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A close friend recently asked me for advice on budgeting methods. Admittedly, I use a good ol' fashion excel sheet. I found I enjoy tracking my own expenses and the act of writing it down helps keep me accountable. With that said, I realize this may not work for everyone and as my finances grow, there may be other (perhaps better?) alternatives.

With that said, do you keep a budget? If so, how do you budget? Are you relying on paper and pen, a budgeting app, or something else? Even if you don't budget (), I'd be curious to know why and how you manage your money.

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I use a spreadsheet and budget by paycheck. I budget to pay all my bills and fund my savings/retirement accounts.

I also have multiple savings accounts set up for various types of savings: car, vet bills, fun/vacation,  short-term bills, medium-term bills, emergency, retirement, etc.  It's easy to set these up online.

I use automatic transfers set up to move all my money around when my paycheck is received. Anything left in my checking account is mine to spend for the pay period.

I probably spend 1/2 -1 hour per pay period to check in on things and then I'm done. This is a combination of several financial authors that I have read over the years and it works for me, which is the most important thing. What works for other people may not be exactly the right fit for you.

First step: Pay yourself first!! So how do you make that happen? Grab your checkbook, paycheck stubs, and bills. I would use a spreadsheet, but it's not necessary, it will just set you up better for the future.

Make a list of Living expenses: Rent or mortgage, car payments, lights, Internet, food, childcare, and everything you need to survive. This does not include entertainment.

Now, make a list of all of your income, monthly. Now you have a total of your monthly income and your monthly expenses before entertainment. What do you have left to save? If you are not living above your means, GREAT, we can go straight to adding your name to the Living expense column with a figure that should at least be 20% of your total income. For example, if you make $3000 a month, $600 should be the payment you make to yourself every month in the form of savings. That means $150 a week is "YOU" money.

Now, more than a few Americans can't do 20%, but they still should add themselves to the living expense column, and decide an amount that they will pay themselves every month. That is your emergency or rainy day money. If you're the person earning the money, shouldn't you be on that list of payments??

Now for those that did the math, and found out that they are upside down, and have more expenses than income, that means you are affording things and not purchasing things. A dangerous place to be in. You can afford anything until you can't. A huge amount of people found out the hard way in 2020. If you want something, but couldn't afford to buy it outright with cash, think twice, and then a third time.

When you buy something with credit that does not appreciate in value, you are just throwing at least 30% of your income out of the window every month. That means if you pay $2000 a month in credit card and loan payments $600 is going to someone else. Some stranger that wouldn't even look you in the eye if you passed them on the street. And that's $600 a month equals $7200 a year. Do your own numbers and see what waste is leaving your pocket monthly. It will shock you.

So go back to what you are paying every month on that list and make sure it's improving your lifestyle and not ruining it. Pay yourself first every month, because you are worth it and buy things, and don't just afford things. Turn on the alert on your credit card and debit card so that you are reminded every time you spend money. And fill in your expenses and income, and savings every month on your spreadsheet. Money is like AIR, you never want to run out🙂

The best way for your friend is -- the way that they will actually use consistently and stick with!  I personally use the Mint app to track my spending for me and keep tabs on spending within my various budget categories that way.  It combines transactions across my various accounts and automatically categorizes most things for me, I just need to pop in periodically to code any cash/ATM/check spending that it has no idea how I spent.   If your friend has a good handle on most of their fixed expenses, one alternate approach I recommend to people I coach is to track spending and budget for the 2-3 areas that are the biggest problem areas.  For your friend that could be spending on food, shopping costs, going out with friends, or perhaps something else entirely.  For people just getting started with budgeting, limiting focus on a few known problem areas can sometimes be easier to hone in on (especially if tracking manually like in a spending journal with pen and paper) and feel less overwhelming than tracking everything. 

I too use an Excel spreadsheet. A few years ago I took a weekend and looked at EVERYTHING I was spending money on at the time, added it up by category and divided it by 12 (I get paid monthly). I have everything on auto pay that I can. If I overspend on restaurant food, it comes out of my grocery or entertainment category.  AND!!!!!  I LOVE my Sinking Funds category - it's the biggest thing that helps me with all those things that pop up over the year!

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