You Need a Budget – Yes, you do!

Photo by Vitaly / unsplash.com
With this slogan start hundreds of podcast episodes and Whiteboard Wednesday videos of YNAB. Todays blog post is absolutely unrelated to IT or security or my study. However, it is a very important topic for me and I would like to share some thoughts about it. This blog post is all about personal finances and money. If you are not interested in this topic, you could actually stop reading. On the other hand, I will write about my personal experiences and this could be of interest for some of you, especially if you think you’re bad with money.

Infrequent Expenses

Some years ago I lived like what is often called “paycheck to paycheck”. Of course I tried to manage my income and expenses and it worked quite well. I’ve been always able to pay my bills when they are due and I could effort the little things you buy when you are going shopping. However, in life every day is different. One day your car breaks down, the other day an infrequent expense that you had already forgotten comes due, like the annual car tax. What happens now? You grab as much money as needed and put it towards the bill. If you are lucky, you have enough money left and just pay the bill. You can also cut your expenses down for a short period of time and use the money leftover. In the worst case, you are going into debt to cover the spending. If it’s just one unexpected payment, this procedure might work for you.

As said before, every day is different and you cannot foresee the future. If life hits you hard, everything comes on one day. Your car breaks down, some insurance wants a quarterly or annual fee, you job sends you on an expensive business trip, … and maybe you cannot manage this situation that easy as before.

But how can you solve this issue and prepare better for the future?
For me, the answer is budgeting!

I need a Budget!

Some years ago, I found a little piece of software called YNAB. You Need A Budget. – Yes, I do! And oh my god, I really did! Before I go on I want to make clear that YNAB is a commercial software. I have no business with the company and I don’t get any money or discount for writing about it. It is just the software and the process that changed my way of thinking about money, income and expenses. In fact you could actually use pen and paper or a spreadsheet. The software is just a nice way to keep track of your account balances, expenses, payments, etc. and it gives you some comfort features like setting goals, reporting, etc.

The Method: Budget to Zero

How does it work?
There are four simple rules to follow, and this is independent from the software.

Rule 1: Give every dollar a job!
This is basically what’s often called budget to zero. You take all your available money and put it into different categories. Categories are things you need money for, e.g. groceries, insurance, fuel, rent, medicine, etc. You think about, how much money you will need, and assign that amount to the categories And, as the name says, you are doing this until there is zero money left.

Rule 2: Embrace your true expenses!
Here we are again. The car tax is due, 100 or 200 bucks. You maybe thought it will take some more months, but today the amount is withdrawn from your account. How to handle this better? These expenses are often regular in some way. They are not spontaneous. If I have to pay my annual car tax today, I know that I have to pay it again in 12 months. The solution is to plan ahead, divide the amount by 12 and budget 1/12 of it every month. This leads to a situation where the money is available when the bills are due.

Rule 3: Roll with the punches!
Assigning money is a guessing game. And you will fail, sometimes hard. However, that is no problem. It is not about perfection. It is all about control and awareness. The second rule just means that you reassign money if it is necessary.

Rule 4: Age your money!
That is kind of an abstract rule. It actually means that you should spend less than you earn. By doing this you will -at least slowly- grow your pile of money. If you think about the money in your bank account like grain in a silo, you can understand that the oldest money is at the bottom and new money is put on top of it. While spending, you will always spend the oldest money first, and that it how the age of money is calculated. In other words: You are building a buffer, for emergencies, or a special event, etc.

Conclusion

Why do I write about all this? Because I think it is important! No one teaches you such things. Maybe your parents, but they are not teaching this kind of knowledge in school. I wish that someone had shown me the method and the software earlier. As I wrote before, you don’t need a specific software. I use YNAB, but there are other Budget-to-zero software products out there. Some for free, some require a license, but you can also use a simple spreadsheet to track everything.

I can say that this approach has improved my handling of money massively. I feel much more safe and confident with my finances and it helps me to plan ahead. Often people say, budgeting is a way to say always ‘No’. From my point of view it is the opposite. My budget helps me to say ‘Yes’ and it helps me to prioritize my financial and life goals.

If you are interested to read more about the method and the software as well, I can recommend the YNAB page. There is also a podcast by YNAB and a youtube channel.

And now it’s your turn! Do you budget? Do you use YNAB or any other software? Do you have any questions regarding budgeting?

Master – State of Play

The last post was about making plans. It was a failure.

I’ve not planned much. Actually I wanted to do two exams in March and I wanted to complete two term papers. The term papers are still on my to do list. I am registered for only one exam. At the beginning of March I will write the exam for Software Architecture. All other exams will have to wait for the next exam date in June.

In the meantime I try to speed up and finish the term paper for Architecture and Software Concepts. It is not really complicated or difficult, but due to changed process at the WBH, it is more work and more complex than before. Task one of three is nearly done and I want to finish this as soon as possible. There is a deadline for this on 8th of April and I definitely want to complete this earlier!

And there is a second assignment that I need to complete until 24th of May.
So, a lot to do … as always …

Making Plans for the First Months in 2017

It’s the first working day in 2017 and I’m on vacation just for today. For my study I will create a small plan this evening. There are some exams waiting for me in March and I have to write at least two term papers until April and May. The last weeks have been more silent and I haven’t done much for my study. Thanks to my day off today and a bank holiday in Bavaria coming up on Friday I have only three days of work this week. Maybe this helps me push my activities a little bit.

Classroom Seminar in Project Management and Scientific Work

Yesterday, I’ve been in Pfungstadt/Darmstadt for a classroom seminar in project management and scientific work. The seminar is a mandatory day of the three-days introductory course at the WBH. The lecturer was Mr. Dipl.-Päd. Bernd-Uwe Kiefer. The seminar started with a small round of introductions. Then, we talked for one hour about project management in a classical and modern/agile approach, projects itself, the project order, and so on.

After that, he switched the topic to scientific work. The students got divided in three groups. The objective of each group was to create a presentation of 30 minutes about scientific work. At first we needed to clarify the topics that we want to present, after 30 minutes every group discussed with the lecturer their approach.

Then we had five hours to prepare the presentation. In my group it worked very well and we managed to finish the presentation around one hour earlier. After all groups completed their presentation, we had to present it in front of the class. The most interesting part is that all three presentations have been completely different. Of course, the most topics are repeated multiple times, but I liked to see the different approaches. After each presentation, the lecturer provided a small feedback for the group and he discussed with the whole class some aspects of scientific work that have been mentioned in the presentation.

Actually, I thought that I don’t need this seminar. However, it was a nice day and I think I have learned a little bit more about the scientific work at the WBH. To finish this module I will have to write a term paper about communication in projects with 15 pages by using scientific writing. Hopefully I will finish the term paper in the next weeks so I can focus on the other modules like software architecture.

Open Slack Communities

To gather some information and stay up-to-date, I’ve recently decided to join some Slack communities. Slack is a chat platform to connect and talk to people and there seems to be a rising number of communities out there. Especially technology and software development related communities are interesting for me. On medium.com I’ve found an article which provides an incomplete list of some communities on Slack. At first joined the Spec.fm Slack community, because I like the Developer Tea podcast so much.

At second, I joined the #developers community, which is mentioned in the medium.com article above. Actually they have multiple communities on Slack, so you can join the team that feel connected to. There is for example a PHP, a Python or a NodeJS community available in addition to the general Developers community.

I’m in these communities for around a week. Mostly lurking and watching how the community communicates. Some people are sharing links, articles, tweets, but actually nothing very interesting. I also haven’t seen any “intense” chat between some people so far. Only in the Spec.fm community are some design related people regularly chatting. In the next days and weeks I will keep watching the Slack communities and I will report here, if my first impression changes.

What I’m still looking for is an infosec related Slack community. No matter if it is a cryptography, a penetration testing or a general infosec group. So, if you know any infosec communities on Slack, which are open for new people, please drop me a note in the comments or contact me directly. Thank you very much! 🙂

Back to University – Getting started

As I wrote some weeks ago, I just started with the Master’s course at the Wilhelm Büchner University of Applied Science. The start was a little bit frustrating.

At first, I have only received the study letters for the first three months. This means that I haven’t got any module completely. The university recommends learning all modules in parallel, but during my Bachelor’s study I found it more helpful to study one module at a time. Or only two modules at the same time if it is necessary. I can understand the viewpoint of the university. The first month is free for testing, so you can cancel at any time and they won’t send you too much material because of that. However, I’ve discussed with the study support that I would like to keep the study and get the next package (months four to six). After getting always different answers to the same question, the conclusion is that you have to wait some more weeks to get the missing study letters for the first semester. In the meantime I have now received all study letters to complete the first modules. Wohoo!

So I’m now ready to start and in fact I’m already working on my first graded submitted exercise. My plan is to do the first exams in the beginning of 2017. Hopefully this is realistic. 🙂

Podcast Recommendation: Developer Tea by Jonathan Cutrell

On my way to work I’m mostly listening to some podcasts. Two weeks ago I’ve found a (for me) new podcast that I would like to share here. It’s the Developer Tea podcast by Jonathan Cutrell. The episodes are relatively short and discuss only one special topic, which is often introduced by a listener’s question. The questions aren’t always directly related software development, but sometimes a kind of a meta-topic like some general career or work method topics. For example, he discusses things like: Should I go back to school and get a degree? How to deal with a demotivated co-worker? What should I do if I’m unsatisfied with my current tasks at work?

I like this podcast very much and have already listened to more than 20 episodes. Jonathan gives a lot of his personal opinion but also advice how he would approach a problem or act in a given situation. I do not always agree with him to 100%. However, I think his tips are very helpful and give some interesting insights and some new points of view. The only critics I have at the moment is the sponsorship. Every episode is sponsored by some company and he has a short sponsor break to promote the company or product. It is understandable that you want to make some money at least to cover your costs for hosting, etc. However, if you are listening to multiple episodes in a row it is a little bit annoying to hear the same kind of commercial over and over again. However, that’s maybe just me and I’m still listening to the podcast because of the great content.

Recently he started a new series on his podcast with the title Dev Career Roadmap. In this series of episodes he gives more detailed information and tips on how to start or get better in your developer career. I’m looking forward to the next episodes of this series and the podcast and I can recommend that you start to listen to some episodes. I think this podcast is definitely worth listening to!

The next Step – M.Sc.

I haven’t thought that this could happen. Today I decided to apply for the Master’s course. At last, I decided to take a course, which is more general in IT and software engineering and also contains some infosec modules.

It will be again at the Wilhelm Büchner University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt/Pfungstadt. The Master’s course contains software architecture, development of mobile and web applications, software engineering classes and the possibility to choose IT security management as one specialization.

I’m very excited about my decision and I’m looking forward to my new study letters that should arrive next week.

Download of my Thesis and Presentation

thesis_coverI received the permission to publish my thesis and presentation today from my university. So here you go!
You can now download my thesis with the title “An Analysis of the Tor Network” directly from my server. I hope that this is an interesting read for you. Unfortunately it is in German. The whole title in German is “Eine Analyse des Tor-Netzwerks: Konzept, Funktionsweise und Angriffe”.

Here is my presentation which I used in the colloquium to present my thesis, explain my motivation and showed the key results.

The thesis was rated with grade 1,3.

Update: In case you have any questions regarding this topic or my thesis, just ask and I’ll try to answer it. 🙂