You could say that I learned the importance of a budget the hard way. I’ve made a lot of money mistakes. Yep, I was the 18 year old who took the first credit card offer I got in the mail and maxed the card out on everything that I had to have right then. Yep, I was the twenty-something who thought that savings could wait until I was older and spent every penny I made. But the upside is that I have learned from all of these mistakes and I’ve set things in place so that I don’t repeat them.
Setting a budget sounds like a really hard task and you probably put it off like going to the dentist. I used to think the same thing. But it really is not hard to do. You can do it in 5 easy steps. Yes, it will take some time and effort to set it up. Yes, you will have to pay attention to it fairly frequently. But if you put forth the time and effort and take your budget seriously, it will pay off (literally)!
- To start your budget you really need to know where you are spending your money. Gather all of your bills (be sure to include those quarterly or annual expenses) and track all of your spending for two to four weeks. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Keep a scratch piece of paper with you or a small notebook or just ask for a receipt for everything (and keep them together). Be sure and keep track of any cash that you spend as well. You will be surprised at how fast those Starbucks and Sonic drinks add up.
- Figure your income. Be sure and use your take home pay amount for the budget. If you are paid by commission or irregularly, you should probably look over the past 6-12 months to come to your usable totals. It is better to underestimate your income than overestimate it
- Determine what category your expenses fall into and put them in a list. Fixed (hard) expenses are bills like your mortgage/rent and utilities. These expenses must be paid first. Basic (soft) expenses are things like food, fuel, clothing, insurance etc. You need these to live but they do vary a bit and will be paid second. Extra expenses are your “wants”… things like dining out, entertainment etc. They come from what money is left over.
- Now take this information and put it down in the form of a budget. You can create your own on paper or a spreadsheet. (I’ve included some great resources at the bottom of this post). Your income will be at the top. Next list all of your fixed expenses followed by the basic ones. Get your handy calculator out and see what money is left over. This is where your “wants” will fit in.
- The most important part is visit your budget often!!! Don’t be afraid to look at it. Continue to keep track of your spending and stay within the limits you have set. It may take a few months before you get the hang of it, but don’t give up. Once you get in the habit, it is second nature. This one document can change your financial future if you let it.
Suggestions to help you in your budgeting mission:
- Your budget should be easy for you to use. Set it up the way you like. If you want to do it per paycheck or by the month, so be it. It’s your creation.
- If you have quarterly or annual expenses, make a category for them in your budget. For example, our property taxes are due every January. I made a monthly category and save each month towards them.
- If you do not have any money left over or fall short on your budget, take a look to see what expenses can be scaled down or eliminated.
- Microsoft Office offers free budget templates here. (you must have a valid copy of Microsoft Office to download)
- Sites like Spark Savings, Mint and Wesabe are free and offer great budgeting advice as well as ways to track your spending. Quicken offers affordable personal financial software that is easy to setup and use.