When you practice budgeting, you get to be in charge of exactly where your money goes. Sometimes, we can forget the true value of every dollar—that each one was earned with a specific amount of our time. When we see our paycheck come in, we feel flush with opportunity and we can lose sight of all that time we worked to earn it. Remind yourself how much work went into each dollar. Do you want to waste precious time by spending those dollars wherever your impulses take them?
This is just one of many important reasons to keep a budget. Here are a few others:
- It lets you keep your eyes on the prize.
- It ensures you don’t spend money you don’t have.
- It leads to a happier retirement.
- It helps you prepare for emergencies.
- It sheds light on bad spending habits.
- It’s better than counting sheep at night.
As we learned in the last Focus on Your Money webinar, we have to know the full scope of our financial situation in order to change it. Hope is simply not a strategy. You’ll have to take a more realistic look at your money before you can gain control over it. Luckily, we’re here to help.
Essential Steps to Budgeting
It may seem overwhelming at first, but by following the steps below, you’ll see that budgeting is actually quite simple—it’s just a habit that you need to form. Before you begin, set a financial goal to look forward to, like a dream home, a place to retire, or an exciting vacation in Europe. These goals will help you stay focused and make budgeting a little easier.
Know your income
The money you take home will become your budgeting baseline. The catch? You can’t build your budget on your salary alone—you’ll have to build it on your net income. Deduct your income tax and set it in your savings account before you pay yourself. Then, you can use the amount that’s left over to start your budget.
Determine your basic expenses
Count up the bills that have fixed payment amounts, such as your mortgage, your car, your insurance, or your student loans. This is also a good time to set up your emergency fund—pick a number to save monthly and factor that into this category.
Determine your variable expenses
Variable expenses are those that will change from month-to-month. These are your phone bill, your groceries, meals at restaurants, and entertainment—all things you have control over.
Now that you know your expenses, determine what’s really important to you. We all tend to think we won’t be able to live without the latest iPhone, but gadgets like this fall in the “Like to Have” column instead of the “Necessity” column. Be ready to make tough choices: do you really need unlimited texting? Do you really need 400 channels? You’ll have to take an unsparing look at your lifestyle to figure out what’s truly necessary and what is a luxury.
Follow your spending and review it monthly
Keep an eye on your spending—especially credit cards—and watch out for small things that quickly add up. It’s easy to cave on these minor expenses from day-to-day, so stay diligent!
Find the best way to keep track of your expenses and income. You can use pen and paper or your favorite mobile app if you prefer, but luckily, Maria Riofrio of the LiSA Initiative has made a budgeting spreadsheet that will do most of the heavy lifting for you.
FFS Monthly Budget Tracker
Customized just for you, this spreadsheet is built with specific formulas that will automatically do all the math your budget needs. To begin, put your projected income and expenses into the left-most column. This will anticipate every dollar coming in and out of your budget each month. You’ll find your fixed expenses are coded in green, the flexible expenses are blue, and the intermittent expenses are represented by yellow.
After you’ve projected your expenses for the month, you can start tracking what you’re making week-to-week and stay on track by adjusting accordingly. Place your income in the top row (remember to save your taxes first and only use net income), and the sum total will automatically populate in the upper right-hand corner of the sheet. Your weekly expenses will also populate just below your total income as you go along. The difference between the two will then be calculated to show you the money you have left as the month goes on.
Start budgeting today with our LiSA Budgeting Sheet.
The Ten Best Ways to Save Money
Soon, you’ll be able to see which habits you need to change to have more money every month. The best way to positively affect your budget is to lower your expenses and increase your income. For this, an irregular income can actually be a good thing—when you need more income, you can simply go out and do more business.
If you have a normal 9-to-5, you’ll have to focus more on cutting down your expenses, as there’s not much you can do to raise your income outside of getting a promotion or a new job. Here are the best ways to cut your expenses and save money:
1. Eliminate debt
Interest and annual fees