Whether you’re struggling to make ends meet or living more comfortably within your means, everyone can benefit from a family budget. Here are some helpful tips and worksheets to get you started.
For those of you new to budgeting, this will give you a clear picture of your financial situation as it relates to your income versus your expenses. If you already have a budget, this reminds you to review the numbers and make sure they are still accurate. If there have been changes in your income or expenses, now is a good time to update your budget, especially during this time of higher inflation.
One of the best ways to stay on track with your financial goals is to create a family budget. If you don’t have it, you need it – now. It’s like a best friend who wants to help you get out of debt and achieve financial freedom. Listen to what it “says” and you will know what you need to do to live comfortably within your means. It’s a powerful piece of paper (or online program)!
A baseline budget shows you how much money is coming in, how it’s being spent, and how much you have left at the end of the month (and hopefully you have left). Budgeting is serious business, and an achievable and realistic budget is key to helping you achieve your financial goals.
Be prepared to sit down with your financial records, pencil, calculator, scrap paper, and lots of patience. Feel free to work on part of the budget one night and finish the next night. Creating a budget can take a few hours, but it doesn’t have to be a long, marathon session.
To develop your family budget, follow these steps:
1. Start by printing the budget spreadsheet HERE.
2. Review the categories in the spreadsheet and modify them according to your income and expenses. Add and remove categories as they apply to your specific income and spending habits.
3. Calculate your average monthly income, including net employment income, spouse’s income and all other sources of income.
4. Use your checkbook, bills and receipts from the last two to three months to calculate the average of your actual monthly expenses in the budget categories shown.
5. For expenses that occur more or less frequently than monthly, convert the annual amount to a monthly figure when calculating the monthly budget amount. For example, if your home insurance is paid annually, divide that annual cost by 12 to get the monthly amount.
6. Add the income category and add the expense category.
7. Subtract total expenses from total income to calculate your net income (Income – Expenses = Net income)
8. If your net income is a positive number, good for you! This means that you have money left over at the end of the month after paying your expenses. Use any extra money to pay off your debts and increase your savings. Remember that extra money left in a checking account tends to get spent.
9. If your net income is a negative number, then your expenses are greater than your income and it’s time to make some immediate adjustments to your expenses. You’re living beyond your means, and it’s time to immediately apply some frugal living techniques. View the article “Getting Out of Debt” for more information on paying off your debt.
10. Review and update your budget quarterly (or at least every 6 months) to see if any changes need to be made and to make sure you stay on track. I know this sounds like a lot of updates, but you can see at a glance if anything has changed in the categories and make changes as needed. Your budget will tell you immediately if you are spending more than you should. “Listen” to him carefully and heed his warning if you overspend.
11. Once you’ve completed your budget, it’s time to record your daily expenses to determine where you can cut expenses and control total expenses. Track your expenses, every day, for everything you spend in a month (minimum of 2 weeks). I know this sounds like an incredibly tedious project (and it is), but it works – I promise. At the end of the month, you’ll have a crystal clear picture of where your money REALLY goes and which non-essential expenses you can cut right away to get a positive net income.
If you prefer an online budgeting option, and there are plenty, check out this list of best budgeting software.
Set financial goals
* Create a financial goals worksheet and list your short, medium and long term goals. This spreadsheet will help you determine how much you need to save each week/month in order to reach your financial goals within the specified time frame.
* List your goals on the worksheet. Be sure to work with your spouse/partner (if applicable) to set the goals so you’re both on the same page when it comes to spending and saving.
* Determine how much you will need to set aside each week/month to achieve each goal within a specific time frame.
* Modify your household budget to include amounts for goals.
* Post your goals in an easy-to-see place to keep you motivated and on track.
* Review your goals on a quarterly basis to ensure you are still on track. If you find that you are not meeting some of your goals, you may need to change your spending habits or modify the spreadsheet. Life happens and sometimes you can’t achieve a goal when expected. The key is to keep working towards the goal.
The next step for many after becoming debt free is to aim for financial independence (FI). This is when you have saved enough to live on your investments (or investments plus Social Security) and you no longer have to work to pay your expenses. There are people who arrive at the FI in their twenties and others who do not arrive until their sixties. Regardless of your age, it’s never too late to use the methods used by the FI movement to become more financially secure.
I recommend the site choosefi.com and encourage you to listen to the informative podcasts on the site. If you’re new to FI, there are plenty of beginner resources available on this website as well. See more details on Choosefi.com.
You have now walked through the telling world of budgeting and should have a much better idea of your financial situation. Keep updating your budget, especially as your expenses go down and you live more frugally.
As I always say, it’s your money – spend it wisely!
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