The 3 Key Tips for Budgeting Your Money

It's almost a truism that budgeting is a critical step for anyone looking to get serious about money management. After all, you have to know where your money is going in order to make plans for the future. But if you haven’t ever tracked your spending, how do you get started?

Here are three tips that will help you set up a budget and start managing your money.

1. Determine Wants Versus Needs

The first step towards creating a budget is determining which expenses are wants and which are needs. Housing, utilities, groceries, transportation, clothing and childcare are generally considered necessities; entertainment, travel and dining out are thought of as “wants,” or what are known as discretionary expenses. That being said, there often is some gray area between a want and a need: You may need a car to get to work if carpooling or public transit is not an option, for example, but a flashy sports car may be a want. Everyone must buy clothes, but designer clothes are not requirements. If you can afford or have already purchased a luxury version of your necessary expenses, remember that downgrading is always an option if you decide that type of expense no longer fits with your lifestyle.

2. Figure Out Fixed and Variable Expenses

Fixed expenses – which, as their name implies, remain the same every month – are the backbone of every budget and should be the easiest to plan for. Examples of these might be your rent, car payment and student loans, which are likely to be the same, month in and month out. Variable expenses, no surprise, are the ones that change every month. Your grocery bills, consumption-based utilities (like oil/gas, electricity, phone service), clothing expenses, travel and car maintenance expenses are all variable expenses.

Budgeting for variable expenses, of course, is one of the harder parts of creating a spending plan. Here are a couple of tips to help make it easier:

  • Track your spending for three to six months, figure out the average over that period and, in the future, aim for the average every month.
  • Instead of tracking variable expenses monthly, try setting a six-month or annual budget goal. This is especially useful for expenses like car maintenance or travel, which might not crop up every month but still need to be considered in a budget as they can be big-ticket items.

3. Decide What Type of Money Manager You Want to Be

It’s important to determine whether you are a big-picture or a detail-oriented money manager. Some people like to know generally where their money is going but don’t want to have to track every coffee they buy; others like to know exactly how much they spend on their latte habit. Determining if you prefer a detailed or broad view of your money will help you decide what type of budget system will work for you. The one caveat: If money is tight, you may have to use a system that tracks every penny. Once your finances are more flush, you may be able to switch to a less detailed tracking system. Here is a closer look at each type of budgeting.

 

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