Does living on a budget sound like a bummer, all about scrimping and saving? It shouldn’t! A budget is really just a way to evaluate and keep better track of what money you have coming in and going out each month.
Having insight into the big picture of your personal finances can make it much easier to figure out where you may need to make tweaks so you can reach your personal and financial goals.
Rather than feeling restrictive, living with a budget can actually make your life easier and less stressful, while also helping you prepare for the future.
Here are some ideas to help get you going.
1. Determining What’s Coming In
The first step for creating a budget is to figure out how much money you are earning after taxes every month.
This might be easy for salaried W2 workers who automatically get their taxes taken out of every paycheck. It can be a bit trickier for 1099 freelancers who only see how much they are taxed at the end of the year.
For freelancers, there is a simple solution though: Using how much you made the previous year and what taxes you paid, you can then pay estimated quarterly taxes to the IRS. This can help give you a more accurate picture of how much you are earning on a monthly basis.
2. Listing Spending Categories
Next, you’ll want to figure out how much you’re spending each month.
This involves going through one month’s worth of expenses and dividing everything up into categories, then figuring how much you spend on each. You can do this by hand, put the info into an online spreadsheet, or use a budgeting app. Your financial institution may offer one, or you can download one.
Spending categories typically include necessities, such as rent or mortgage, transportation (like car expenses or public transportation costs), food, cell phone, healthcare/insurance, life insurance, childcare, and any debts (credit cards/ loans).
You’ll also need to list non-essential spending, such as cable television, streaming services, concert and movie tickets, restaurants, clothing, etc.
You’ll also want to include monthly contributions to a retirement plan and personal savings into the expense category as well.
In addition, you may want to have an emergency fund in place that could cover at least three to six months of living expenses just in case. If you don’t have an emergency fund, consider putting it on the spending list, so you can start putting some money towards it each month. (Putting it in a high-yield savings account can be a wise move to help it grow. You might even automate your finances and have a small sum deducted right after payday and put into the account)
3. Seeing Where You Stand
Once you have a sense of your monthly earnings and spending, it’ll be time to see how your numbers line up with general budgeting guidelines. One good budgeting method is the 50/30/20 model, which looks like this:
• 50% of money goes towards necessities such as a home, car, cell phone, or utility bills.
• 30% goes towards your wants, such as entertainment and dining out.
• 20% goes towards your savings goals, such as a retirement plan, a downpayment on a home, emergency fund, or investments.
By looking at your income versus your expenses, it will be easy to see what, if any, changes need to be made.
4. Making Adjustments
There are many ways to adjust how much is being spent in order to reach certain personal finance goals.
The easiest way to change your spending habits is to trim some of your nonessential expenditures. For example, perhaps internet and cable television costs $120 a month, and if cable is cut out, it would result in a savings of $60 a month.
Not taking as many trips to the mall or cooking (instead of getting takeout) more often could start adding up to a big difference.
Using coupons and promo codes when shopping, as well as or going to discount or second-hand stores can also reduce costs.
Living on a budget may also require looking at the bigger picture and finding places for more significant savings.For example, maybe rent eats up 50% of your income and it’d be better to move to a less costly apartment. Or, you might want to consider trading in an expensive car lease for an older, pre-owned vehicle.
5. Negotiating With Credit Card Companies and Service Providers
If debt and bills are too high, then it’s going to be much harder to budget and save up money for the future.
One way to cut back is to negotiate with credit card companies and service providers. Credit card companies want their money back, so when cardholders call and say they can pay if some adjustments are made, they may be willing to help.
Cardholders can ask for their monthly payment to be lowered, see if their interest rate can be lowered, and/or ask if it’s possible to remove late fees.
It may also be possible to lower monthly bills for internet, cable, streaming services, medical bills, and car insurance. For instance, if you see a promotion going on for cable and internet, you can always ask your cable company if they can apply that promotional rate to your account.
You can also use a car insurance quote comparison tool to find a lower car insurance rate, or call up a hospital to negotiate a medical bill.
6. Taking on a Side Gig
Once a living budget is made, it may seem clear that additional income could be a big help. As long as someone has the time and energy, they can take on a low-cost side hustle to bring in more money. Some ideas include:
• Selling things on eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace
• Having a garage sale.
• Creating an Etsy store and selling homemade goods
• Driving for a rideshare or food delivery service
• Giving music lessons
• Renting out a room on Airbnb
• Walking dogs
• Cleaning houses
• Handling social media for small businesses
• Selling writing, photography, or videography services to clients
Setting aside additional income for necessary expenses, and not spending all of the money on wants, can be a big help when it comes to living on a budget.
Recommended: Benefits of a Side Hustle
7. Using Cash Whenever You Can
It’s easy to spend money when only using credit cards and debit cards. Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to use cash as it can be easier to see the impact of your spending. You might be less likely to go into debt since money doesn’t seem invisible anymore. Consider taking out enough cash at the beginning of the week to cover your daily expenses to help you stick with your budget.
Living on a budget doesn’t have to feel onerous and restrictive. In fact, the process of setting up a budget and sticking to it every month, can eventually free you from financial burdens and help you reach your life goals.
Getting started involves listing everything that is coming in, and everything that is going out each month. The next step involves figuring out where you stand, and what you can do to get closer to your personal and financial goals. This may involve cutting back in some areas and also finding some ways to boost your income.
Keep at it and soon you will be in control of your finances, rather than the other way around. Your bank can also help you stay on top of your budget. For instance, with a SoFi Checking and Savings Account, you can easily track your spending on your dashboard within the app. Plus, you’ll earn a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay no account fees, and spend and save in one convenient place. All of those features can help you be a better money manager.
SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.50% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.
SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.50% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.
SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.50% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.
SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.
Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.
Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 8/9/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet..
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.