Budget concept

Ask The Expert: Who Needs A Stinkin’ Budget?

Question: My son is home from college for the winter break, and he laughed at me when I said my New Year’s resolution was to budget my money better — and he should, too. Instead, he showed me this article that said a personal budget isn’t “nearly as essential as we might think.”

I don’t really believe the article, but I don’t know how to convince him it’s wrong. This is important because his spending habits are very poor. Do you have any idea what I can tell him?

— Sandy in Michigan

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Howard Dvorkin on how to get out of debt fastThe article you mention was from last summer. I’ve spent the rest of this year explaining why it’s wrong.

In June, the online magazine Slate posted a provocative article called Toss Your Budget. The premise is simple: “The ability to make and stick to a financial budget defies the realities of most people’s lives. Budgets assume a level of consistency in our finances that doesn’t exist.”

These two claims are undeniably true. Following a budget can be difficult, and no budget can predict emergencies that will cost money.

However, concluding, “Let’s forget the whole thing!” is like saying, “Why eat healthy when I’m just going to gorge myself over the winter holidays?”

The Slate article certainly pointed to a serious problem: Most people budget all wrong.

For starters, they’re too specific with their numbers and too broad with their categories. What’s that mean? Debt.com explains it in plain English in our Budgeting Don’ts section. If you and your son peruse that page, you’ll see that budgeting doesn’t have to be as intense as a college course.

If your son is like most college students, he’s probably obsessed with the latest tech. In that case, he can let the computer do his budgeting for him. Debt.com offers PowerWallet for free. It offers a suite of fancy online money management tools, but it’s also easy enough for anyone to use. (Just don’t tell him that!)

What you can tell him is that if he signs up for PowerWallet now, he can possibly win $2,500. We call it the Debt.com Get out of Debt Sweepstakes. If I know college kids, this is the most compelling argument you can make.

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Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a  CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

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