Learning to create a budget is an essential skill to learn, and one that will keep you one right path to reach your financial goals.
A budget serves as a guide to keep you on the right path to reach your financial goals. Budgeting helps you take control of your finances, allows you to plan for the future, and shows you how you are spending your money. By analyzing this information on a routine basis, you will make better decisions and be prepared to adjust your spending or savings.
Creating your first budget does not have to be complicated; you may find it’s easier than you think. The more challenging part is sticking to it. Using an easy and “keep it simple” strategy can help. You will need to make an effort and take time to input the numbers. And most importantly, make it a habit to monitor and compare the results to check if you’re on target or need to make changes. Creating a routine and setting a reminder (via phone or calendar) can help you remember to complete these tasks. Having an accountability partner or an advisor can also be helpful if you need someone to “check in” with you and answer any questions you may have.
Tools to make financial projections and use them for planning
Using a one-page simple excel sheet, decide the time frame you want to forecast and track your budget. For this article, I will provide an excel template with a time frame of 6 months.
The first column will be labeled description to help identify the different elements of the budget (income and expenses):
The money you plan to receive is your income. Examples of income are allowance, job, side gigs, student loans, etc.
The money you spend is expenses. Organizing them by categories is recommended to get a better-detailed view. Most college students have the following categories of expenses: Living Expenses, Loans/Credit Card Payments, Subscriptions, and Entertainment. Include a “Miscellaneous” category in the budget to set aside money for unexpected expenses.
Some of these are fixed expenses, meaning they will not vary (like rent or subscriptions, for example). The amount to be paid each month stays the same.
Variable expenses, on the other hand, vary from month to month. These are the ones that you can adjust and keep an eye out for to make sure you are sticking to your budget.
Now that you understand the items included in the Description column, the next step is to create columns for each month to track all of the income and expenses monthly. Each month should have two columns, one labeled projected and actual.
By having two columns per month, you will use the projected to plan your month and the other to record the actual expense. This will help you understand how you spent your money, if you spent it as planned, and what changes you need to make moving forward to stay on track and achieve your goals. Each column has a total amount at the bottom. This amount is calculated by adding all income and subtracting all the expenses. The total of each column should be a positive number. If you end up with a negative number, you are over budget and need more income to cover all expenses. If you end up with a negative number, ask yourself what changes you need to make so that total is a positive number each month.
In the monthly columns, fill in the projected amounts for each item listed in the description. At the end of each month, write the amounts spent in the actual column.
Compare your projections against actual results to check if you’re on target or need to make changes. If you notice that you have extra money each month, you can take the next step to open a savings account so that you have money set aside for future investments.
Another tool to help you keep your finances on track, free and relatively easy to use, with no technical knowledge or training required, is waveapps. The main advantage of using a software service like this one is that it automates the task of keeping track of each one of your deposits and expenses. It also provides a visual representation and breakdown of each and your total bank balance directly on the home page.
After creating your account, you sync your bank accounts and credit cards. Moving forward your core task is to categorize your transactions. You can do this weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. If you create a weekly routine, it should only take a few minutes per week to categorize your transactions. Doing this will keep it accurate!
In a nutshell, it looks like this:
- Sign in and go to your Transactions page
- Indicate the category of the transaction (e.g., Subscriptions, Rent, Utilities, Grocery, Entertainment, etc.). Waveapps will remember and auto-categorize future transactions, so it is necessary to review them.
- Click the “Mark as Reviewed” button once you have revised that they are correctly characterized.
Note: If you received or paid for something in cash, you must add a manual transaction or use their app to scan the receipt.
At the end of the month, use the totals per category in Waveapps and input them into your excel sheet. Then review your projected column and compare it to the actual column to see how you matched up! I’ve also added an extra area to also keep track of your debt so that you can make smarter financial decisions.
Sheila Slick, MS, is a Business and Leadership coach, owner of Five Milestones LLC, Co-Chair SCORE Volusia/Flagler, Certified Business Mentor, and Entrepreneurship Facilitator. She holds a Master of Science degree in Leadership from ERAU Worldwide and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. Using her expertise and education, Sheila helps individuals and businesses assess and execute business and leadership development strategies leveraging technology. She has been contributing her knowledge and expertise in this field since 2009. To learn more skills, visit entrepreneurmindsetprogram.com