Guest Post: The Mad Scientist Approach to Budgeting


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Guest Post: Amplify

Chris Narbone is creator of Amplify, a blog focused on empowering people through technology. You can find him at http://amplifytoday.com.

Mad scientists get a bad rap. Just because they’re “mad” doesn’t make them evil, right? For every Dr. Frankenstein, there’s a Doc Brown.

Those of us who budget also get a bad rap for our approach to money. We’re living within our means to either get out of debt or save — unfortunately that’s still not as accepted as it should be. Methods for keeping a budget  might be perceived as a little mad or eccentric. In some ways, we’re also mad scientists. That’s not a bad thing and here’s how to embrace that mad scientist approach to budgeting:

The Laboratory

If you’re serious about a budget, what does your lab look like? Is it as simple as a spreadsheet? Consider something a little more sophisticated. What makes a mad scientist is their curiosity in emerging technologies. By empowering them through technology it allows them to do great things.

One of the tools in my lab is Mint.com (no affiliation) where I can run experiments to see how spending in certain categories affects my budget. The advantage of this type of technology is that you’re able to import transactions and not have to deal with the minutia of recording – every – single – purchase. Also, I can create subcategories and control the flow of information to get the most out of my analysis.

The other advantage of online tools like Mint, is that you can easily present your budget. In Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, he reanimated a corpse; Doc Brown built a time-machine out of a DeLorean. Which would you rather present?

Budgets are not fun and usually involve tough choices. Personal finance tools also allow you to present your budget to the family without them reaching for pitchforks or torches. By providing this information in a different light other than cold, hard numbers, it makes for better conversation with your assistant (see below).

Other tools you’ll find in my lab:

  • Automating bill pay: Best way to deal with static bill amounts and it’s one less thing to remember.
  • Going paperless for bills and statements: I try to convert as many notifications as I can to my email in order to stay organized.

The Assistant

Do you have someone to share your work with and help you out? My assistant happens to be a pretty red head (my wife) with a penchant for common sense. Without my assistant, I’d go on a budgeting rampage and make decisions like, “We need to save money — we can go without diapers and ride our bikes everywhere!”

A fresh set of eyes provides perspective. When I’m immersed in my lab for too long, I miss things or can get delusional. While I’m in charge of the budget, my wife oversees a lot things that the budget impacts. Having regular conversations about the budget provides harmony and balance in the family.

If you don’t have an assistant to share your work with, find a friend or a family member for a reality check. You don’t want to turn into a Dr. Moreau. He conducted surgeries to create part-human, part-animal creatures on his own island. He probably could’ve benefitted from a reality check or two.

The Henchmen

This kind of crosses over to evil, mad scientist territory, but it’s worth exploring. Who’s going to do your bidding? Hopefully, it’s good bidding. Most mad scientists have a network to carry out plans or bring back information in an effort to achieve their goals.

For the budget minded, this could be a friend helping you coupon or aware you of hot deals. Maybe it’s a deal-of-the day website like Groupon or Living Social. Develop and utilize a network that is aware of your interests. Just be sure to reciprocate because angry henchmen can easily turn on you.

The mad scientist approach to budgeting embraces the use of technology while leveraging relationships to create a sound budget that’ll get you to your goals.

What kind things are in your lab? How does your assistant help you? What kind of information does your henchman bring you?

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10 Comments

  • Reply Jane July 11, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Mint.com is definitely in my laboratory. There’d be no budget to speak of without that little lifesaver.

    • Reply Chris @ Amplify July 11, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      Agreed. I struggled keeping a budget until I could get it somewhat automated. This made the reviewing spending history a little more easier and also provided insight to the bigger picture for the month/ year.

  • Reply Jake @ Common Cents Wealth July 11, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    I think having the tools in your “laboratory” is key. For me, we have our budget in excel because it allows me to customize it to exactly the way I want it. I haven’t tried mint.com, but I’ve heard good things about it.

    • Reply Chris @ Amplify July 11, 2013 at 3:22 pm

      I wouldn’t necessarily focus on Mint.com – I do like it and the mobile app is helpful. Quicken has been around for awhile and doing a Google search you can find a number of applications comparable to Mint.com.

  • Reply Jennifer @ Budgeting in Baby July 11, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    I use a simple excel spreadsheet, mint.com doesn’t work for me since my bank is a small town bank and not on their radar. Though my henchmen definitely include coupon bloggers and groupon.

    • Reply Chris @ Amplify July 12, 2013 at 7:30 am

      Jennifer,
      Yes, that’s the downside of Mint.com, it only works with the big banks. But I rely heavily on coupon bloggers!

      Chris

  • Reply Christine July 11, 2013 at 11:19 pm

    We use and LOVE YNAB (You Need A Budget). It is great software, allowing you to track your spending (on the computer and through a easy to use mobile app) and reconcile your bank accounts too. It is easy to use and has made a huge differences in our finances. This link gives you $6 off if anyone is interested. http://youneedabudget.com

    • Reply Chris @ Amplify July 12, 2013 at 7:31 am

      Christine,
      I am familiar with YNAB but shied away because of the fee, but your link might sway me into using it.

      Thanks!
      Chris

  • Reply Chris July 12, 2013 at 11:48 am

    I can’t get into the personal finance management software. I prefer the ol’ rock n chisel approach (Excel) coupled with my online banking platform. It’s so much more hands on. I’ve noticed that a lot of PFers prefer Excel as well. I like to get my hands dirty when I’m budgeting and when using PFM you start to feel like you’re no longer needed. Well gosh darnit, I’m a human, and I like to budget.

    I don’t have an assistant per se, but I have garnered myself a pretty healthy reputation as being the neurotic financial guy amongst my family and friends. This allows me to have multiple assistants because they always come to me for advice.

    Henchmen…Well I guess all these darn blogs I spend so much time on are kind of like my henchmen. They bring me new ideas and inspiration! Does that count?

    • Reply Chris @ Amplify July 12, 2013 at 11:11 pm

      I got my hands dirty and then looked to the software to clean it up. I found myself getting in the weeds too often. Some folks, like yourself, can manage pretty easily, but I found it to be a challenge. There’s something out there for everyone. Thanks for reading.

      Regards,
      Chris

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