by Stephanie Bolling (Staff Writer)
Updated January 12, 2023
Setting up a budget is challenging. Doing it forces you to face your spending habits and then work to change them.
But when you decide to make a budget, it means you’re serious about your money. Maybe you even have some financial goals in mind.
The end result will bring you peace of mind. But if you’re creating a budget for the first time, remember that budgets will vary by individual and family. It’s important to set up a budget that’s a fit for YOU.
Budgeting for Beginners in 5 Painless Steps
Follow these basic steps and tailor them to your needs to create a monthly budget that will set you up for financial success.
Step 1: Set a Financial Goal
First thing’s first: Why do you want a budget?
Your reason will be your anchor and incentive as you create a budget, and it will help you stick to it.
Set a short-term or long-term goal. It can be to pay off debts like student loans, credit cards or a mortgage, or to save for retirement, an emergency fund, a new car, a home down payment or a vacation.
For example, creating a budget is a must for many people trying to buy their first home. But it shouldn’t stop there. Once you’ve bought a home, keep sticking to a budget to pay off debt and give yourself some wiggle room for unexpected expenses.
Once one goal is complete, you can move on to another and personalize your budget to fit whatever your needs are.
Step 2: Log Your Income, Expenses and Savings
You’ll want to use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or another budget template to track all of your monthly expenses and spending. List out each expense line by line. This list is the foundation for your monthly budget.
Tally Your Monthly Income
Review your pay stubs and determine how much money you and anyone else in your household take home every month. Include any passive income, rental income, child support payments or side gigs.
If your income varies, estimate as best as you can, or use the average of your income for the past three months.
Make a List of Your Mandatory Monthly Expenses
Start with fixed expenses or monthly expenditures such as:
- Rent or mortgage payment
- Living expenses like utility bills (electric, gas and water bills), internet and phone
- Car payments and transportation costs
- Student loan payments
- Insurance (car, life and health insurance)
- Child care
- Debt repayments for things like credit cards, medical debt, etc.
Anything that will result in a late fee for not paying bills goes in this category.
List Nonessential Monthly and Irregular Expenses
Nonessential expenses include entertainment, coffee, subscription and streaming services, memberships, cable TV, gifts, dining out and miscellaneous items — basically your spending money for the month.
Don’t forget to account for expenses you don’t incur every month, such as annual fees, taxes, car registration, oil changes and one-time charges. Add them to the month in which they usually occur OR tally up all of your irregular expenses for the year and divide by 12 so you can work them into your monthly budget.
Review all of your bank account statements and credit card statements for the past 12 months to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Don’t Forget Your Savings
Be sure to include a line item for savings in your monthly budget. Use it for those short- or long-term savings goals, building up an emergency fund or investments.
Figure out how much you can afford — no matter how big or small. If you get direct deposit, saving can be simplified with an automated paycheck deduction. Something as little as $10 a week adds up to over $500 in a year.
Step 3: Adjust Your Expenses to Match Your Income
Now, what does your monthly personal budget look like so far?
Are you living within your income, or spending more money than you make? Either way, it’s time to make some adjustments to meet your goals.