Setting a budget is crucial if you want to take control of your personal finances. Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all approach to spending smart and saving. However, there are several ways to create a budget, but what’s most important is sticking to it. Here are several tips and strategies to ensure you find a budget that works for you.
Know Your Budget Strategy Options
Several popular strategies can be used to track your spending and save more money throughout the month. Of course, sticking to a budget is crucial, but finding a strategy you can stick to every month is important. A few of your options include the following:
Proportional budgets allow you to categorize your spending. For example, you’ll have a category for housing, such as mortgage bills, entertainment, utilities, and other bills like money loans. You can use a proportional budget by splitting up your take-home pay into three categories: needs, wants, and savings. This is also known as the 50/30/20 rule. 50 percent of your take-home pay will go to housing, 30 percent to needs like bill payments, and 20 percent to savings or paying off debt.
This is one of the most flexible budgeting strategies, and you can alter the percentage for each category depending on your income and expenses. For example, you can split it into categories: needs and wants, of which most of your budget should go to needs.
The pay-yourself budget allows you to pay yourself a specific amount before spending money on expenses like bills. It’s the exact opposite of a proportional budget, allowing you to prioritize your savings over everything else. This budget strategy works best for individuals with a significant savings goal, like retiring at the age of 65.
Additionally, you must analyze your finances to determine the amount you can save every month by considering your needs, like rent or money loan payments, bills, groceries, and utilities. Then, you’ll use the leftover money for your savings after you get paid. This method can be challenging because it’s easy to overextend yourself, so it’s crucial to find a savings amount that provides some flexibility with your spending since there are always some variable costs.
The zero-based budgeting technique means knowing exactly how your money will be spent each month; every dollar will have a predetermined use, which takes proper planning. Each month, you’ll start with a zero base, then add up the amount you’ll need to cover all your expenses. Unfortunately, this strategy can be challenging since some costs are variable. For example, your heating and cooling bill may vary monthly, so you may have to use the previous month’s bill to help you determine a similar amount.
That said, zero-based budgeting can benefit individuals with fluctuating take-home pay. For example, if you’re a business owner or freelancer, you earn a different monthly amount.
A values-based budget is a high-level approach that allows you to let your priorities determine how you spend your money. For example, if you want to buy a house, you can prioritize it over living in an expensive, upscale rental. As a values-based budgeter, you can choose more affordable options for things that aren’t high-priority. This strategy works best for individuals who think about their goals and can keep them in mind while budgeting. However, if you can’t hold yourself accountable, it might not be right for you, especially if you truly want to avoid overspending on non-essentials.
The only way to budget successfully is to have goals. Your goals might be anything from reducing or eliminating debt to saving a certain amount every month. However, budgeting just to budget won’t give you enough of a reason to stick to it; you must constantly remind yourself of your goals and track your success to stay motivated.
In addition to setting goals, consider setting milestones. These milestones can be short-term goals that allow you to celebrate your success. For example, long-term goals like buying a home can take many years, especially if you’re aiming for a 20% down payment, which can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 or more, depending on where you live. In any case, you can set milestones for every $2,000 saved toward your goal to help you track your progress and review your successes regularly to motivate yourself to save more.
Prioritize an Emergency Fund
Most people want to reduce their debt. However, you should have a healthy emergency fund saved up before you can start tackling credit card or loan payments. An emergency fund will keep you covered if something unforeseen happens, such as job loss, and can help you avoid further debt. Paying off your debt first may seem helpful, but if there’s a major unexpected expense, you’ll quickly end up in debt. If possible, consider paying towards an emergency savings fund and debt simultaneously.
Review Expenses and Income Monthly
Fluctuations are common because everyone has variable costs, such as utility bills and credit card payments. You may overextend yourself if you don’t consistently review your income and expenses. Check your credit card statements and utility bills to look for patterns. For example, your utility bills might increase during the cold or hot months.
Additionally, you should review your entire budget anytime there’s a change in your income. For example, if you lose your job, you’ll need to rebuild your budget based on how much you can reasonably afford each month. Meanwhile, if you get a new job that pays more or a raise, you can adjust your budget accordingly, allowing you to save more.
Budgeting for Success
Scaling your budget is crucial if you’re like most people with a limited income and many bills. Unfortunately, we can’t all be millionaires, so we have to pay close attention to our spending. Comparing your income and spending every month can help you understand how much you have left over to reach your savings goals.
About the Author
Ashley Nielsen earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration Marketing at Point Loma Nazarene University. She is a freelance writer who loves to share knowledge about general business, marketing, lifestyle, wellness, and financial tips. During her free time, she enjoys being outside, staying active, reading a book, or diving deep into her favorite music.