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Trying to get your financial sh*t together is hard.
Trust me, I know. Within the first few years of getting married, my husband and I had accrued over $10,000 in credit card debt.
We got married young, had a child young, and now had to teach ourselves some hard financial lessons young.
Fast forward to today and here we are. No more credit card debt, we’ve got a ton of money in savings, and we’re on-track to paying off our brand-new car early.
How’d we do it? Well, for starters we took a hard look at ourselves, decided we didn’t want to be in a financial rut forever, and started setting some goals and creating a budget that worked for us.
If you’re in a similar situation, or just want to get a better handle on your finances, starting a budget can work wonders for you.
Here’s everything you need to know on how to start a budget that works for you.
SUPPLIES TO GET STARTED
Before we dive in, I highly recommend grabbing yourself a budget planner or notebook to write down your budget + goals so you can keep track of everything.
If you’d rather keep up with your spending online, you can download a budgeting app like Mint for free. It’ll help you track your expenses and show you where you spend most of your money each month.
Personally, I’ve tried apps before but I like the feel of writing everything down myself, it helps me feel more involved in the process.
Either way, do whatever feels comfortable for you and stick with it!
WHAT’S YOUR GOAL?
First, figure out what your main goal is with starting a budget.
Are you trying to save up for a big trip? Pay off some debt? Or maybe you just want to have a better handle on your spending habits?
Whatever it is, make sure you’ve got a clear idea.
This helps make sure your budget is working for you and what you want in life.
If you’re married/share expenses with someone, make sure your goals fit together. You’ll both be working towards the same thing, so you need to make sure you’re on the same page and are committed to the same goals.
FIGURE OUT YOUR MONTHLY INCOME
Once you know the goals you want to achieve, you need to figure out how much income you bring in each month.
This is the income you bring in AFTER taxes, not before. Whatever actually hits your bank account is the amount you want to use.
Be sure to include things like:
- Wages, tips, etc.
- Freelance work/side hustle gigs
- Child support
And anything else that you receive every month. Again, if you’re married or have a partner, be sure to include their income also!
Birthday/Christmas money, bonuses, etc. don’t count towards this.
FIGURE OUT YOUR MONTHLY EXPENSES
Next, you need to add up ALLLLL of your expenses for the month.
This is anything + everything you pay for. Whether it’s essential (like rent) or just something that you want to have (like Netflix) add it to the list.
Make sure to include things like…
- Fun money (out to dinner, movies, etc.)
- Subscriptions (Netflix, Hulu, etc.)
If you’ve got a bill that’s paid quarterly/annually, you’ll want to find the amount that it would cost per month and use that number in your calculations.
For example, our trash services are billed every 3 months. It’s $75 every 3 months, so in our budget we have it listed as $25/month ($75/3 months). If you’ve got an annual fee as a bill, divide it by 12.
This keeps us from having to adjust our budget every month. It’ll literally be the same every single month, no matter what bills come out that particular month.
For bills like groceries, which probably vary from month-to-month, just use a rough number of what you typically spend.
In our budget, we have $200 marked every week for groceries. Honestly, 95% of the time we don’t come anywhere close to that, but that extra money is there just in case. The leftover is usually used for eating out, or just goes into savings at the end of the month.
FIGURE OUT YOUR NET INCOME
After you add up your income and expenses, subtract your expenses from your income. Whatever you have left is your net income, and it should mostly be going into savings.
If you don’t have an emergency fund yet, I recommend putting any extra money towards that first.
Once you’ve got that settled, you can put the extra money into a savings account for a trip, pay off extra bills, or whatever else your heart desires.
Let’s just say we bring home $4000 a month. If our expenses are $2500, We’ve got $1500 leftover in net income. This usually goes into savings or goes towards our car payment as an extra payment.
TYPES OF BUDGETS
Remember, you’re starting a budget that works for you.
Not every budget works for every lifestyle, so I suggest trying different methods and seeing what works best with your lifestyle/preferences!
Here are some different approaches to budgeting:
The zero-based budget is a good option if you’re super diligent and want to know where every hard-earned dollar is going.
Basically, your goal is for your income and expenses to equal out to 0 at the end of each month.
You’ll divvy your money out to different areas (bills, entertainment, food, etc.) and if you don’t use all of that allotted amount in one area, you’ll add it to another area (like a vacation fund, for example.)
This is a great option if you’re starting a budget in order to save up for something specific (like a down payment on a house, car, etc.)
Reverse budgeting is a technique my husband and I use, and it’s worked really well for us. Basically, you ‘pay yourself’ by putting money into savings before paying any bills or buying anything.
Your savings is kind of like an investment in your future, so you need to make sure you’re making it a priority before the things you ‘want.’
So many people just put whatever money’s left in their bank account at the end of the month into savings, which in reality isn’t very much after all the spending you’ve done throughout the month.
We were doing that too until we realized how much we were overspending and knew a change needed to be made. This has helped us put thousands of dollars into savings to help us better plan for our future.
The 50-30-20 budget is great if you just want a simple budget that you don’t have to focus on too much.
With this budget, 50% of your income goes towards bills, 30% goes towards buying whatever you want, and 20% goes towards savings/debt. Easy-peasy!
REEVALUATE YOUR BUDGET OFTEN
You should always check in on your budget and make sure it’s still working for you. If your goals have changed, make sure your budget reflects that!
I also recommend trying out different budget options to find out what you like and don’t like.
When I tried the zero-based budgeting system, I learned that I don’t have the patience for that, but the 50-30-20 budget was super simple and helpful.
Now we use the ‘reverse budgeting’ method and it’s helped us save the most money.
Find what works for you and what you can comfortably stick with long-term.
TIPS ON STICKING TO YOUR BUDGET
Sounds kinda counterintuitive, right? If you want to stick to a budget, you have to be flexible with it?
I say this though because you don’t want to be so strict with your spending that you experience burnout.
Or, you get to the point where you accidentally overspend once and feel like you’ve totally failed and you give up altogether. You’ve got to be patient and don’t be too hard on yourself!!
I also think you need to be honest with yourself about where you are and how long it’ll take you to get what you want.
Don’t set unrealistic expectations for your money situation.
If you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, it’s probably going to take longer to save up for something you want. Don’t try to save for something in a super short amount of time and be upset when you don’t achieve it.
Also, if you fall off the wagon, it’s okay! Just get back up and try again. Remember your goals and why you’re doing it in the first place.
PRIORITIZE CREATING AN EMERGENCY FUND
I highly recommend building up an emergency fund first, before you start saving for anything.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen and we could all be a little more prepared.
Your emergency fund can help buy you some time if you lose your job, your car breaks down, etc.
I hope this guide helps you as you begin starting a budget! Feel free to ask me anything down below or contact me here!
Do you have any tips for starting a budget? Share them down below!