Budget Boot Camp! How to Make a Monthly Budget (And Stick to It)

When it comes to money, we all have to decide what to spend and what to save. A monthly budget can be very helpful, but often we don’t know where to begin—or we’re afraid to face our spending head-on. Perhaps these ideas will help you start.

Track what you spend in a month.

Carry a small notebook with you, and write down every penny you spend for a month, even if it’s just a dollar for a candy bar. You’ll see where the pennies go, which will help you deal with where the dollars go.

Download some help.

Find and print a budget worksheet like the one here. [Link tohttp://frugalliving.about.com/od/moneymanagement/a/Budget_Form.htm] It will help you track your spending and determine where you need to focus your money. You’ll write down all of your monthly living expenses and discretionary money spent, such as entertainment or hobbies. You’ll see in black and white where your money goes each month.

Look at your income.

How much do you bring in every month? Write it down. Compare it to the total expenses you recorded in your worksheet. Where do you stand? This step will either make you smile or make you frown. If you’re smiling, just keep doing what you’re doing, and creating a budget may make you smile more.

If you’re frowning, you have some work to do. Keep reading. Is there a way you can bring in more money? Perhaps take a second job or sell some items you no longer need or use? Make a list of 10 ways you could bring in more income. Ideas might include starting a small business (tax write-offs abound!), renting out a spare bedroom, picking up extra hours at work, or doing a paper route in the mornings.

Look at where you can cut back.

Where can you reduce your spending? Could you start taking a lunch instead of going out every day? Can you reduce your insurance premiums on your home or car? Do you really need all those TV channels?

Look hard at every expense with the idea of cutting it by at least 10%. You’ll find some expenses that you can eliminate, freeing up even more money. You’ll see how you can juggle your expenses, so play with it and see what your options are.

How’s your debt?

Do you have credit card debt? If so, paying that off is one of the best things you can do for your budget. Interest rates are high, and chances are you’re paying now for things you used months or years ago, such as dinners and gas for the car.

If credit cards are a problem, cut them up or put them in a bowl of water and freeze them. Reducing your debt (and building your savings) will give you tremendous peace of mind.

Are you saving?

For your own security, you should have an emergency stash of cash or easily available money equal to at least three months’ living expenses. If you don’t have that much built up, start paying yourself first and socking it away. A good place to start is 5% of your net income.

Try different scenarios.

This is your budget, and you make the decisions about where your money goes. Your priorities will dictate what you spend your money for, and there are many possibilities. Don’t be afraid to try new ways to use your money.