How To Set Up a Budget

Boy holding bag full of fruits and vegetables in grocery store
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Setting up a budget can be a daunting task. There is no reason to be intimidated by this process. Once you have set up your budget you can easily see where your money is going and how much you have left to save and spend. Just follow these seven easy steps.

Determine Your Income

You need to know how much money you will have each month to meet your expenses. If you are starting a new job you may want to use a payroll calculator to determine how much money you will bring home each month.

You may be surprised at the figure. If you have a variable income, you will need to set up a different style of budget, and learn to manage your irregular income carefully. It is important to know exactly how much you have coming in so that you know how much you can afford to spend.

Determine Your Fixed Expenses

Your fixed expenses are items that will not change from month to month. These items can include rent, a car payment, car insurance, your electric bill and your student loan. You should also include savings in this category as well. It is important to pay yourself first. Ideally you should put at least ten percent of your income into savings each month. Your fixed expenses are bills that will not change from month to month, but once you have set up a budget you may be able to reduce those monthly expenses by shopping around for new plans. 

Determine Your Variable Expenses

After you have listed your fixed expenses you will want to determine the amount that you spend on variable expenses.

These items may include your groceries, eating out, clothing and entertainment. These are also considered variable because you can cut back on how much you spend on these categories if you need to each month. You can determine what you spend by reviewing the last two or three months of your transactions in each category.

Be sure that you are including seasonal expenses as you plan your budget. You can plan for seasonal expense by setting aside a bit of money each month to cover them. 

Compare Your Expenses to Your Income

Ideally, you should create a budget where your outgoing expenses match your income. If you assign every dollar a specific place this is called a zero-dollar budget. If your amounts do not match you will need to adjust accordingly. You may need to scale back on your variable expenses. If you have extra money at the end of the month, reward yourself by putting that money directly into savings. If you have cut back significantly on your variable expenses and still can not meet your fixed expenses, you will need to find ways to change your fixed expenses. Another option is to find a way to increase your income through an additional job, freelance work or looking for a new better paying job. 

Track Your Expenses

After you have set up your budget you need to track your expenses in each category. You can do this with budgeting software, or with an online app like YNAB or Mint or on a ledger sheet. You should have an estimate of what you have in each category at all times. This will help to prevent your from overspending.

If you sit down for a few minutes each day you will find that you spend less time then you would if you put it all off until the end of the month. Tracking your expenses each day will allow you to know when to stop spending. You can also switch to the envelope system and use cash so that you know to stop spending when you run out of cash. 

Adjust as Needed

You can make adjustments easily throughout the month. You may have an emergency car repair. You can move money from your clothing category to help cover the cost of the repair. As you move money around make sure that you do so in your budget.This is the key to making your budget work. it can help you deal with unexpected expenses and stop you from relying on your credit cards if you happen to overspend one month.

Evaluate Your Budget

After you have followed your budget for a month, you may find that you can cut back in a few areas, while you need more money in others.

You should keep tweaking your budget until it works for you. You can evaluate at the end of every month and make changes according to the expenses in the upcoming month as well. You should evaluate your budget every month going forward. This will help you adjust your spending as your life changes and your spending increases in different areas. 

 Budgeting Tips:

  1. When you are working on commission, you will need to follow a slightly different plan you should work with it as a variable budget, but be aggressive in saving to help you cover times when the market is slow. 
  2. It can take time to make your budget start working. If you run into problems you may want to try one of these budget fixes. Starting to budget is just one of the steps you can take to start cleaning up your finances today. You can also try these five budgeting hacks to make it work better.
  3. As you get better at budgeting, it is important to keep your spending, bills, and savings goals in balance. You can do this using the 50/20/30 rule with your expenses.You can also look for new ways to save money each month
  4. Check out these other financial skills that you should have learned while you were in high school. They can make managing your money so much easier. It is never too late to start managing your money and change your situation.