Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Road to Savings - Creating a Budget

    Creating a budget has been the most integral step in my journey to becoming financially responsible. It is a skill that is seldom taught in school, but I believe is one of the most important life skills that one can have. Creating and sticking to a budget allows you the freedom of knowing that you will have enough money for what you need throughout the month. Below I will list the steps that I used to create my very first budget.

There are two basic schools of thought when it comes to creating a budget. You can choose to physically hold onto your money, choosing to keep it somewhere in your home or office. Or you can choose to manage your money electronically. Personally, I believe that physically handling the money makes it easier to keep track of spending and helps keep one from overspending. The method that I've chosen to use and have had success with is the simple "envelope" method. There are various websites that provide spending trackers and budgeting tools if you choose the high-tech method ( is one such website) but I think that for a beginning budgeter, physical cash is the way to go.

The first step in creating your budget is to figure out your total monthly income. This is how much money you have to spend each month before any expenses. The next step is to figure up your guaranteed monthly expenditures, such as rent/mortgage/utilities/fuel/groceries. It will take some trial and error over time to realize just how much you need to set away at the beginning for something like groceries or gasoline because these have varying prices. Once you have a ballpark idea, you can average it out or put aside just above what you know you will need, to be safe. With the envelope method, you will physically label an envelope for each category and put the corresponding amount of money that you budgeted for each category in the correct envelope. Once the money in each category is gone, you have no more for that month. Being able to see at any time how much is left makes it easier to stay on track with your spending than checking it electronically, in my opinion.

Here's an example budget:

$1000 Per Month Fixed Income
-$300 Per Month Rent
-$50 Per Month Utilities
-$100 Per Month Gasoline
-$200 Per Month Groceries
This leaves you with : $350 Dollars.

This remaining $350 dollars is yours to do with what you please. I recommend delineating more categories for this flexible income, such as: entertainment, savings etc.

Once you have a budget set, and you know that you have your amounts set at reasonable values for each category, I believe it is most important to create a category for savings that you put away each month out of the flexible income you have left over. I choose to do this at the very beginning of the month, before I have paid anything off. Although this limits my flexible spending money, it ensures that I put some money away every month, no matter what.

A word on credit cards: For those first starting out in the world of personal finance, credit cards may seem like a godsend, allowing one to pay off purchases later if the cash is not currently available. It doesn't take much thought to realize why this could be problematic, simply look at the amount of credit card debt that the average American has today. Although building good credit is important, I would recommend straying away from credit cards until one is completely financially stable enough (I.E. steady income, solid budget and ample savings) to be able to pay off the cost of a small miscalculation.

Creating a budget is one of the first steps a high-school or college student can take to help transition into financial adulthood. Best of luck, and I invite anyone to comment below with any questions or comments about this article, or budgeting in general.

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