Check out this simple list of things you need to do before you start a budget!
Have you been thinking about starting a budget? It can be pretty overwhelming because it’s something we never learn how to do in school. Also, if you are anything like me, you’ve failed at budgeting many times before. You may feel like there is no point in trying to budget yet again.
Well, that’s wrong! Budgeting can be life changing. It gives you a clear picture of your cash flow: what money you have coming in and what money you have going out. Budgeting can help you plan for the future and can help you finance your dreams.
If you start off on the right foot, budgeting can be a breeze. Here is a list of what you need to do BEFORE starting a budget.
1. Commit to sticking with a budget for at least 3 months
You need to promise yourself that you’ll budget for at least 3 months. That’s only 3 budgets; only 3 times you have to evaluate your expenses. Very doable.
This was a very important step for me. I’m the type of person that loves to start new projects, but never seems to finish them. Why yes, in the back of my closet I do have the following: a partially carved piece of wood that resembles half a tree, a mostly white canvas with an attempt at abstract art, several half completed scrapbooks…seriously, I could go on and on.
You don’t want your budget to end up half finished, forgotten, in the back of your closet. Just promise yourself 3 months.
2. Get your spouse on board
If you are married, you need to make sure your spouse is willing to participate. A budget is a team effort.
If you aren’t married, it may be helpful to get an accountability partner. A parent, a friend, or an online forum might do the trick.
3. Write down the reasons why you are budgeting
It’s hard to start something, and stick with it, if you don’t know why you are doing it in the first place. Budgeting can open the door to so many opportunities, but you need to know what you are looking for behind that door.
Write down the reasons you are budgeting so that you can remind yourself of them later. It’ll be great to refer to them if you are ever tempted to ditch your budget and go wild with credit cards. Some reasons that I started to budget include:
- Pay off my debt
- Make saving for retirement a priority
- Stop wasting so much money on food
- Save up for a vacation
- Stop stressing about money
- Get on the same page as my spouse about our financial situation and financial future
4. Find a budgeting tool to use
You need to find a way to track your spending through the month so you can make sure that you are staying within your budget. If this is your first budget, try to find a free tool. Here are my suggestions:
- Mint.com – this super easy online tool allows you to link up your bank accounts and credit cards. Each purchase you make will automatically be added to your budget, although you may need to categorize the expense (food, entertainment, fuel, etc).
- Cash envelope system – In this all cash system, you have an envelope for each budget category. Each month you fill the envelopes with the budgeted amount of cash. When the envelope is empty, you are out of money for the month in that category.
- A journal/notepad to record all your spending – Writing down each and every expense you make may seem tedious, but it’s very effective in making sure you stay within budget. Scroll down to get a free spending log printable sent to your inbox.
The three tools mentioned above help you track your expenses. You may also need a tool to help you actually write down your actual budget (like $300 for fuel, $100 for entertainment, etc). You can use pen and paper, mint.com, or any budget spreadsheet (here is a list of free excel spreadsheets for making a budget). Want something super easy to get you started? I’ll send it to you! Just enter your email in the box below. You’ll get three printables over the course of three days to help get your finances in order.
5. Find out how much you make each month
You’ll need to know how much money you make each month in order to start your budget. Find those pay stubs.
6. Find out how much you usually spend each month
It will be very helpful when you are setting up your budget to have an idea of how you currently spend your money. Do you spend $400/month on groceries, or $800/month?
If possible, gather your credit/debit card statements, bank statements, and anything else you have from the past few months.
7. Know what your obligations/debs are
Do you owe any money? Do you have student loans, credit card debt, car loans, personal debt, etc.? If so, find out what the minimum monthly payments are and the total amount you owe.
8. Agree upon a day/time to budget each month
Determine a day and time each month to devote to your budget. During this budget “meeting”, you’ll assess the previous month’s spending, and refine your budget for the upcoming month.
I suggest choosing the last day of each month for this. However, if you know that Sunday nights are usually a good time, choose the last (or first) Sunday of each month.
Put it in your calendar so you don’t forget!
9. Decide on a reward for sticking to your budget
I’m motivated by rewards…mostly in the form of food. To encourage yourself to stick to your budget, come up with a reward system. Trust me, it works! Here are some ideas:
- Each month when you assess your budget, you go out for a nice meal (or maybe you assess your budget while having a nice meal!)
- Each week that you stick to your budget and record all your expenses, you get $10 of fun money
- At the end of the month, if you’ve spent less than you budgeted for, you get to go on a day trip somewhere fun
10. Don’t delay! Start your budget today!
I didn’t mean for that to rhyme…but did it emphasize the point? Budgets can be like diets and exercise plans and chore lists: “oh, I’ll start tomorrow…I’ll start next week…I promise I’ll start on the first of the month…” That sounds familiar right? If you delay starting your budget, you may never start.
Just commit to starting your budget today. You won’t regret it if you do. You’ll probably regret it if you don’t.
But, seriously, like right now, go write a budget.
Are you ready to start a budget? What has prevented you from starting one?