You’ve heard it a million times: Making a budget (and actually sticking to it) is a surefire way to get a handle on your finances.
But if the thought of sitting down and entering
alllll your income, bills, and expenses into a great big spreadsheet sounds totally overwhelming, here’s some great news: You don’t have to!
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While a simple spreadsheet is a common way to track your income and expenses, it’s far from the only method. At the end of the day, it’s all about choosing something you’ll actually want to stick to.
Any way you set it up, a budget works best when it’s in service of a goal. Maybe you want to start stashing away an extra $100 every month. Or perhaps you need to figure out how to get your spending under control. Choose your goal, then make a budget that helps you get there.
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In its simplest form, a budget is just a plan for your money. If you’ve never made one before, you might want to try out a couple of methods to see what feels right to you.
It can also help to have some financial frameworks in mind as you plan your budget. Financial advisers often recommend splitting up your money using the 50-30-20 rule.
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This means you ideally want to spend 50% of your income on things you need, like food, housing, medical care, and utilities. Then, you’ll aim to spend 30% on things you want, like streaming services, shopping, games, and hobbies. Finally, try to set 20% aside for savings, investments, and debt payments.
However, keep in mind this is just a rule of thumb and can totally be adjusted to suit your situation. After you get started, you might realize that a 60-25-15 or a 40-30-30 breakdown makes more sense for you right now. Work with this system until you find your perfect split and make sure you’re always funding your needs, your wants, and your future with every paycheck.
Ready to get to it? Here are a few budgeting methods to try if spreadsheets aren’t your cup of tea:
If you’re into using cash, give the envelope system a try.
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It’s a little old-school (and it might not work for you if you spend a lot of money online) but the
envelope system is a tried-and-true cash budgeting method. And a great perk of using cash is it gives you a more concrete idea of how much money you really go through.
The first step is to take a handful of envelopes and label each one with a spending category, from basic essentials to fun money. Feel free to be as specific or general here as you like.
Now comes the hard part: figuring out how much you want to spend on each category. A good place to start is by looking at your bank statement to see how much you spent in the previous month and using that number as a jumping-off point. For instance, let’s say last month you spent $400 on groceries, but you think you could spend a little less. So, you decide to set aside $350 for groceries this month. Alternatively, you could also try using the 50-30-20 guideline here to figure out your spending plan.
Next, head to your bank or ATM and withdraw enough cash to fill all your envelopes. Some folks recommend actually cashing your whole paycheck, including taking out cash for your savings. Personally, I prefer to stash my savings in a high-interest account, but it really comes down to what you’re comfortable with.
Now, remember that $350 you planned to spend on groceries? Put that amount into your grocery envelope, and
only use that cash when you head to the store to restock your pantry.
When you run out of cash in an envelope for a “wants” category, don’t “borrow” from another category or get out your debit card. If the envelope is empty, you’re done spending until next month. That said, if you run out of money for something essential like groceries, definitely grab the cash from somewhere else and try again next month.
For a budget that pretty much makes itself, try an app like Mint or Honeydue.
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Here’s why I’m obsessed with
Mint: It was so easy to connect to my checking and savings accounts, my credit card, and my Acorns investing account. And within seconds, I could see all my spending for the month, neatly divided into categories like food, personal care, shopping, and entertainment.
Over time, Mint tracks your spending and suggests budgeting goals based on your actual expenses and habits — or you can set your own spending and saving goals. It also sends me notifications when I get paid or have bills coming up, and it helps me track my progress toward my financial goals (fully loaded
emergency fund, here I come!). They also recently added a subscription tracker, which helped me realize I was still spending money on a couple of things I wasn’t even using anymore. Even better: It’s totally free.
Or, if you’re looking for an easy way to budget with your partner, Honeydue could be the solution.
Honeydue / Via honeydue.com
Honeydue helps couples get in sync when it comes to paying bills, spending, and setting goals. Like Mint, it’s easy to set up and it automatically sorts and tracks your income and spending. But it also has extra features like messaging that make it easy for you and your partner to send each other reminders about splitting bills, making payments, and staying on top of your goals.
One of the coolest things about this app is that you can track individual and joint accounts, while still controlling what your partner is able to see. So if you splurge on a gift for them, Honeydue won’t spoil the surprise!
If you are an artiste (or just love writing things down by hand) maybe a bullet journal spread will tickle your fancy.
For a no-fuss, no-muss approach, try the multiple accounts method.
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This budgeting style is kind of like the laid-back cousin of the envelope method. To get started, you’ll want to have two checking accounts and at least one savings account. You’ll use one checking account for your mandatory spending (aka your needs) and the other for your discretionary spending (aka your wants).
Then, you can follow the 50-30-20 guideline (or your whatever split works for you) to divide your income between these accounts. So, sticking with that example, every month you’d put around 50% of your income into your needs account to cover stuff like rent, utilities, groceries, and healthcare.
Then transfer 30% to your wants account to pay for things like streaming services, gym memberships, hobbies, and entertainment.
Finally, stash 20% in savings for the future, like retirement accounts, your emergency fund, or other accounts for goals like buying a car or taking your dream vacation. You can also pull from this category to
pay off debt.
To make this method even easier, if you get paid via direct deposit, you might be able to have your paycheck automatically split between your accounts. Check in with your employer’s payroll person to find out more.
And finally, if you want to put your finances on cruise control, take the no-budget budget for a spin.
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Okay, this no-budget budget might seem too easy to be real, but here’s how it works: Just pay all your bills at the beginning of the month (or as soon as you can after getting paid) and automatically transfer a percentage of each paycheck into savings (like in the 50-30-20 rule, 20% is a great place to start). Since you’ve already set your savings aside and your bills are covered, whatever’s left in your account is fair game.
But it’s not exactly set-it-and-forget-it. To stay on top of your cash flow while using this method, get in the habit of checking your bank balance every morning. Adding this step to your daily routine can make you more aware of where your money’s going. Plus, being aware of your balance can keep you from accidentally overspending on something you can’t really afford.
If you struggle with controlling your spending or if your income is either low or unpredictable, you might want to try a more structured budget plan first. Definitely do a gut check first and go with a budgeting method that makes you feel safe and in control of your cash. After all, that’s what managing your money should be all about!
Do you have a genius budgeting method that we missed? Share it with us in the comments! And check out our other personal finance posts for more money tips and tricks.
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