During times of uncertainty, creating and sticking to a budget is one of the most important steps you can take to maintain your financial wellness. It is also an excellent tool that can help you stay on top of your expenses, avoid taking on unnecessary debt and help you continue to progress towards your financial goals.
But where do you start? There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to creating a budget, but we've simplified the process to three simple steps to help you get started.
1. Gather Your Financial Data
From your cable bill to grocery spending, gather your current expenses and income. If you’re not sure where to start, look at your past month’s bank statement and record your spending.
This is also a great time to compare your wants vs. needs. If you need to make more room in your budget, prioritize your expenses so you can easily remove items that you can live without – even if it’s just temporary.
2. Create Your Budget
After you've gathered all of your financial data, it's time to put your numbers to work. If you prefer paper and pen, use a notebook and subtract your expenses from your income. Excel spreadsheet is also an excellent tool that can quickly become your best friend with formulas that do your math for you.
After you’ve subtracted your expenses from your income, it’s time to see if you’re over or under budget. If you’re under budget – congrats! Use your extra funds to boost your emergency savings. If you're over budget, it's time to revisit your needs vs. wants list and remove some expenses.
TIP - If you prefer the digital route, use USC Credit Union’s Free Budgeting Tool.
3. Track Your Spending
Step 3 is when your budgeting gets put to the test. To make sure you’re staying within budget, it's important to track your spending for categories like groceries, dining out, and entertainment.
To keep it simple, try the envelope system. Begin by selecting your top spending categories. Then create an envelope for that category filling it with your budgeted amount of cash. Every time you need to spend from that category, use your envelope to know exactly what you have left to spend.
Not a fan of using cash? Try using GoodBudget – an envelope budgeting app.
After you create your budget, it might take you a few months to get used to your new spending habits. Reset for the next month and take notes on what you need to adjust.
Want to learn more about budgeting before you put your spending to the test? Take our free Budgeting Basics e-course.