If you’re trying to keep track of your spending and your finances in general, a budget binder could be an important tool.
What is a budget binder? Basically, it’s a big three-ring notebook that helps you corral bills, receipts, and statements all in one place. It can also help you track your income, spending, and savings as you work to budget your funds.
A budget binder is usually a low-cost, low-effort project. You may have the supplies needed already on hand. Once it’s set up and you begin using this system, it can help you stay on top of your flow of funds and how you are tracking on your financial goals.
Ready to learn the how-tos? Read on.
Benefits of Creating a Budget Binder
If you’ve got receipts bursting out of your wallet, bills stored hither and thither (maybe some paper, some online), and you’re just keeping mental tabs on your spending, your financial life might benefit from a little more organization.
One key benefit of a budget binder is that it can help you keep all the important documents regarding your spending, debt, and savings in one place.
While there are plenty of higher tech financial organization tools (such as spreadsheets and budgeting apps), if you’re more of a visual person, you may prefer to use an old-school, pen-and-paper way to stay on track with your money.
Another benefit of the binder system is that it’s completely customizable. You get to choose what you do and don’t want to include in your binder, and can set up the system in a way that works best for your situation and financial goals.
A budget binder can also help you:
• Create and stick to a budget
• Keep track of paychecks
• Track monthly spending
• Stick to your savings goals
• Avoid missing payment due dates for bills and loans
• Save time searching for financial documents
• Help ensure that a spouse or partner has the same understanding about joint finances.
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What You’ll Need to Make a Budget Binder
You can buy premade budget binders, but It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to create your own. A DIY binder can be as simple or fancy as you like. Some items you may need include:
• A three-ring binder (at least 2”)
• A three-hole punch
• Paper clips
• Binder dividers
• Three-hole binder pockets or folders with pockets.
You may also want to create or print out some budgeting worksheets that can help you set up and keep up your money management system.
You can find tons of free printable budget sheets by searching for “free budget printables.” Here are some you may find useful:
• Budget worksheet (this is where you can record monthly income and expenses and see where you are netting out each month; you can print these out these sheets for a budget in Excel and elsewhere)
• Payments due calendar (to help you keep track of bill due dates)
• Income tracker (to record when and how much you get paid, including any income from side hustles)
• Expense tracker (to log each time money leaves your wallet or bank account)
• Debt tracker (to note who you owe, how much you owe, minimum payment amount, and due date)
• Savings tracker (to record the money you’ve set aside for future expenses and goals)
• Net worth tracker (to show your assets, such as how much you have in retirement and investment accounts, minus your liabilities)
• Financial goals (to record what you want to achieve and steps you need to take to get there).
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How to Set up a Budget Binder
You can customize your budget binder to include whatever sections, pockets, folders and money management tools you like.
Below are some sections you may want to consider including:
You may want to make the front section of your budget binder a place for monthly budget worksheets, one for each month of the year. These are sheets that have a space to log your total monthly income, as well as your monthly spending, broken down into budget categories.
These worksheets can help you see whether you’re making more than you spend or spending more than you make. The Federal Trade Commission offers a free budget template that can be useful for tracking monthly income and expenses.
You can go to Consumer.gov and download their free “Make a Budget” worksheet.
Here you can keep track of and record everyday expenses, collect receipts, and also keep and track all your monthly bills. You may also want to keep a calendar here so you can mark due dates in one easy-to-see place.
Recommended: Budgeting for Basic Living Expenses
If you have debt, even if it’s just a car payment or mortgage payment, this is a section to keep track of your debt repayment. You may want to set up a paper for each debt and include what your interest rate is and monthly payments.
You can also use this sheet to record each payment, as well as how much is left to pay on the debt.
You can even put your papers in order of which debt you are working to pay off first, second, and so on.
Here you may want to keep a paper for each savings goal, such as saving for an emergency fund, retirement, college savings, a new car, a home, or any other item or event you are saving for.
On each sheet, you can put the name of the goal, goal amount, and when you hope to achieve that goal amount. You can then record every time you add money.
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Depending on your needs, you may want to include other sections (such as insurance or net worth) and also tweak things as you go. The best thing about a binder is that it’s flexible: You can add to it as you need to because every month is different.
Using Your Budget Binder
It can be a good idea to keep your budget binder in a place where you can access it easily and often.
The main difference between a budget binder that works and one that doesn’t is actually sitting down on a regular (ideally weekly) basis to add receipts and bills and log spending.
Regularly checking in with your binder also enables you to see how you are doing with your spending so far that month. This also allows you to make any tweaks so that you are able to pay all your bills and also put money away into saving for your goals.
A budget binder is a place (typically a 3-ring binder) where you can store all of your most important financial information, including your monthly budget, bills, debt, and savings goals.
Having all your key money-related information and papers in one place means you don’t have to scramble to figure out when the utility bill is due or how many car payments you have left.
A budget binder can also help you get a sense of the bigger picture, including how much is coming in and going each month, and where you may need to tweak your spending in order to live within your means and also save for your goals.
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