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How To Set Up a Budget

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Boy holding bag full of fruits and vegetables in grocery store
Daly and Newton/ Stone/ Getty Images

Setting up a budget can be a daunting task. There is no reason to be intimidated by this process. Once you have set up your budget you can easily see where your money is going and how much you have left to save and spend. Just follow these seven easy steps.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: 60 minutes

Here's How:

  1. Determine Your Income

    You need to know how much money you will have each month to meet your expenses. If you are starting a new job you may want to use a payroll calculator to determine how much money you will bring home each month. You may be surprised at the figure. If you have a variable income, you will need to set up a different style of budget, and learn to manage your irregular income carefully.

  2. Determine Your Fixed Expenses

    Your fixed expenses are items that will not change from month to month. These items can include rent, a car payment, car insurance, your electric bill and your student loan. You should also include savings in this category as well. It is important to pay yourself first. Ideally you should put at least ten percent of your income into savings each month.

  3. Determine Your Variable Expenses

    After you have listed your fixed expenses you will want to determine the amount that you spend on variable expenses. These items may include your groceries, eating out, clothing and entertainment. These are also considered variable because you can cut back on how much you spend on these categories if you need to. You can determine what you spend by reviewing the last two or three months of your transactions in each category. Be sure that you are including seasonal expenses as you plan your budget. 

  4. Compare Your Expenses to Your Income

    Ideally you should create a budget where your outgoing expenses match your income. If you assign every dollar a specific place this is called a zero-dollar budget. If your amounts do not match you will need to adjust accordingly. You may need to scale back on your variable expenses. If you have extra money at the end of the month, reward yourself by putting that money directly into savings. If you have cut back significantly on your variable expenses and still can not meet your fixed expenses you will need to find ways to change your fixed expenses.

  5. Track Your Expenses

    After you have set up your budget you need to track your expenses in each category. You can do this with budgeting software, on Quicken or Microsoft Money or on a ledger sheet. You should have an estimate of what you have in each category at all times. This will help to prevent your from overspending. If you sit down for a few minutes each day you will find that you spend less time then you would if you put it all off until the end.

  6. Adjust as Needed

    You can make adjustments easily throughout the month. You may have an emergency car repair. You can move money from your clothing category to help cover the cost of the repair. As you move money around make sure that you do so in your budget.

  7. Evaluate Your Budget

    After you have followed your budget for a month you may find that you can cut back in a few areas, while you need more money in others. You should keep tweaking your budget until it works for you. You can evaluate at the end of every month and make changes according to the expenses in the upcoming month as well.

Tips:

  1. When you are working on commission, you will need to follow a slightly different plan. Setting up a commission only budget means saving more on the months you do well to cover the slower months.
  2. It can take time to make your budget start working. If you run into problems you may want to try one of these budget fixes. Starting to budget is just one of the steps you can take to start cleaning up your finances today. 
  3. As you get better at budgeting, it is important to keep your spending, bills, and savings goals in balance. You can do this using the 50/20/30 rule with your expenses.

What You Need:

  • Your Paystub
  • A List of Expenses
  • A Calculator
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  2. Money
  3. Money in Your 20s
  4. Money in Your 20s Basics
  5. Budgeting
  6. How To Set Up a Budget

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