Reset Your Financial Game with a Budget Mulligan

I am really not a good golfer. I used to be, but then three kids came along, so my game had to take a back seat for years as I coached my kid’s sports. Now that the kids are older, I am starting to pick up the sticks again beginning my long road back. Golfing can be competitive for some, but for others (like me), it’s mostly just fun – an opportunity to walk some excellent links with friends and enjoy the fresh air, then of course, some frosty libations at the 19th hole. While getting back in the swing of things I do have to enlist my favorite Irishman, Mr. Mulligan more than I would like. When you’re playing with friends, there’s the old tradition of the Mulligan – a do-over for someone who’s having terrible luck that day. Since I’m not a good enough golfer to be competitive, Mr. Mulligan and I are very close.

Mr. Mulligan also got me thinking about this recent survey I read regarding the latest Financial Security Index from Bankrate. It concluded that three-quarters of Americans have at least one major regret when it comes to their finances. For more than half of those polled – 56% – it’s not having enough saved for retirement. Not having saved enough in emergency funds was number two. Also on the list was not having enough saved for children’s education.

What’s plainly evident in this survey is this: Americans are worried that they haven’t saved enough. We’re concerned about saving enough even more than paying down debt – credit card debt and student loan debt rank behind emergency savings in Bankrate’s poll.

Hmmm . . . it seems to me that many of us are just looking for a financial mulligan.

A do-over folks. A chance to set things right. We’re worried we haven’t saved enough for ourselves, haven’t saved enough for our kids, haven’t saved enough for the future. So many of us are just trying to make the best with what we have and not thinking too hard about what’s to come.

Half of the Bankrate poll’s respondents said they’d already taken steps to address the causes of their financial regret – whether that was saving more money for retirement, adding to their emergency fund, or what have you. Another 19% cited plans to do so within the next year. But that does, however, still leave 21% with no plans to address their financial issue.

Look, the point here isn’t to wallow in regret over the financial decisions you’ve already made. The point is to stop making them. Rather than merely worrying that you haven’t saved enough, it is crucial that you take action to address the issue.

Golf is a mental game, and so is making appropriate financial decisions for yourself and your family. You don’t need to be the world’s greatest athlete to have the lowest golf handicap. What you need is consistency, focus, and discipline. And so does saving money.

Like I tell my girls, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Only about 2 in 5 adults have a budget, according to the 2018 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey from The Harris Poll – a figure that’s stayed unchanged since 2007. Most of us are just winging it from month to month without a clear idea of how much we’re spending and where our savings opportunities might be.

A budget is an essential foundational tool to help you manage your money smarter, and it doesn’t need to be a massive production. Account for expenses and income, that’s it. Two columns in a spreadsheet. Or find a budgeting app that suits you, such as YNAB (You Need a Budget) or Mint. Track for at least 30 days to get a good idea of your finances.

Consider recurring expenses that happen at some frequency other than monthly, such as property taxes, vehicle expenses, vacation travel, birthdays, and holidays. And make sure to account for all income, such as employment wages, income from investments, side gigs, and more.

Once you have an idea of where your money comes from and where it goes, you should have a clearer idea of how much you have to work with. Identify your personal financial goal or goals – saving for retirement, for example, or building that emergency fund, and align your budget with your goals.

Make those goals manageable and specific to help you reach them. Apply a deadline. For example, if your goal is to have more money saved for retirement, define what that means: By the end of this year, I’ll have $2,000 saved in an IRA. Then you can help plot out the steps you’ll need to get there, such as how much you’ll have withdrawn from each paycheck, to make that happen.

Use automation wherever you can to simplify your life, such as automatic deductions from your paycheck or from your checking account to your savings. Making these processes routine and automatic will create less unpredictability in your income stream and can help you get ahead without creating more work for yourself. The money will get to its destination before you have a chance to spend it.

Some folks prefer the “Zero-Based Budget” popularized by Dave Ramsey, for example. If you cover all your expenses for the month and have money left over, budget the remainder for savings, debt management, or more. In other words, have a plan to spend, save, and invest every dollar.

Another popular methodology is the 50/30/20 budget. In this model, half your income is allocated towards basic needs: Rent or mortgage, food, debt payments. Thirty percent is allocated for “wants,” such as a vacation trip, or tickets to a Broadway show. Twenty percent is allocated to savings and investment.

Whatever budgeting system you adopt, find a system that works for you, one that provides you with the structure you need and the flexibility you require to meet your savings goals. Make adjustments as necessary. And most importantly, hold yourself accountable to live within the guidelines of your budget.

Of course, a budget should be the first step in an overall investment strategy that helps guide your family to greater financial independence and security in the years to come. Make sure to seek guidance and advice when it comes to these decisions to help put you in the highest probability of financial success.

Whether you’re having a bad day on the links or you’re at the end of your rope and feeling overwhelmed with your financial woes, sometimes it’s okay to take a Mulligan, get a do-over, reset, and pick up fresh. As I tell my kids, we must always push forward . . . always. While we cannot change our past, we can certainly influence our future.

Be vigilant and stay alert, because you deserve more.

Have a great week!

Jeff Cutter, CPA/PFS is President of Cutter Financial Group, LLC, an SEC
Registered Investment Advisor with offices in Falmouth, Duxbury, Mansfield & Southlake, TX. Jeff can be reached at

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