Things You Need to Know Before Making Your First Budget

If you’ve identified that you need a budget, great! We all need a budget, whether we’re on low OR high incomes. To not tell our money what to do each month puts us at a financial disadvantage. Before you start, though, there are some things you need to know…

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Image courtesy of Christopher Hall for Dreamstime.com


If you’ve identified that you need a budget, great! We all need a budget, whether we’re on low OR high incomes. To not tell our money what to do each month puts us at a financial disadvantage. Before you start, though, there are some things you need to know:


What Are You Currently Spending Your Money On?

You can’t set a realistic goal of spending £200 on groceries if, for the last six months, you’ve spent £400 per month.

For each of your budget categories, find out what you have been spending. If possible, look back over the past three months. Next, track your spending, for each area (groceries, eating out, clothes shopping, etc) for a month.

Write everything down as soon as possible and keep receipts.

Then, when you make your first budget, decide on a new amount for each category that is closer to what you want to spend. You can always adjust the amount for future months.

Do You Have Money Left at the End of Each Pay Period?

If you do, consider giving this surplus amount a purpose. This could be debt-repayment, savings, or whatever goal is most important to you at the moment.

You Don’t Need to Be Good at Maths to Have a Successful Working Budget

I’m not at all gifted at maths. Not even close (I even still count on my fingers!). All you need is a bit of organisation, a desire to feel better about your finances, a calculator and you’re all set.

Making a Budget Doesn’t Have to Involve Making a Fancy Spreadsheet

I do use a spreadsheet, but for ages, I used a pen and paper. I find it easier since using a spreadsheet that I designed for myself, but pen and paper budgeting is fine.

If you wanted to, you could use a money management app or software. There are loads around, but YNAB is very popular. They also have great video tutorials on YouTube. I signed up for the free trial and must admit, I found it a bit confusing, but I didn’t put enough time into it. You might be one of the many who love it.

Another great place to get started is ‘The Money Advice Service‘ Budget Planner.

Experiment with your budget and see what works best for you.

You Need a Budget If You Want to Improve Your Financial Situation

You’re reading this post because you want to improve your financial management.

If you have debts that you want to pay off, then budgeting will achieve this faster.

If you want to save optimal amounts of money each month, then you need a budget.

If you want to see how fast you can retire or pay off your mortgage, then you need a budget to help you to reach your goals.

If you want your partner to be able to stay at home with the children, then you need a budget to work out how to do this.

How Much Money Do You Owe, Who Do You Owe It to, and When Must It Be Re-Paid?

For most people with debts, especially those with a large debt-load, this can be the hardest thing of all. Everyone can understand not wanting to face up to such a stressful thing. The truth is, though, that unless you know exactly what you’re dealing with, you can’t improve things.

Get all your letters, statements and bank accounts opened up and add up what you owe and who to. Add the dates that these debts need to be repaid.

A Budget Doesn’t Mean That You Can’t Have Any More Fun

Budgets have a negative connotation of being ultra-constrictive. They can feel this way if your basic outgoings are almost as much as your income, even after making major cuts.

Can you meet your obligations and still put decent amounts to savings and/or debt? If so, then recreational spending is a good idea! It’ll stop you from feeling constricted and help you stay on track to reach the goals you’ve set yourself.

How Often Do You Get Paid or Receive Other Money?

If for example, you only receive income from one source every month then this is simple. Yet, if you receive income from more than one source, then they may come at different times.

If you receive a payment every two weeks, you’ll have months where you get three payments instead of two. Looking at exactly when you get paid is important to be able to budget well.

What Are Your Money Goals?

Knowing your ‘why‘ is crucial to sticking to your budget. It’s the difference between following your plan for a few months or staying the course.

You already know that you want to start budgeting your money, but why do you want to? If you don’t already have a strong reason, then ask yourself what will budgeting help you achieve? Return to that thought whenever you’re feeling like you don’t want to continue with your plan.

What Are You Willing to Do to Make Your Income and Outgoings Balance?

After making a budget and some time has passed you may discover:

  • That your outgoings exceed your income.
  • That there’s very little money left to enjoy each month

If this happens, then you may have to make further cuts to your spending, find ways to increase your, or both. It’s wise to bear this in mind before discovering that your budget doesn’t balance.

What Events Are Coming up That Will Cost You Money and How Will You Prepare?

As well as your monthly expenses, there will be random expenses that crop up. This could be an unexpected work trip or an M.O.T. It’ll vary each month, so think about how you’ll budget for this. Will you have a miscellaneous category in your monthly budget? What about for things like Christmas? Will you set aside a set amount each month so that by December you have enough to cover everything?

What Style of a Budget Will You Use?

Read my post: ‘Are You Within The Recommended Guidelines For Your Monthly Expenses?’ and then decide how you’d like to design your budget.

You might want to split up your budget into ratios, such as:

A 10/20/70 budget:

  • 10% of your money to savings.
  • 20% towards extra debt-repayment (over and above what you’re obliged to pay each month).
  • 70% to cover everything else.

Or a 20/30/50 split:

  • 20% of your income goes to savings and/or debt.
  • 30% is for non-essential spending.
  • You keep your vital living expenses under 50%.

You may want to do something completely different.

Whatever you decide, be aware that as you build your budget, you may have to alter your plans. If, say, you have high outgoings compared to income, you may not be able to do what you’d first hoped to do with your money. This is ok. This discovery shows you that you need to think about how you’ll improve your situation. You can make things work.

The First Three Months Will Be a Learning Curve

I’ve heard this so often and it’s true!

An unexpected bill arrives and it’s at this point that you need to make an important decision. Many people will think ”Well, I’ve blown the budget, so I may as well start fresh next month. Now, where’s the nearest coffee shop?” Or, ”I’m terrible with money, there’s no point, and I’m giving up.”

What you could consider, instead, is that budgeting is a skill, like any other and so needs practise.

Life doesn’t care about your spreadsheet or bank account and it’s up to you to be creative. Is it possible to reduce your other spending this month, to cover the unexpected expense? Can you say no to the expense? How will you alter your budget going forward so that you’re as prepared as you can be for these such events?

Finally, return to your ‘why‘. It’s the reason that you’re doing this.

You’ll Sometimes Get Tired of Budgeting

If I, a budgeting nerd can sometimes get fed up with the budget that my husband and I made, then anyone can.

If you can add some ‘fun money‘ into your budget (even if it’s a chocolate bar each week!), then that will help.

Are you facing a long road of debt-repayment? If so, consider budgeting some ‘celebratory‘ money for when you pay off a certain amount. Then get back to it.

Again, remember your ‘why‘. It will sustain you.

If You Have a Partner, Then He or She Needs to Be on Board

This is so important.

If YOU want to live frugally and commit to pay off large amounts of debt, your partner can’t max out the credit card!

It’s fine if one of you takes charge of actually paying the bills and keeping track of paperwork. But you both need to talk about what you want for your immediate and long-term financial future. What sacrifices are you willing to make? Where do you want to spend your ‘disposable’ income each month?

I’ll let you in on how it works in our house. I update the spreadsheet, keep watch over the bank account and ensure that bills are being paid. This is because managing money has become a skill of mine and I (for the most part) enjoy it. Yet Mr.B finds all that stressful, boring and confusing. As boring and nerdy as it sounds, we have a budget meeting every month. Mr.B has an equal say in whatever financial events come up throughout the month.

What surprises us is, when we have our budget meetings, we end up talking about many other things. Money influences so many areas in life, such as where we want to go on holiday or who to buy Christmas presents for. It opens up communications about many things. In fact, I can say that it’s improved our communication in general. I’ve heard this so many times from other couples who budget together too.

If you don’t have a significant other, then you won’t have to concern yourself with the above. That said, you also don’t have somebody to keep you on track. So consider having some sort of accountability partner for support and encouragement.

It’s Worth Doing

I’ve always had a conservative attitude towards spending. I’ve always lived within my means. Yet it wasn’t until I made a budget and identified my financial goals that I saw noticeable results.

Since having a plan to follow, I’ve achieved such a lot. This is despite a low income and three years of being unemployable. I don’t say this to blow my own trumpet, but to encourage you that you can make a positive difference to your life. This comes when you tell your money what to do.

How Much Is Your Income, Actually?

You might be on a £25,000 salary, but what do you actually take home each month? After tax, National Insurance, and pension, what remains? Do you receive any government benefits? If so, how much? Add it all up to see exactly what you’re working with.

Practical Next Steps

  1. Decide if you’re going to have a weekly, fortnightly, four-weekly or calendar-monthly budget.
  2. Track your expenses for a month.
  3. Try to find out your expenses for the past three months.
  4. Work out how much money you owe, who you owe it to and when it must get paid.
  5. Write down what your weekly/monthly income is and what dates you receive it.
  6. Write down your reasons for needing a budget and what your next financial goal is (review often and when you achieve each goal).
  7. Look at your calendar and write down all the bills, (plus birthdays, etc.) that are going to occur in your budget cycle.
  8. Decide which budget style you want to try. You can always switch to a different style if the one you try isn’t a good fit for you.
  9. If you have a partner, set a time for a budget meeting to work through all the steps above. (If you’re flying solo, find an accountability partner).

All this may seem a lot to do, but if you want to succeed, then you need strong foundations. Once you’ve completed the groundwork, congratulate yourself for your effort. Now go and build your first budget!

I love hearing from you and want to grow this community that is growing each day. Don’t be shy! Comment, contribute to the Facebook page, send me a private message or all three! I will always try to help you.

Lisa a.k.a ‘Bunchy’

Why Having an Emergency Fund Will Help You to Sleep Better

Living ‘paycheck to paycheck’ is a stressful existence and if using debt is your only option for dealing with a major financial incident, then anxiety levels can begin to creep up and affect your quality of life. Nobody wants to be lying awake at night worrying if a cheque is going to bounce.

* Image courtesy of Dreamstime.com

What almost all experts will also tell you is that before you decide upon any other saving goals, you must first be working towards building an emergency fund (sometimes known as a ‘rainy day’ fund).

Emergency funds are predominantly a way of protecting yourself against a loss of income; which for most people will be a job loss. Of course, there may be other circumstances that will necessitate tapping into your emergency savings, such as unexpected and expensive car repairs that your usual monthly budget cannot cover.

Living ‘paycheck to paycheck‘ is a stressful existence and if using debt is your only option for dealing with a major financial incident, then anxiety levels can begin to creep up and affect your quality of life. Nobody wants to be lying awake at night worrying if a cheque is going to bounce.

Over the past two months, we’ve had to dip into our emergency savings for major and unexpected car expenses. It’s been a pretty stressful time, and although we hadn’t quite reached our goal of what we wanted to have saved in our emergency fund, the car debacle was a hell of a lot less stressful than it would’ve been had we not had some money in the bank to pay for not only the extensive gear-box work we had done but eventually a new (used) car!

Generally, something is an emergency expense if it’s a) unplanned, b) necessary and c) urgent. So your child’s birthday wouldn’t be classed as a good reason to take from your emergency fund, as you know exactly when it’s going to occur each year!

Some finance specialists advise that you have an emergency fund equal to three to six months’ worth of your usual income, whereas some recommend that you have three to six months’ worth of your usual monthly expenses (or outgoings) saved.

If you’re going to use your expenses to calculate your emergency fund savings goal, then you may want to know that some professionals recommend that you include only vital expenses (so this wouldn’t include any of your usual recreational or discretionary spendings unless you’d end up with a penalty that would cost you more than what you’d save by cancelling it – such as a mobile phone contract).

You may also want to consider if, during whatever financial emergency you’re going through, you’ll want to temporarily pause saving, making additional debt repayments and any investing towards retirement.

Of course, you’ll be able to reach your savings goal of having a complete emergency fund much faster if you’re aiming for covering only vital expenses. However, for those on a low income who don’t have much left to spend on non-essentials each month, there may not be a lot of difference between six months of income and six months of expenses!

When we first decided what our absolutely vital minimal expenses were, we looked at our usual monthly budget and went through each category and expense and subtracted any budget item that we could easily cancel without penalty if Mr.B were to lose his job. By doing this, we developed our emergency budget and were quickly able to work out how much (or little) was required to hit our goal of six months of expenses in the bank.
If the proverbial hits the fan then we can follow that bare-bones budget.

If you hate the idea of tightening up on your spending habits during say, a job loss, you may prefer to have three to six months of expenses saved, but be aware that if you don’t reduce your spending during the period of unemployment (or going from two incomes down to one) and you still haven’t found another job at the end of those three or six months, you’ll face problems. By cutting right back, you’ll be able to make that emergency fund last as long as possible and furthermore, you’ll have less to put back into the emergency fund once the storm has passed.

Do you have an emergency fund? If so, how long did it take to save? How many months of income or expenses did you decide upon and why? If you don’t have an emergency fund, is it something you’d like to achieve? If not, how will you deal with large and unexpected expenses or a loss of income? I’d love to hear from you!

For more on saving, check out: ‘Are You Within the Recommended Guidelines for Your Monthly Expenses?’

I love hearing from you and want to grow this community that is growing each day. Don’t be shy! Comment, contribute to the Facebook page, send me a private message or all three! I will always try to help you.

Lisa a.k.a ‘Bunchy’

The Difference Between Savings And Investments

If you’re just beginning to learn about how money really works and are wanting to take control of your finances, you may not be completely clear about the terms that are used in the financial sphere.

* Image courtesy of Dreamstime.com

If you’re just beginning to learn about how money really works and are wanting to take control of your finances, you may not be completely clear about the terms that are used in the financial sphere. Hopefully, I can clear up one common cause of confusion; the difference between saving and investing money.

Most people know what saving is, but it’s good to define the meaning so that you can see the difference between this and investing. So, to save means putting away money a bit at a time, usually to pay for something specific or for a ‘rainy day’ fund.

Savings are usually kept in a bank or building society account and your money is easily accessed when you need it. Some accounts may pay you interest on your savings, but this is more of a benefit rather the sole aim of the money.

Money kept in savings is generally at a very low risk of loss, but remember that savings are still at risk of losing value due to inflation (where the buying power of your money and any interest earned on it doesn’t keep up with the increased cost of living and therefore what your money can buy now will be less than what it can buy you in the future).

Investing is still a form of saving, but here you are taking some of your money with the aim of growing it by putting it into things that you think will increase in value e.g. investing in stocks, shares or rental property.

Money that is placed in such investments is at a higher risk of loss, as whatever you choose to invest your money into may not increase in value and may actually decrease in value. Usually, the higher the risk of an investment, the higher the amount of ‘return‘ (what you’ll get back on top the initial amount you put in) you could receive.

For more on saving and investing, you may like to read ‘Are You Within The Recommended Guidelines For Your Monthly Expenses?’

I love hearing from you and want to grow this community that is growing each day. Don’t be shy! Comment, contribute to the Facebook page, send me a private message or all three! I will always try to help you.

Lisa a.k.a ‘Bunchy’