The basics of creating a budget are pretty simple but where do you start? Don’t worry, the following updated blog post explains how to create a personal budget in 6 easy steps.
If you are reading this perhaps you are like most of us and forget the stick to it part or maybe you struggle with where to start. Either way, it’s important to know how you spend money. A good budget is designed to help you do just that and reach your financial goals.
Are you starting your first job after college and want to figure out what your paycheck can cover? Or are you trying to pay down credit card debt?
Everyone’s budgeting goals are different. Whether your goal is to reduce your debt or finance a remodeling project, it should be the core of your budget. As you pay attention to income and expenses, you’ll aim towards that goal.
What is a Personal Budget and Why is it Important?
First, let’s define what a budget really is. A personal budget allows an individual the ability to organize and document their income received and compare it against their monthly spending. And let’s say spending includes all debt, living expenses (needs), and discretionary spending (wants).
Think of your personal budget as a basic financial plan. This is important as everyone needs some sort of financial plan to help guide them to make more confident decisions on major life events in addition to reducing the overall financial stress around these decisions.
The only negative to a personal budget is the time and commitment needed to create, maintain, and make any necessary adjustments as needed. However, this is a small price to pay given the reward of personal financial knowledge and confidence.
How to Create a Personal Budget in Six Steps
Step One: Organize Your Finances
Every journey starts with a first step. In this case, your first step is to organize your financial world to get some visibility.
Organizing is also your first step because you are creating a starting point to determine how much money you pay out each month as opposed to how much money you take home. Ultimately your main goal should be to end each month with more money than you paid out.
Let’s breakdown spending into the following categories:
- Monthly Bills: This is money you pay out every month for a service, a past purchase, and other debt (example: student loan debt, mortgage, etc.).
- Annual or Quarterly Bills: These are costs that are paid out once or multiple times a year such as a renter’s insurance policy or property taxes.
- Savings: Hopefully you are setting aside some money each month for general savings, an emergency fund, or for your retirement.
- One-off Purchases: Get ready to go through all those receipts you’ve been hanging on to because this is the more difficult task is to account for any discretionary spending. This means what did you spending on food, entertainment, clothes, etc. during a particular month. The best way to review your one-off purchases is to skip the receipts and scrutinize your monthly checking account in terms of money spent and cash withdrawn.
And if you really want to shine like a diamond, spend your first month keeping notes of everything you spend money for 30 days. This will now offer insight into what you actually spend your money on.
As for your income, this is also the time to organize and identify any sources of revenue you may have. Chances are you only have your salary and/or your significant other’s if you’re married. However, if you have additional income like a second job or a side hustle, you would also consider this as income.
Remember, when reviewing your income for budgeting purposes, only focus on your take-home pay or net income – meaning, it’s already been taxed.
Step Two: Create a Personal Budget Template
Now that you have everything organized, it’s time to create your personal budget. You can go old school and write your budget down on paper or in a ledger, but we recommend that you use an electronic spreadsheet like Google Sheets (free), Excel, or Numbers. Not only does an electronic spreadsheet easily adapt as your budgeting needs change, but it also offers the ability to include automated formulas to do all the hard work.
To assist you with creating a personal budget spreadsheet, we’ve included a simple personal budget example below that you can copy, modify, and use.
However, if you want to create your own budget template, then we recommend the following included in your budget:
- Keep It Simple: A personal budget should have two sections – one for expenses and one for income.
- Break Down Your Expenses into Manageable Categories: In the first step, we asked you to review and organize all your expenses. While you were doing this, you probably started to realize that some expenses share similarities. For example, your electric and water bills could all be included in a category called Utilities while expenses from a Saturday date night, and a monthly streaming service subscription could be called Entertainment.
- Breakdown Your Spreadsheet into Twelve Months: It sounds like a lot of work, but if you are serious about operating a successful budget, you need this type of visibility. Having a 12-month view offers you the ability to see trends and make adjustments to your budget as needed.
- Spreadsheet Formulas to Calculate The Difference Between Income and Expenses: More on this in Step Five.
Personal Budget Template
Step Three: Log Your Monthly Income
Now that you’ve organized your finances and have a personal budget spreadsheet, it’s time to begin using your budget. In this next step, simply log your income in the appropriate spreadsheet cell(s) for the month.
Step Four: Log Your Monthly Expenses
If you’ve broken your expenses into categories, this is the time to add up each expense by category and log it in the appropriate spreadsheet cell for the month. Do this for all of your expenses for the month.
Step Five: Compare Expenses and Income
This is the step where you start getting a handle on your expenses. This is also the step where a basic knowledge of electronic spreadsheet formulas is needed.
Tip: Did we mention our pre-made template (see above) already has all of the necessary formulas baked in. But, if you want to create your own budget and are a little rusty in your formulas, check out this cheat sheet for Google Sheets.
To complete this step, add up all of the expenses for a particular month, add up all of the income for the same month, and the difference is your current financial situation for that month.
- If you have a negative number, this is not good and we hope you have money set aside in savings to pay the difference. Regardless, if you experience one or more negative numbers in consecutive months, we highly recommend reviewing your monthly expenses to find costs to cut.
- If you have a positive number, that’s a good thing. You now have money left over for savings, debt, or next months’ bills.
Step Six: Keep Your Personal Budget Alive and Thrive
Now that you know how to create and use a budget, this is a great time to go over some budgeting best practices.
- Consistency: When you first begin to use your budget, try to stick with performing it at the same time every month. As you probably know, bills and expenses never take a vacation, so don’t even try updating your budget throughout the month. Rather, devout some time each month to your budget. For example, you may use the first Saturday of every month to complete and review the previous month’s budget.
- Identify Trends: After you’ve successfully used your budget for 3-4 months, take some time to review what your financial world looks since you should have some clear visibility of your expenses at this point. Meaning, if you are constantly over budget each month, you may need to review your expenses and determine which costs are needs and others are wants (or like-to-haves). Once you identify your wants, focus on these as the first expenses to cut if you have to. Trust me, you will be amazed at how much money is spent on wants as opposed to basic needs – which is fine as long as you have the income to support it.
- Quarterly Reviews: Like performing maintenance on student loan debt, you should get in the habit of performing a budget review every 3 months. Again, this allows for the ability to observe trends and decide on any adjustments that need to be made.
Personal Budgeting Tips
Below are some tips to help you reach your financial goals and feel better managing your money.
Hopefully, this article has helped you create a simple budget to help you stick to a monthly budget. To learn more about specific personal budget types, we recommend you check out our article The Most Popular Budget Types Explained to learn more.