Before you Start a Budget
Set up goals
Are you trying to just cut back on your expenses or are you looking to see where your money is going every month? The best way to stick to your budget is to have an important goal set for yourself. Write down your goals and circle the one that stands out to you the most.
Determine your income
- What is your take home pay after all taxes have been taken out?
- Make sure to not include overtime pay as it is not a constant.
Determine your expenses
What is the absolute minimum you can survive on. Then start adding in the extras.
- Review your credit card statements, store receipts, utility bills, etc.
- “Fixed Expenses,” such last rent/mortgage, car payments, student loans, are easy to determine
- “Flexible Expenses,” such as utilities, food, clothing, entertainment, change from month to month
- “Yearly or Quarterly Expenses,” like taxes or insurance
Check out some great websites like Mint.com to help track flexible expenses.
Include savings for the future
Do not forget to include retirement savings in your budget. No matter how small a number that it is now it is essential to work towards saving for the future.
At the beginning of the year I began my journey of saving and investing for my future. Creating a separate account and diverting part of every paycheck into it I have been able to save over $500 a month without even noticing it.
Monitor Credit cards
I put everything on my credit cards because that is how I monitor my spending. I have a few credit cards that I use for specific categories of purchases so that when I take a look at the balances I know how well I am doing with my budget. Most credit card companies make it easy to see your spending habits in charts like the one from American Express below.
Tracking multiple credit cards is not always an easy feat. There are websites out there such as Mint.com which can monitor your spending and all of your account balances in one place. It also makes it simple to track your spending habits over time.
Check back frequently
It is very difficult to perfectly match your budget every month. It is good to remember that when you start a budget not every month will be the same. For instance my budget at the start of this year did not include the cost of monthly meds for our dog or an unfortunate speeding ticket.