They say old habits die hard, and when it comes to having a budget (or lack thereof), developing that habit can be one of the hardest. Tapping into the momentum of the new year, we want to help you create structure to live within your means.

Having a budget helps you solidify your financial goals. Clearly defining your goals is important to making progress on your financial life. A budget is a tool to track your progress. Believe it or not, it actually can make your life easier. Here are some suggestions for creating one that works for you.

Prioritize your spend. The most important thing to start with is calculating your actual income. That’s your after-tax income, your net income. From there, think about the categories of your expenses. According to the financial behavior experts at Common Cents Lab, a general rule of thumb suggests you divide your income across the following major categories:

% of income Category
30% Housing (mortgage, rent)
20% Saving or debt reduction
40% Other bills & groceries
10% Discretionary spending

 

This may vary depending on where you live and what your financial priorities are, but it’s a guideline for getting started.

Evaluate your spending habits. Another helpful exercise is to review your spending trends over the last year to see how much you spent on different categories. You can pull this from your credit card, banking statements or other online account aggregation tools.

Prioritize what matters to you, and throw out anything that doesn’t. This exercise is an opportunity to weed out the things that aren’t important to you, such as subscriptions you never use or other frivolous purchases. If you think you can scale back, set a lower budget than you spent the last year. If it’s something you want to invest in more this year, set a higher budget.

Don’t forget to prioritize the line items your future self will thank you for: paying down debt, saving for a house, etc. Carving out budget now (even if just a little bit) can make a big difference 2, 5 or 10 years out. Build the discipline now so you can thank yourself in the future.

Automate. Creating the budget is one thing. Sticking to the budget is the hard part. One important tip is to automate as much as you can. The less you have to think about something, the easier it is to build the habit. Find ways to make automatic contributions to your 401k, debt payments, and more. Many companies can automate retirement contributions to come right out of your paycheck. EarnUp is a great tool to stay on top of your debt payments. The more it’s on autopilot, the easier it will be for you to stick to budgeting.

Check progress. Check your budget every month. On the first of each month, check it to see how you did last month and what you need to adjust for the next month. Schedule time on your calendar so you don’t forget. That way you can keep a close eye on where you need to adjust your spending or saving. Need to take it easy on takeout? Have some leftover funds you can put towards debt? Keep an eye on how you’re doing and make adjustments to stay on track. It doesn’t have to feel like a chore. Use this time to reward yourself when you find that you’re under budget.

Get support. Remember it’s a discipline, and don’t be shy about calling in for help. It’s like anything—going to the gym or practicing a new instrument. Having partners can help with the discipline. You and a friend or your significant other can make a pact (a resolution!) to each create a budget and hold each other accountable for sticking to it.

To help you start the year on the right foot, we’ve created a blueprint for you, which you can download here: Monthly Budget Template.

Once it’s downloaded, here’s how to use it:

  • You’ll find two separate tabs: Summary and Detailed Monthly Budget
  • In the “Detailed Monthly Budget” tab, fill out the target budgets for all relevant line items in Column C. Use your trends from last year as a reference point and make adjustments as necessary.
  • From there, track progress each month by entering your actual income and spending in the same tab (columns D through O).
  • Review the “Summary” tab for a higher-level overview of how you’re doing. This sheet pulls from the detailed breakdown.

Remember that a budget isn’t static. Check it frequently and make adjustments as needed. Make sure the budget is reflective of your lifestyle and goals

It’s not easy but you can do it! Future you will thank you 🙂

 

EarnUp blog content is for educational purposes only. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as financial advice. Please consult a financial adviser for advice specific to your financial situation. EarnUp makes no guarantees as to the accurateness, quality, or completeness of the information and EarnUp shall not be responsible or liable for any errors, omissions, inaccuracies in the information or for any user’s reliance on the information.