Click below for the free budget template that matches your lifestyle
Everyone needs a budget, whether you're married with kids or a student embarking on an educational journey. While making and sticking to a budget may seem like a daunting task, the process can actually be easier than you think. There are a number of ways to save a few bucks every month.
Here are 4 helpful tips to get you started.
1. Skip the Credit
If you don't have the liquid cash to buy something, then don't. Adding onto mounting credit card debt can be a dangerous thing, especially if you don't have much willpower in the spending department. Sure, having a credit card may seem like a life-saver at times, but if you don't have the funds available to pay off your bills in full and on time every month, you can find yourself quickly being buried in interest charges.
2. Don't Let Food Eat Up Your Finances
As a student, eating out may seem like the easiest thing to do when it's feeding time. While there most likely isn't a shortage of restaurants and eateries in and around your school, you might be leaving your wallet empty at the end of the month while your stomach may be full.
It's fine to eat out every now and then, but the majority of your meals should be eaten in. Make sure you are careful about how much you're spending on dining out. Take advantage of grocery store specials and prepare most of your meals yourself to save a bundle at the end of the month.
3. Buy Used Textbooks Whenever Possible
Textbooks can be a massive expense when you're in college. While you can't really do without them, you can buy them at significant savings when you shop in used book shops.
Many colleges and universities have used student co-op bookstores where you can either buy textbooks used, or even rent them for a certain time period. In addition, unless you need your old textbooks for future needs, sell them when you're done with them, and put that money towards next year's books.
Click here to download the XLS filestudent budget template.xls.
4. Sit Down and Create Your Budget
An effective budget needs to be put down on paper or via a spreadsheet from a student budget template. On this budget, make a list of all your forms of incomes (including your job, loans, parents, etc.), followed by all your expenses (such as rent, books, food, etc.).
Make sure to differentiate between your needs versus your wants. The final number that you calculate should not be a negative number. If it is, you need to make some adjustments to make sure your take-home pay covers all your expenses.
To make things simple for you, consider taking advantage of an effective online tool to help you set up a budget and manage your finances. Mint.com offers free, unbiased recommendations to help you save money and budget effectively. This online service offers tools and advice to help you understand your finances and clearly see where your money is going. Click here to try Mint for free.
If that’s how you manage money, things won’t go well. Before long, your expenses easily outstrip your earnings leading to a financial meltdown.
First let’s dump the misconceptions about budgeting. It isn’t about self-denial, though a solid plan usually contains an element of that. Rather, it’s about outlining your near-term financial future. Remember writing term papers in school and the teacher telling you to make an outline before you began writing?
A budget is like that – a plan for where your money will go before you earn it.
Budgets won’t protect you from disasters, but they can help you avoid them. Unexpected car troubles or a big medical bill can disrupt even great plans, but a good budget can mute the impact. Part of your budget will allocate savings to help you build an emergency fund.
When you get ready to budget, remember to be honest. Self-deception is the worst thing you can bring to the process. Budgets only include money you realistically expect to receive. They don’t include unforeseen windfalls like chance inheritances or winning the lotto.
Budgets have various purposes. They can help you save for a specific goal, like buying a car or a house. They also can help you pay down debt or build a nest egg. When you start the process, decide what the objective is and write it down. It’s easier to reach your goal when you’re reminded of it every month.
To start, resolve to live within you means. Consider Rachel, 26, who is single and takes home $3,500 a month. Her rent is $1,200 a month and she spends $300 a month for groceries. She enjoys eating out, flying to visit her parents several times a year, going to clubs and concerts and maintaining social media accounts. Expenses also include a car, a puppy and a gym membership. And, oh, $300 a month student loan payments.
Rachel outflows average $3,600 a month. The $100 monthly shortfall now goes on her credit card, and the growing interest payments on her credit card is eating up more income every month.
What should she do?
Step one is taking a sheet of paper and drawing a line down the middle. Income is on the left; expenses on the right. She needs to devise a plan that balances the two and, hopefully, leaves a couple hundred dollars untouched for an emergency fund. It’s not easy, but it can be done. Here’s how:
How To Calculate Monthly Income
When it comes to a budget, take-home income is the only income that matters. Forget about pre-tax earnings. Your take-home pay is what you can spend or save. Here’s how to determine what your monthly take-home income is:
If You Are Paid Bi-Weekly
If you are paid a consistent salary ever other week, multiply your take-home pay for one paycheck by the number of paychecks in a year: 26. Then divide this number by 12 to get your monthly income.
If You Are Paid Weekly
Take your weekly pay and multiply it by the number of weeks in a year: 52. Divide this number by 12 to get your monthly income.
If Your Pay Fluctuates
If your pay fluctuates based off of tips, varying hours and/or commissions, you can still calculate an estimated monthly income by adding up 3 months worth of income and then dividing by 3.
When calculating income, also include other income like social security, disability, pension, child support, and alimony. Any money that you regularly receive can be considered income for your monthly budget.
Your Monthly Expenses
It can be difficult to remember all of your monthly expenses. Start by listing out the bills you pay each month. These will likely include:
After you’ve listed your monthly bills, add in variable expenses including:
- Food: groceries and eating out
- Pet expenses
The strength of a budget will be determined by how accurate it is. Look at 3 months worth of credit card and/or debit card charges to make sure you are capturing all of the categories where you typically spend money.
Compare Income and Expenses
Once you’ve identified all of your expenses, add them up. How do your expenses compare to your income? Do you have a surplus or a deficit?
If you have a surplus, consider how you’ll invest or save the surplus money.
If it’s a deficit, study the expenses and decide what to cut. If one of the biggest outflows is lunch at work, consider brown-bagging it four days a week. If it’s a cable TV bill, go for a cheaper plan or cut the cord. A big cellphone bill? Find a cheaper plan or a less expensive provider.
Managing expenses might not be enough. If you can’t get where you need to be, turn to the income. Can you work overtime or find a second job a few nights a week? It might be necessary.
Your income should always exceed your expenses. Budgeted expenditures should never exceed 90 percent of your income. Remember, this is a goal and you might not make it every month, but that’s why you keep a savings account as a backup. Only tap that emergency fund when absolutely necessary, and deposit extra money to it during any month when you take in more than you budgeted.
Using a budget calculator can help you quickly add up your income and expenses. InCharge’s online budget calculator will help you capture all of your expenses and assess what income is required to maintain your expenses.
Ways To Budget
You can keep budgets on paper, but there are also lots of apps and software that can help you plan your cash flow more efficiently. Quicken, Mint, You Need a Budget and GoodBudget are some the best known and longest running programs. Banks, mutual funds and investment-advice companies offer their own budgeting apps. Look around and find one that works for you.
Remember that a key part of the process is tracking actual cash flows. Keep a ledger or enter income and expenses in a computer program. Then compare the results to the budget. If you’re expenses are too high, rein them in.
Whether a paper budget or something on a computer or smartphone, remember that the budget is a planning tool. You have to take the actions needed to make it work.
Here are some of the top budgeting software options:
Mint, from accounting software powerhouse Intuit, allows you to connect your bank accounts and credit cards and track your expenses. It categorizes them as well and can compare them against budgets you set up. Mint will also send email alerts when you pay bank fees or exceed budget categories. Mint’s expense tracking and budgeting software is free, though you will be targeted with advertising based on your consumer profile.
You Need A Budget is a paid budgeting app that also connects with your bank accounts and credit cards, tracks your spending and allows you to set up budgets and savings goals. The cost is $5 a month or $50 per year. There is a smart phone app that can help you check your spending against your budget in real time.
- Don’t confuse luxuries with necessities. Eating is a necessity. Eating at a four-star restaurant is a luxury. If you have to trim expenses, pare back on the luxuries.
- Watch the small stuff. If you like passing time in coffee shops, add up what you spend each month. The sum of all those $4 lattes might shock you. So drink water sometimes, or work at home and make your own coffee.
- Restrain yourself. Just because you earn a raise doesn’t mean you have to find new ways to spend money. Consider saving part of it or contributing more to a workplace 401(k) retirement plan.
- Use cash. Credit and debit cards are great conveniences, but also easy to overuse. When you spend cash, or write checks and enter them in a register, you’ll more accurately see what your dong with your money. Finally, using cash isn’t an excuse to visit an ATM when you get the urge to spend. Use your budget to set limits on yourself and keep receipts to monitor your progress.
- Manage your own debt. If you have a growing unpaid balance on your credit cards, part of your budget should aim at bringing the balance to zero. Paying revolving credit card debt is one of the least useful ways to spend your money.
- If your debt is out of control, consider debt consolidation programs that lower your interest rate and your monthly payment.
A spreadsheet is a good tool to use while budgeting because you can change your assumptions and see how they affect your surplus and/or deficit. A well-designed budget spreadsheet will have formulas pre-programmed to add up your expenses and subtract them from your income. You can see how reducing costs 5-10 percent across small areas of your budget add up to larger savings.
When maintaining a budget spreadsheet, consider having two: one spreadsheet reflecting your actual income and expenses and a duplicate that reflects your goals: expenses you are working on reducing (monthly debt payments, for example) and income opportunities you are working to grow. Your goal budget can help you visualize the power of savings over time. Remember, any expense you are able to reduce permanently represents recurrent savings: savings times twelve months in the year.
Download InCharge’s Budget Spreadsheet
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Check out our video on how to budget, hosted by InCharge’s Sergeant Debt.
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