Raise your hand if you think sitting down with a spreadsheet full of numbers sounds like a good time. Chances are, there aren’t many hands in the air — but if you want to do more with your money and have a positive impact on your financial situation — whether or not you hope to buy a house someday, it’s critical.
We’re talking about budgets. You need one so you can take charge of your finances and meet your biggest money goals.
Before you roll your eyes and groan, understand that you have a lot of options here. Just because you hate boring spreadsheets or the hassle of keeping up with receipts does not mean you actually hate budgets.
More likely, you haven’t found the right one for you yet. Let’s explore a few budget ideas you can try.
1. Make it automatic
You don’t have to create a household budget that sucks away all your free time and mental energy. Instead, automate it with one of the tools and technologies available to help you do it.
- Mint.com can help you track your spending and understand where your money goes each month.
- You Need a Budget is budgeting software that promises to “implement a system that will require less time ‘managing’ your money.”
- Personal Capital combines your everyday finances with your investments so you can view the big picture of your financial situation all in one place.
Setting up these tools can help you track your expenses and review your spending each month. They make budgeting easier and lots more fun.
You can also set automatic transfers from your checking to savings accounts to fund important goals and create automatic bill pay so you never forget to handle a fixed expense.
2. Give yourself an allowance
Weekly or monthly allowances aren’t just for kids. A grown-up spending allowance can help you better manage your money each month while also eliminating the need to track every last cent with a dreaded spreadsheet.
For this budgeting alternative to work, you do need to put in some effort upfront. First, know how much you earn each month — and that means the amount of money hitting your checking account after taxes and withdrawals for things like your 401(k) and health insurance. Then calculate your fixed expenses. This includes things like rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, and other living costs and bills.
Subtract your expenses from your income. If you haven’t already set up an automatic transfer to savings or investments, do so now.
After taking into account your savings and expenses, what’s left over? This is your spending allowance for the month. You can spend it on whatever you want, but once that money is gone, remember, it’s gone.
3. Use various accounts for your buckets
A twist on the allowance idea is to set up three accounts: one for expenses, one for fun money, and one for savings. Deposit percentages of your paycheck into each account, and pull from the appropriate one throughout the month to cover your living costs and your discretionary spending.
You’ll need to do some legwork first to determine what percentage of your paycheck belongs in which bucket. But you don’t need to track every last cent throughout the month or worry about overspending before you get around to saving.
Budgeting doesn’t have to be all checkbook balancing and spreadsheet managing. Have a little fun with it, try out different types of budgets, and learn what works — and makes the most sense — for you.
What budgeting tricks have helped you save money? Share your tips in the comments below.