Budgeting, But Make It Fun: How One Financial Expert Stays On Track

Photographed by Megan Madden.
Is it just me, or does the word “budget” sound like something Jabba the Hut burped out?
That’s one thing that kept me from figuring out my money situation: Budgeting just seemed like a total drag. Luckily, I figured out a few tricks to make budgeting less nauseating — and these tricks helped me pay off $50,000 of debt.
Let me make one thing clear: Budgeting won’t make up for the systemic change needed to help marginalized folks below the poverty line. I’m talking about advocating for livable wages, fair access to credit, and a general dismantling of our discriminatory capitalist system. 
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Keeping all this in mind, budgeting is one way we can detangle ourselves from that system. Even though financial advisors (myself included) repeat the word budget like human GIFs, the word itself doesn’t exactly scream good times, right? Turns out, there are a few secret tricks that can actually make budgeting enjoyable.
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Give your money nicknames.
This single discovery changed my money game entirely. Deep in the recesses of your bank’s settings, you can actually nickname your bank accounts. With whatever name you want. Like pets.
Naming my accounts things like “Oh Sh*t Savings,” “Adulting Dollaz Only,” or “Isabel’s Bach 2k19,” not only keeps my money brain organized — it also creates a personal connection to my money knowing I christened each account for a part of my life. It makes opening my bank account straight-up fun.
I take a Sharpie and clearly label each of my debit and credit cards with its specific use. Seeing “HEY. BILLS ONLY.” on my bills-only card stops me from spending my rent money on Prime Day. 
On the flip side, whipping out my “AAAYE, TREAT YO’ SELF” card is an amazing conversation starter with strangers at a bar. 
And a bonus? The deep pleasure I get when my bank’s customer service says things to me like, “Ms. Anat, are we depositing this check into your, uh ...Ratchetry Account?” Suddenly, banking is hilarious. 
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Bae Day is the Best Day
Make room on that Google Calendar for your new favorite appointment: Bae Day. During this hour, you’ll take the time to open up your bank accounts and distribute your money for whatever you’ll need for the next two weeks. Why Bae? Bae actually stands for Before Anything Else — and ideally, this appointment will fall on the same day you get your paycheck, and you’ll get into this ritual Before Anything Else happens to your money. 
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Schedule Bae Day time for yourself for at least one hour, once every two weeks. Defend this time like a doctor’s appointment, and make sure this happens close to the beginning of the week, so you’re not bogged down by the drag of work and feeling tempted to skip out. 
Now, here’s the true trick to keeping your Bae Day: Think of the funnest, most self-care-y rituals that you never have time for. Do you wish there was room in your life for a weekly charcoal mask, or a pantsless Hamilton dance party? Here’s your chance. Make absolutely sure you’re doing That Thing before, during, or after your budgeting sesh.
For example, I have a client who always does a fully beat face of makeup and puts on her cutest outfit before her Bae Day ritual. I have another client who always puts on my Money Motivation Playlist on Spotify and gets up to dance after every money transfer. Neither have missed a single Bae Day so far.
It’s all about tricking your brain — even if you don’t love budgeting right away, you’ll start to look forward to this time as a form of self-care (and money care is self care!). 
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Date a Money Mate
One of the most important elements of nailing down a new habit is accountability — making sure there’s someone to help keep your temptations in check. That’s why you need to recruit a Money Mate ASAP.
Your Money Mate is the person who will keep you in line for all things financial, and the terms of the relationship are totally up to you. You can agree to give each other a 5-minute call before each Bae Day and make sure you’re actually going through with it; you can agree to be each other’s emergency-text contact when you feel tempted to cash out your whole Amazon cart. 
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This lucky Money Mate should fill two very important criteria: They should be someone with similar financial goals as yours — perhaps you’re both working full-time but cutting costs to knock out student debt — and they should be someone that isn’t super close to you.
A bestie or family member may be too forgiving when you slip up, so look for those arms-length friends. You want someone close enough that you can be friendly with, but unfamiliar enough that you feel that slight pressure to keep your shit together.
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Get Arts & Crafty.
A debt or savings poster is super-simple way to visually track your financial goals. My partner and I had such a blast coloring in our debt posters as we paid off our student loans. You color in the poster little by little as you save up, or pay something down — think, therapeutic ASMR, but make it personal finance.
You could go the old-school giant thermometer route, and fill it up by hundred-dollar increments as you pay off a student loan. Or you could go custom, like me: I grabbed the nearest pink poster board and wrote “BYE FELICIA” in giant bubble letters, coloring a bit in with every payment.
If custom art isn’t your jam, the Internet has your answer: Pre-made posters that you can fill in according to your personal money goals. You can find a ton on Etsy -- or just grab some free printables by creators like DebtFreeCharts.com. My favorite: Her “Game of Loans” poster. Sold.
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Make a Fancy Salad Fund
One of the first things budgeting clients often say to me is, “I guess I gotta stop buying these fancy salads, huh?”. Budgeting does not mean putting your money on a deprivation diet. A good budget can make room for the fancy salad, or the new shoes, or whatever else you usually feel money-shame around. So, delete the shame for a sec and imagine: What would your budget need to look like to make room for a Fancy Salad Fund?
In a zero-based budget — my favorite kind — every dollar of your paycheck should have a specific job, even if that job is considered “fun.” The important thing is that your dollars cover your basic needs first, which are your recurring bills, debt payments, and living expenses. 
If all that’s covered and you do have leftover money, give yourself a Fancy Salad Fund from your next paycheck. You might divide your paycheck up by actual dollar amounts (for every $1000 paycheck, I put $30 of it to Fancy Salads to last me until the next paycheck), or if your paycheck is always different, you might work with percentages instead (for every paycheck, I put 5% to Fancy Salads). Keep track of this allowance either on your own via a notebook or a Notes app, or with a categorizing app like Mvelopes, GoodBudget, or YNAB.
Now, here’s where the game comes in: Check in with yourself at the next paycheck. How’d you do? Did you find yourself sweating halfway through? Could you do better next time? Do you need more money in the fund, and are Fancy Salads (or any expense) worth squeezing money out from a different part of your budget?
If you apply this kind of beat-the-buzzer attitude to the rest of your budget -- asking yourself what can I stretch, what do I really need, and can I make smarter room elsewhere -- you take control of your own budgeting game.
I’m Berna Anat, financial hype-woman. That’s my made-up way of saying that I create things on the Internets to teach people about money. I’m a first-generation Filipina American, a media producer, and 3B/3C curl pattern. And a Hufflepuff.
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