Creating a budget when you’ve never used one feels like a daunting task. If you’ve spend your life with money coming in and going out with no plan on what it’s paying for, now’s the time for a budget. Perhaps you’re swimming in debt and you can’t find a way out.
Building a budget is a lot like building a house. You need a strong foundation before you can do anything else. Ensuring that your needs are met each month is of utmost importance. Needs are the foundation of your budget. Don’t mistake bills for needs. Just because it’s a bill does not mean it’s a need. Your needs are housing, food, medicine, clothing, and transportation to get you to and from work. Credit card bills, Netflix, RV payments, and even an expensive cell phone in most cases are not needs. And in rare instances or unless you work from home, internet service is not a need either.
List Your Income
How much do you make or anticipate making each month? This includes all household income. For instance, if you have a roommate, how much do they pay for rent and utilities? If you’re married and you have a joint account, how much do they make each month? Your income is the starting point to seeing if you need to make adjustments to your lifestyle, find a way to make more money, sell off some assets, or downsize anything in your life.
List Your Needs
I said earlier that your needs are the foundation for your budget. Needs include housing expenses, food, clothing, vital medicine, and transportation. List these and subtract them from your monthly income. How much money is left? That’s how much you have to focus on paying down debt, and to go toward other financial goals and fun things. Your needs are not negotiable.
List Your Debts
This includes medical debt, car payments, credit cards, your credit builder card, and store credit. Anything you owe should be listed here. You want to write down the minimum monthly payment along with the total amount owed. Subtract these minimum payments from the amount that was leftover after your needs were accounted for. Is there anything left? Yes? Great!
Make Room To Save
Saving is vital especially if you want to stay out of debt. Emergency funds can help you take care of urgent situations without going into more debt. It’s important to start with a month’s worth of expenses, and then you can work on paying off debt while finding ways to boost your income through your daily job or a side gig that takes time and effort but has large potential paydays through sales or services in industries like events, real estate, or even transportation like Uber and Lyft.
List Your Wants
Here’s the place to budget for your fun stuff. Pick all the stuff you’d like to include in your budget. This can include things like saving for a vacation or for your internet and satellite service (see your rural internet options here), for example. If you’re drowning in debt, it’s still important to budget even a small amount of money each month to do something fun. Whether you splurge on a monthly Netflix subscription or a couple of latte’s from Starbucks, these wants can help you get over the challenge of getting rid of the debt.
How Much Is Left?
Got more left? There are so many ways to use this amount. You can use it to pay extra on debt, to build that emergency fund, or even to give to a cause you care about. If you’re stuck in the negative however after your needs, debts, and wants, it’s important to look for ways to either make more money or spend less. Getting out of debt is a great way to increase your disposable income each month. But when you make less than your bills it feels overwhelming to get out. Look for things to sell in your home and try and pay off some of the smallest debts first. This will help you feel accomplished and get you motivated to keep going.
A budget is a fluid thing. You start by building with your needs, but money should be coming in and going out. Planning ahead is what helps you stay on track to your financial goals and it ensures that your needs are always met first each month. Once you get used to budgeting each month, you’ll be able to get more complex by adding in investments and other more complex financial tools.