I have some budgeting tips that have worked for me. If you have any additional ones, I would love to learn them!
1. Use a computer spreadsheet if at all possible (Excel, Quattro Pro, etc.). This takes the math out of the calculations. If you remember something that needs included in the budget, you don’t have to erase everything you have written and redo all the math. This allows you to focus on the budget items instead of items like, “You punched that into the calculator wrong …”
2. Do the budget monthly! Every month presents its own budgeting issues. In the summer, you may be more focused on budgeting outdoor activities. In the winter, you may be more focused on paying for Christmas gifts and preparing for tax season. Irregular expenses also crop up – clothes for the children, quarterly insurance payments, quarterly tax payments for the self-employed, life insurance, school pictures
3. Work like crazy to fully-fund your emergency fund with 3 – 6 months worth of expenses. If you have this fully-funded emergency fund in place, then you can cease budgeting week-to-week. For those of you who are balancing paychecks and which bill is paid with whose paycheck in which week, you KNOW what I am talking about. Once you have the fully funded emergency fund, you can just sit down and write out all the checks at once! Talk about eliminating stress!
4. If you have upcoming expenses that you know are coming, start budgeting for them now. It is so much easier to plan for a $500 expense over the course of 6 months than in 1 or 2 months.
5. Every 6 months or so, hold a little longer budget session (
6. Keep copies of all of your old budgets. Once you have been budgeting for 13 months, you can always reference the budgets from that month in the previous year(s). That will really help you remember some of the irregular expenses you may need to be planning for.
7. Ensure that BOTH of you are messing with the budget. This is not a one-person show. It will not work nearly as well if only one person puts the budget together.
8. If the budget is not balancing this month, put it away for a day or two. Then, agree to get back together to review what the issues were. It may be that a simple solution is available and the wait may help you figure that out.
9. Use envelopes. It eliminates debit card transactions. My debit card transactions went down over 75% when we converted to cash envelopes. It also holds you accountable to the budget and absolutely prevents overspending. If you were to try one envelope, I would recommend “groceries”.
10. If the budget does not balance to zero, do not allow yourself to turn to debt to fix the issue. There has to be a point in time that you say “enough is enough – we have gotten poor results the old way, we are not going back there”. You will be tested on this one. How strong is your willpower to ensure you achieve freedom from debt?
11. If you have an irregular income, you should still do a budget. The lame excuse of “I can’t predict my income” does not work here. You can plan for the known part of your income and prioritize the rest of the expenses in order from 1 to 350 (if you have 350 expenses!). When you get income in, you pay down the list in order of your priorities. Once you are out of money, the end. Maybe next month.
12. While you are saving cash for a major purchase, the rigor of saving every single month for that purchase makes you focus on that item more. I have found that I can find AWESOME bargains when I have to spend 7 or 8 months saving for a purchase. Many times the bargain is 1/2 or 1/4 of the cost I had saved for the purchase. Talk about celebrating! This is budgeting working at its finest!
Those are a few of the things I have learned while budgeting. I welcome your tips!