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Steps for a Real-Life Budget

couple discussing finances

Ready to take control of your hard-earned dollars? First, forget the idea that a personal budget means the end of fun or a life of austerity. By crafting a plan, you’re able to see where your money goes, be ready for surprises, and reduce money worries. Can you say financial security? Here are the 10 steps to be empowered with a budget for real life:

  1. List your total monthly income. This is your take-home pay, but it also includes additional recurring income.   
  2. Add up your monthly expenses. Be sure to check your last few months of bank statements, utility records, and receipts. To keep things organized, form categories—starting with recurring necessities that don’t really fluctuate such as your savings, rent or mortgage, electricity, phone, insurance, and loan repayment (if applicable). Then add groceries/food, transportation, clothing, entertainment, and “other.”   
  3. If applicable, identify any quarterly or other infrequent expenses. If you pay your car insurance every six months, calculate how much you’ll need to save monthly to make the next payment and add that amount to your list of monthly expenses.
  4. Remember what might be on the horizon. What were once considered emergencies can be planned expenditures. Examples include new tires, car maintenance, or home repairs. Estimate how soon these costs might come up and then determine how much you’ll need to save every month to get there. Adding these realities to your monthly budget not only prevents a hit to your balance sheet; creating a reserve is empowering!  
  5. Review your past bank and credit card statements. Are there other expenses that haven’t been categorized yet? The point is to account for every single expense during the course of a month. Leave nothing out.
  6. Subtract your total monthly expenses from your monthly income. If your income is larger than what you spend, congratulations! You’re where you need to be—and you can skip the next step.  
  7. Figure out what to cut from your monthly expenses. The goal: Reduce what you spend each month to equal (or fall below) your monthly income. Separate your needs and wants, so focus on entertainment, food expenses, and the things that just make life more comfortable (but you can live without). Be diligent and honest when determining how and where to cut.
  8. Use the upcoming month to track progress. Engage! Create a system to save all your receipts (or write down transactions). Consider setting up an Excel spreadsheet or find a free phone app you like. Zeroing in on where your money is going helps you understand the nuances of the choices you make, and allows you to adjust as you go. 
  9. Review and revise. It’s one thing to keep track of your expenses and receipts; it’s another to reconcile the totals by each category at the end of the month. Because the goal is to count everything, don’t forget to double-check bank statements. You’re now ready to gauge victories and target areas where you think you can do better.
  10. Reward yourself. Once you’ve become more conscious about where your money is going, you’ll be more empowered to reflect on the things that give you meaning. Think about what’s worth your hard-earned dollars—and remember to add a special line item to your budget to reward yourself.



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