While it’s not always exciting, taking a proactive approach to your personal budget can have a myriad of benefits. Not only will it ensure that you always have enough money for the things that are important to you, but it will keep you out of debt, and help you establish good financial habits so you can live your life in a way that will make you and your bookkeeper happy.
So whether you adopt an approach like zero-based budgeting, or stick to a simple budget spreadsheet, knowing how to budget is something that will actually, seriously change your life for the better!
Step 1: Figure out how much you make
Whether you have a few different income sources or just one regular full-time job, you’ll first need to find out how much money you bring in every month.
Step 2: Track your spending
Where does all the money go? No, seriously, where? Because it’s important! Knowing how you spend your money every month is imperative, not just for creating a budget that you can stick to, but figuring out where you can afford to cut back! There are a number of money tracker apps such as Mint or YNAB, that are great for keeping track of where you go, and what you’re buying there.
Step 3: Make some goals
Maybe you just want to use budgeting to help you get to your next paycheck without running out of money. Or maybe your goals are a little more ambitious: you want to save up for a house, an in-ground pool, or a backpacking trip around Southeast Asia.
There’s a reason the word budgeting makes everyone’s blood run cold. Despite how important good budgeting habits are for your financial health, it has a way of sucking all the joy out of life, especially at the beginning. That’s why it’s important to set your goals from the start — so you’ll know what kind of future you’re saving toward!
Step 4: Make a plan
Now that you’ve seen all the numbers — what you’re making and what you’re spending it on — go ahead and create your budget. Start with the important things called needs: things like rent, heat, electricity, food, water, and yeah, internet, of course. Once you’ve got the needs covered, move on to the wants. Figure out what your big categories are and set a budget for how much you can spend on them every month and still make good progress toward your financial goal(s). It may mean parting with a streaming service or two and cutting back on your allowance for nights out on the town, but when you’re financially solvent and achieving your money goals, it’ll all be worth it.
Step 5: Make adjustments
Harder than you thought it would be? Well, of course! You can expect to mess up and overspend in certain categories while you’re starting out. Having discipline is hard, especially when money is concerned!
But if it’s been a few months and the numbers still aren’t adding up — and you’re no closer to your goal — it may be time to evaluate your spending and make some adjustments.
It’s easy to go overboard to make your budget work and cut things so mercilessly out of your budget that you’re suddenly sitting in a Spartan apartment eating ramen noodles… simply because your budget told you you have to.
To make budgeting work long-term without killing off all the joy and comfort in your life, consider looking for ways to adjust your costs in ways that make sense. For example, if you’ve got really high rent and don’t mind company, consider bringing in a roommate to help cut costs.
Another great opportunity? Get rid of your car. No, we’re serious! Between car payments, insurance premiums, repair bills, and the cost to fill up your gas tank — vehicles can take a huge, viscous chunk out of your personal budget!