Budget, a cringe-worthy word that often reminds us of just how broke we truly are. But we shouldn’t feel this way, budgets are an insightful breakdown of our money habits. It shows us how we have been spending, what areas need to be decreased/increased and if we should be saving more. With a budget, you can tell your money where to go and when to go there. Below is a step by step breakdown on how to create and stick to a detailed plan for your money.
Step 1 – List your income and ALL expenses for the month.
Open an excel spreadsheet and at the top list your source and amount of income. Next list the categories you’re spending in every month beginning with the essentials: (1) Savings, (2) Giving/Tithing, (3) Rent/Mortgage, (4) Utilities (5) Food and (6) Transportation. Regardless of what is happening in your life, it is crucial that these areas are covered before anything else gets paid.
I recommend downloading the FREE Every Dollar app. It’s a budgeting tool that can be used by singles or couples to easily enter and keep track of expenditures while you’re on the go. The categories are already listed for you, just add/delete/edit to fit your budgeting needs.
Step 2 -Fill in the blanks
Every penny needs to be accounted for, so it is important to be thorough. Credit cards, Gym memberships, nails, hair, makeup, random trips to Target… EVERYTHING needs to be included. No guesstimating with your money!
If you have never written a budget or it’s been a long time, start with averages. Here’s what I mean: Review your bank statements for the last three months and highlight every time you bought fast food or had dinner at a restaurant. Now calculate the monthly average and use that number for the amount you plan to spend on dining out. Repeat for categories such as gasoline, groceries, personal care, miscellaneous (those sales that you just couldn’t pass up), etc.
Step 3 – Review & Adjust
Is every dollar accounted for? If you subtracted the total monthly expenses from the total monthly income, does it equal zero? If you are over budget than either (a) reduce or eliminate and/or (b) find a way to earn extra income.
Step 4 – Action
With your zero-based budget ready to go, it is now time to put it to work. At the end of each month, next to your planned amount list the total you actually spent. You may find that you are constantly over or under-spending in some areas, so adjust as needed. This is expected, budgeting takes practice and time to get used to.
Step 5 – Budget Cuts! (I know, more curse words … But it must be done)
Time to review and evaluate which areas we can save money. Grad school is expensive, and life is unpredictable. So be ready for those inevitable emergencies and impromptu expenses that come along with adulthood. The goal is to keep the number of student loans at a minimum and matriculate with little to no debt. Any semblance of Financial security while in grad school is one less thing for you to stress about.
How do you determine what stays and what goes? It’s simple, go down your list and perform an honest assessment of what’s essential vs non-essential. For the non-essentials that you can’t seem to part with, is there a cheaper way to do it? This might mean doing it yourself or cutting back on the frequency. For example, Manicures & Pedicures – can it be done at a cosmetology school, can I do it myself, or do I keep going to my favorite nail salon but only once a month?
Same applies for the essentials: Can I reduce insurance rates? Are 6 credit cards necessary? Is there a way to cook more often and eat out less? How do I reduce my cell phone/internet/cable bills? Any freed-up funds should be applied towards debt or savings.
Being on a budget doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself. Like anything else in life, it’s all about moderation. The Sample Budget attached uses numbers based on a couple receiving the average national income and making average monthly payments. It’s intended to serve as a guide and provide a general idea of what a budget looks like. Keep in mind that there are many budgeting software and apps available to help you get started. Feel free to open and adjust numbers as needed.