can help you set goals and limits, say, like a speed limit. Spend no more than $100/hr, for example.

How can I budget for the real world?

A good place to start is with your bank account itself. Pretty much every transaction that matters in your life these days is done using your bankcard or account (debit or credit cards, direct debits, transfers etc).

That means that almost every other transaction will have some kind of description attached to it, along with how much you spent and on what date.

Stuff like:

10/03/2016    -$39.75    CHKN WNGS AU PTY LTD Card xxxxxxx Date: 02/01/2016
10/03/2016    -$27.50    V1719 15/11 CINEFILM PARADISO #NUMBERS

Take a trip through time


After a leisurely scroll through time in your transaction history – decidedly less cinematic than Instagram but no less memorable – you will probably start to think things like:

“Exactly how much did I spend on chicken wings last month!?”
“Are chicken wings really the best use of my money?”

Fortunately, no-one here is judging you, and you’ll have no sooner had these thoughts than you will realise that you’re going to need a few more examples of your real spending behaviour before ‘future you’ can sit back and relax by the money-pool.

Use your account features

Luckily, your bank will most likely enable you to filter and export transactions to a .csv file. If this is the first time you’ve ever really looked at your actual transaction list, you might want to export a few months back to really get a sense of your spending and saving patterns.

Pro tip: once you’re up to speed, check in with your transaction list once a month, it gets easier each time.

Check out how you can do it here.

I have my transactions: it’s spreadsheet time

Download this template.

#1 Take your transactions and copy them into the ‘Data’ tab of the spreadsheet
#2 Make sure the date, value and description fields line up
#3 Check that you haven’t pasted anything else into the ‘code’ field by accident
#4 Name each of the categories you want to track in the ‘Cashflow’ sheet
#5 Start categorising your transactions in the ‘data’ sheet

What is most important here is that you create meaningful categories for each type of transaction that is important to you (and your budget). For example, you can put all your ‘Dan Murphy’ transactions under ‘Food’, but for the larger things you should be able to easily distinguish between them if you want to be able to control them: rent; mortgage; utilities; credit card repayments; food; car costs.

Also make sure you always use the exact same category each time, otherwise it may not show up properly in your cash flow sheet. Excel is a bit finicky like that.

Make sure you also categorise your pay and any other money coming in, too.

Pro-tip: Set up another online account with your bank (find one with as few fees and charges as possible) and use this to store your savings. That way you can track savings as a specific expense each month.

Use the learnings to look after future you


Once you’re done, you should be able to see exactly how much you spent and on what, as well as how much should be left over at the end of each month.

This can sometimes be a bit confronting, because we often don’t think about exactly how much we spend on the spur-of-the-moment activities in our life, but they add up.

Once you know how ‘past you’ has been behaving, you can start to make some plans for ‘future you’. You don’t want to make a budget that looks great on paper, but is nothing like your real life. You simply won’t stick to it.

Set some damn goals

Want to spend $5,500 on a trip in nine months? You’re going to need to save about $612 each month. Only able to ‘save’ $500 per month but manage to spend about $200 of that on booze? Maybe trim it to $100 for a few months and see how you go.

When you know where your money is going, you can also set up some longer-term savings or investment goals.

The key is to be aware of your money while still living your life. You don’t have to hide away from the world and ignore your friends to save, but you do need to give yourself a target, and be able to measure how close you got to the target from time to time. Nothing breeds success like success (or almost success).

Let us know how you go with the time travel, see you in the future.

Ben works at the intersection of culture, technology, design and strategy. He is a Strategy Designer at Business Models Inc where he helps organisations better understand how they create, deliver and capture value through Business Models Generation & Value Proposition Design. Catch him on Twitter @benhamley.


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