1. ) Create A Budget
Unsurprisingly, the very first step in budgeting is to actually create a budget. However, we won't assume that you already know how to do that, so let's kick this off with a brief overview of a budget and then jump right into the why's and the how's.
Creating a budget is a great way to get a clear view of your spending habits and ensure you're making smart financial decisions.
Start by listing all of your income sources, such as wages earned from your job, interest or dividends from investments, and any other sources of income. Then, list all of your expenses, including rent or mortgage payments, utilities, groceries, car payments, insurance, and any other necessary or discretionary spending.
If you know your way around a spreadsheet and want to save money, software like Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, & even Notion are great if you're doing it at home and want the full power of a desktop computer and the ability to use it on mobile devices as well.
For those that just want an easy button, there are also plenty of dedicated budgeting apps available as well such as...
- Good Budget
- Every Dollar
- Personal Capital
You can't go wrong any way you do this, and quite honestly, sometimes easy is better. Using dedicated budgeting apps can be extremely useful, especially when they have the ability to import your bank statements automatically!
Just be wary of the cost!
When you have your purchases in order, carefully examine this list to see where you can cut back and save more money.
It sounds simple, and it is, but you’ll be absolutely shocked at how easy it is to spend $5 here and $25 there, and before you know it $500, $1,000 or more has completely evaporated!
Creating and utilizing a budget is a foolproof way to identify your income and monitor your outgoing funds. Much like having a business plan, without a budget it’s incredibly hard to project future success without a solid plan in place.
2.) Prioritize Necessities
You absolutely need to prioritize necessities before anything else (BAE!), allocate enough money for necessities such as housing, food, and transportation every single month in advance so you don’t find yourself in a crunch later.
Everyone needs food, shelter and warmth on a regular basis so the last thing you want is to not have the funds available to cover them!
When budgeting, necessities should be given priority over other wants and desires. You never want to find yourself in a scenario where a couple nights out at a restaurant meant you couldn’t pay rent or electricity for the month!
3.) Track Your Spending
Keeping track of your spending is integral to proper budgeting, so here’s a quick way to do it.
For a few weeks, make sure to look at your spending habits and see if there are any areas you may need to re-evaluate. You could call this the “evaluation” stage, and it’s a smart thing to do because the majority of expenses are recurring, so determining how you spend now can affect how you spend (and save!) later.
Here are 3 basic areas to identify.
Fixed Recurring Expenses: First, keep a record of all your fixed expenses, such as rent, utilities, and insurance, and remember the necessities tip from above, because your fixed recurring expenses are likely necessities and should be weighed more heavily in the budgeting calculation.
Variable Expenses: Next, track your variable expenses, such as groceries, dining out, and entertainment. Pro tip, this is where you’re going to find the most savings. Yes, it might require you to cut back on certain items (Starbucks, anyone?) but the upside can be huge, especially when considering the next area…
Irregular Expenses: Note any irregular or unexpected expenses that come up, such as car repairs or medical bills. Sure, they may not happen often, but you might notice that those unexpected expenses really add up quickly, and in the future you’ll want to create a safety net (savings) to better prepare you for them.
It can also be helpful to categorize all of your expenses into different categories, such as housing, transportation, and entertainment. It’s not mandatory, however, it does allow you to get a more comprehensive look at your overall spend.
Lastly, we do all of this tracking to both understand where we were and plan for where we want to be. Without tracking you basically don’t have a budget, so if what you want is a budget (you do) then it really all starts with proper tracking.
Now that we know what budgeting is about, let’s look at ways you can do it.
4.) Cut Unnecessary Expenses
I know, I know. This is the least fun part. It doesn’t matter if you’re living off of $1,500/mo, $15,000/mo or $150,000/mo; there’s going to be wasted, unnecessary spend eating your budget and potentially putting you at financial risk.
Your goal is to identify these expenses and eliminate what you can. Whether that’s eating out, entertainment, cable, and so on, it’s gotta be done. These are often TOUGH choices to make, but if you want to succeed, these choices have to be made or nothing will change.
Take a serious look at what you’ve been spending and decide if you can cut back. Maybe start with just 1 expense type and see if you can do that for 30 days. Then, add another. These little changes can go a long way towards hitting your goals.
5.) Make A Grocery List You Can Stick To
There’s probably one key rule I always (try) to stick to when I’m shopping - never shop hungry! You end up buying too many things you don’t need, may never cook, might have to throw away, .etc. And, in the end, it’s all just costing you way more money than it needs to.
This is why I recommend creating a grocery list that you can stick to. One way I like to do this is by ordering my food in advance so I can pick it up in the parking lot without going in. Super convenient, I usually get everything on my list and there is no added cost!
That’s a win-win in my book.
If you have the option to order your groceries for pick-up, consider it. If impulse buying food is an issue with you, you should absolutely take advantage of this free feature. Also, why not save yourself time, too?!
6.) Cook At Home
Does this list feel like exercise yet? Are you dreading the items on this list thinking “You know what? I don’t need a budget that badly” I get it. With this tip it hits a little hard if you think of it in binary terms such as “I always cook at home” and “I will never eat out”
That would be incorrect, and a poor way to look at it. Just like a diet and exercise you want to stick to the plan as best as possible, maybe 80% - 90% to get maximum results.
If 90% of the month is 3 days and you’re used to eating out 10+ days per month, maybe consider taking those 3 days as “cheat meals” and eating the other 27 days at home. This way you get a little bit of the fun and save a lot more money!
You know ‘em, you love ‘em. You should definitely be using them! First let’s go through some of the types of coupons, and then how to find them.
Types Of Coupons
Discount Coupons: These offer a fixed amount or percentage off the total purchase price and are the most common for retail sales for all items.
Buy-one-get-one (BOGO) Coupons: If you need 2-or-more of something, BOGO is a fantastic way to save.
Manufacturer Coupons: These are one of my favorite coupons ever, and one of the most common examples are manufacturer rebates on new vehicle purchases. However, it doesn’t always end there. There are so many types of rebates, incentives and specific-day discounts on certain manufacturer items that it’s always good practice to check the manufacturer’s website to see if they have any current deals.
Digital Coupons: These are coupons that can be redeemed online or through a mobile app. Companies like RetailMeNot, Honey & Groupon are great examples of coupons and discount promotions that are available.
Loyalty Coupons: These are given to customers who belong to a loyalty program and can be used for future purchases. Stores reward loyalty in many ways. Sometimes it’s with direct discounts in the form of a loyalty coupon for a later purchase, and others, such as is the case with grocery stores, you may earn discounts on fuel (Safeway is a great example)
Where To Find Coupons
- Sunday newspapers: Many newspapers include coupon inserts in their Sunday editions.
- Coupon websites: There are numerous websites that specialize in providing coupons, such as RetailMeNot, Coupons.com, and Groupon.
- Manufacturer websites: Manufacturers often offer coupons on their websites.
- Store websites: Retailers often have coupons and promotions listed on their websites.
- Social media: Companies may offer exclusive coupons to their followers on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
- Mobile apps: Some companies have mobile apps that offer exclusive coupons and discounts to users.
- In-store: Some stores have coupon dispensers near the entrance or at the checkout that offer store-specific coupons.
- Direct mail: Companies may send coupons to customers through direct mail.
8.) Impulse Purchases
Remember way up at the top of this article where we looked at budget categories and noted “unnecessary purchases”. Yeah, that’s a polite way of saying “you really don’t need that triple shot espresso everyday”
Well, even if you did need that 3x shot, you should also consider investing in an espresso machine and doing it at home cheaper!
The entire point is to stop yourself from making impulsive financial decisions. A budget is a fantastic way to keep yourself in check, but you have to stick to it, so take a good look at what you're about to purchase and ask yourself if you really need it.
If a purchase fits in your budget and doesn't impact debt repayment (below) or emergency savings, you can rationalize it, but let's be real here. Impulse purchases are rarely "needs" and almost always "wants", so it's in your best interest to save those impulse buys for times you really want (and can afford to) splurge.
Otherwise, that money could be better used to pay off debt and stack up savings.
9.) Debt Repayment
It turns out you really do have to pay for that trip to Cancun that you put on your Visa 2 years ago! Now, all jokes aside, we have to look at the reality here. According to Experian the average US consumer holds $96,371 in debt, equal to about $460 billion dollars!
Whether or not you have nearly $100k in debt, you likely have some debt, and rising interest rates are a huge factor in ability to repay.
If you'd like to see what long-term debt and high compounding interest looks like, use our handy credit card debt payoff calculator to visualize your debt and create a monthly repayment plan to pay it off sooner.
The money that you would have otherwise spent on impulse purchases or unnecessary items can now be directed towards 2 things that will dramatically change your financial future.
Your current debt and your emergency fund.
Getting out of debt is one of the smartest things you can ever do. And no, we’re not necessarily talking about a mortgage, that’s an appreciating asset. We’re talking about credit cards, personal loans, auto loans, student loans and other types of unsecured & secured debt.
All of those serve a purpose and can be used as powerful leverage tools, but you really have to be careful that you don’t take on more than you can afford. Use credit cards only for purchases you can afford to pay off in full each month.
If you find yourself in a position where you’re making the minimum payment on debt, it’s time to put a budget in play and start re-allocating extra funds towards paying down your debt.
10.) Automate Savings
There are a bunch of ways you can save money. You can use a low-tech approach and keep a jar at home for change, or you can automate the entire process by allocating a chunk of your income to divert directly into your savings account (check out our banking section to learn more about savings accounts)
There are also similar ways to do this with investments, using products such as Acorns which allows you to invest small amounts so it compounds and adds up over time (great idea!), and automating the diversion of some of your bi-weekly or monthly paycheck funds into a savings account is smart as well.
11.) Negotiate Bills
Not only was this website created to help consumers with this process, I personally utilize this strategy on almost all of my bills and I have for decades.
- Want cheaper auto insurance? Just switch companies! It’s seriously that easy.
- Want to pay less for Internet access? Call up the company, tell them you’re considering cancelling service and ask what they can offer to keep you (this really works)
Just using those 2 examples above you can see the theme (threatening to leave, or actually leaving) and it’s clear that “shopping around” is the #1 way to save money on your bills. This is incredibly easy to do yourself. Companies know it’s cheaper to keep the customer they have than it is to acquire a new one, so it’s in their best interest to make a deal.
This works for nearly any service that has competition. So, if you only have 1 electric, gas and waste service in your town, it’s possible that you don’t have the leverage required to reduce your rate, however, they may also offer a special program to help people that are having trouble making payments or meet certain income requirements.
You won’t ever know unless you ask so give it a try!
This is not a comprehensive list, but it’s a great start.
When you can create a budget and assess your spending habits - you can make big changes. Throw in some tips on saving money and now you’re on your way to both getting out of debt and setting money aside for an emergency fund.