Learning how to budget can be tricky. But it doesn't have to be a difficult chore.
Expert advice and a little planning on your part can have you on a budget before your next payday. All it takes is for you to decide the time is right to take that first step. Before we get into specific steps, let's make sure we're all talking about the same thing. We'll teach you exactly what a budget is and how to budget your money for the best results.
What is a budget?
In basic terms, learning how to budget just means knowing where your money is going. And that is just smart. Money might not buy happiness, but it is a necessity for a lot of other stuff. So you want to make sure yours is working for you. Making a budget gives you a plan of action to make that happen. In practice, it really is as simple as estimating how much you'll make and how much you'll spend. The trick is making sure it's going to the best places at the right times. A lot of people are scared away from the idea. But we will explain how to budget in a way that really isn't scary at all.
What types of budgets are there?
Budgets are a bit like diets. They require you to cut some things out and track your progress. But if you tighten your belt a bit, you'll be more than pleased with the results. And like diets, budgets come in many varieties because we all respond to them differently. While there are several variations, most are a type of zero based budget. That only means that at the end of the month, you have accounted for all of your money. There are many different ways to achieve this goal. And we've collected several of our favorites for this guide. Plus, technology gives us many new and much easier ways to keep track of all our our spending.
What you will need to follow this tutorial:
There are more than a few ways to learn how to budget. But regardless of which method you choose, there are a few things you'll need. After you feel you've got a grasp on the numbers and concepts below, it's time to get to work.
- A clear idea of your income. To accurately budget your money, you'll need to know how much you have. Most folks with a typical job can do this pretty easy by collecting some pay stubs. But generally speaking, we'll be referring to take home pay after taxes are deducted.
- A list of ALL your bills and debts. Much of your focus might be on the essentials every month. Paying rent or mortgage, buying groceries, keeping the lights on are all vital. But a good budget will give you a plan of action on all your liabilities. Learn how to budget for student loans, retirement or anything in between.
- An idea of what you want. We saved the best step for last. After you have accounted for needs, the plan is to have money left over for desires. And the better you are at budgeting, the better you can bet at treating yourself to the finer things.
Instructions -- How to Budget to Build Up Your Nest Egg
1. Make a plan
As we mentioned, there are several really great ways to track your money. There are some options we don't recommend, though. Since we won't be able to cover all of them, we'll tell you what sets the good ones apart. Learning how to budget means learning how to prioritize. So any plan that will pay off in the long run will have your long term interests in mind. We don't recommend any budget unless it holds you accountable for saving in two key categories.
First of all, you need an emergency fund. Anything could go wrong, and while we hope for the best we have to be prepared. Secondly, you need to save for the future. A good budget will put money away in key categories. This will include not only paying down debt but building your retirement fund. As long as it does those things and provides enough money for you to live on now, you're probably safe.
But many experts recommend some variation of a 50-20-30 platform. This gives you half your income to pay monthly bills and 20 percent for long term debt. And the remaining 30 percent is all for you. Of course, this is kind of a best case scenario for most people. You'll probably have to start out on a less favorable division of your income. But if it provides all the benefits of a budget, it will put you on the right track.
2. Decide how you can stick to it
A budget without a commitment is only worth the paper it's printed on. Or more accurately, the app to which it's downloaded. Families have always found it hard to keep track of everything that comes in and goes out. But technology has really made that excuse obsolete. You might be the kind of person who works best with a pad and pen. But if you think that sounds too cumbersome, plenty of apps and sites will give you a hand. Maybe you're looking for accountability. Or perhaps you just need somewhere convenient. These reasons and more are probably enough reason to give these products a look.
Whatever program you use to track your progress, the challenge still lies in the real world. For many people, learning how to budget means getting rid of some bad habits. By truly tracking your spending, you will soon begin to notice where you are wasting money. These will be good places to start trimming. And then, if you need to cut more to meet your goals, you can keep paring down. The upside, of course, is that when you start to get the hang of it you are in control. There is no better feeling than a sense that you are the master of your own destiny. You can sleep easy knowing that even if the unexpected happens, you're prepared. And all of it is possible by simply deciding right now that you are going to stick to a budget.
3. Automate whatever you can
At this point, most of us have a lot of our recurring bills with connected to an automatic payment option. This keeps things simple and will really help a lot when you're learning how to budget. Beyond those bill, technology allows you to send money elsewhere without lifting a finger. We recommend making sure a savings account is one of the destinations. Whatever account you use to simply keep a reserve should automatically receive money each month. From there, you can decide whether to invest or use it elsewhere. But it should always be yours. Forcing yourself to save before anything else will make it seem like second nature.
While this step does help alleviate some day to day tasks, it should not make you complacent. We recommend you reconsider every part of your budget on a regular basis. Are your investments still meeting your long term (or short term) needs? Could you be saving money by switching phone carriers or dropping cable? Asking questions like these regularly can help you stay ahead. In addition, it will teach you to think critically about where your money is going. You worked hard for it, now make sure it returns the favor.
4. Repeat monthly and enjoy financial freedom!
If you've decided that you want to learn how to budget, you've already completed one of the hardest steps. And when you sit down to figure out your next moves, you will soon see results. It doesn't take long to figure out that keeping an eye on your money helps. As you move closer toward your economic goals each month, you'll have more incentive to keep going.
By the same token, though, you will also be tempted to backslide. Finding out you have some extra money might make you want to spend it. We urge you to resist the urge. Look at the big picture and realize that what you do will pay off years down the road. These are also skills that you can pass on to the next generation. If your kids see you set a good example, they might avoid some of the all too common pitfalls. And then when it is time for you to retire and enjoy the fruits of your labor, they will be plentiful.
You probably fall into one of two categories: those who know how to budget and those who don't.
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