how to create a zero based budget

Student Mom Budget: Let’s Talk Some More About Money

The student mom budget. Now, before you start the rolling of eyes at the word budget. Just really quick I want you to not think of them as a reminder of how broke we are.

Instead, think of them as 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. A budget, tells our 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
  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 for singles & couples to easily enter and keep track of expenditures 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

Be thorough and account for EVERY penny. Credit cards, Gym memberships, nails, hair, makeup, random trips to Target… Include EVERYTHING! No guesstimating with 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. Then, tepeat for categories such as gasoline, groceries, personal care, miscellaneous (those sales that you just couldn’t pass up), etc.

Step 3 – Review & Adjust

Got everything? If you subtracted the total monthly expenses from the total monthly income, does it equal zero? If over budget than either (a) reduce or eliminate something 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.

Once completed, 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.

In other words, be ready for the 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 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? Apply freed-up funds towards debt or savings.


Being a student mom on a budget doesn’t mean self deprivation. Like anything else in life, moderation is key. 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.

4 thoughts on “Student Mom Budget: Let’s Talk Some More About Money”

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