Amanda Hart, FCSE Educator and Purdue Alumni 2010
When I hear the word “budget”, it makes me think of my dad sitting at the kitchen table with a pile of bills and a calculator trying to not pull his hair out in frustration. Luckily, making your own budget is as easy (or difficult) as you want it to be. You work hard for your money, and you should have the opportunity to see where it’s going. And that’s all a budget is, a money roadmap. It shows you where you’ve been and helps you plan for where you want to go. It’s not always the most enjoyable time in your life, but it will help you manage your money reach your financial goals. Budgets are also very personal. They can be as detailed or broad as you want them to be. The more detail you use, the more helpful it will be.
Step 1: Track your spending.
Take a second and estimate how much you spent on food/clothing/entertainment/something last week. Now take a look at your bank account and figure how much it actually was. Were you over? Most likely you were under. It is super easy to underestimate how much money you spend in one week or in one place. When you spend small amounts of money in different places, it’s hard to keep track of the total in your head, especially when you have to remember amounts for a whole month.
One of the easiest ways of tracking your spending is to use your bank statements and keep receipts. Many banks offer an online tool that allows you to categorize your spending. For example, every time you go to Wal-Mart, your online tool would categorize that as food. If you prefer a physical record, keep a notebook. Write down every place you spend money, how much you spent and what it was for. This includes Den Pops and quarters for doing your laundry. If you spend it, you write it.
Step 2: Make a plan.
The key to this step is to rank. There are bills in your life you have to pay, and some you have control on how much or when you pay them. These categories are defined as fixed spending and flexible spending. Fixed spending includes items you MUST pay. This includes rent, electric, car payment, insurance: all the big-ticket items. Fixed spending items are typically the same amount each month and are due on the same date.
Flexible spending items include everything else like food. You choose the amount you spend on food. Sometimes this means ramen noodles and other times this means real food or even eating out. Gas, cell phone, entertainment, clothing, toiletries, etc. are also included.
A great way to do this is to use the expenses worksheet found at Cash Course. This gives you places to record what you spent in Step 1. If the categories provided don’t work for you, make your own spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel and enter your amounts there.
Step 3: Work out the plan.
Once youhe plan.’ve got all your expenses down, it’s time to look at your income and see what you can actually afford to spend. In this case, income means any money that is coming into your bank account. This could be wages from working or the $20 check your grandmother sends you each month. Once you know your total income, it’s time to divide it up. The pie chart below shows a general budget break down.
What does this mean? For example: If your income is $2000 a month, you could afford to spend $600 a month in the housing category. This would include rent, electric, cable, internet, etc. Your personal pie chart will look different, and that’s ok. If you don’t have transportation expenses because you walk everywhere and therefore don’t have to pay for gas, maybe your transportation section will be 11% of your income. This means you have an extra 9% of your income to divide into other categories where you need it.
Unless you absolutely can’t help it, don’t skip the savings category. You technically should have 6 months’ worth of expenses saved up for when of an emergency, but that isn’t always possible. You should still have a little something to fall back on if your car breaks down; or your roommate breaks the sink faucet and floods your apartment.
Now that you’ve made your categories and determined how much money you can spend in each, you actually need to use this information. You just spent time and energy being aware of where you typically spend your money. Take that time investment and make it do something good for your wallet. This means you need to keep track of how much you are actually spending in each budget category. If you are an emotional shopper and spend more on clothes than you should, it’s time to keep that impulse in check. You may have to make some sacrifices. Instead of buying the $100 pair of shoes, look for a less expensive option. Don’t forget to reward yourself. If you budget for a month and have extra money left over, create a reward for yourself. This could be something as simple as a brownie for dessert or an uninterrupted block of time at the pool just relaxing. The satisfaction of knowing where your money is going and sticking to a budget may even be reward enough.