The Best Budgeting Tools and Strategies

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Every day is filled with life expenses and the challenge of how to prioritise them. Rent on your flat, electricity and mobile bills are in a battle with your Saturday night dining tab and what about saving for a trip or your retirement?
Creating a budget can be overwhelming. With so many expenses to juggle, where do you even start? Face the challenge head on so you can stop living paycheque to paycheque and start planning for your future. We’ve compiled apps, spreadsheets, strategies and more to help you find the best budgeting plan to fit your needs.
prepare to budget
  • Stop using your debit card for all your purchases. Using cash instead of debit or credit cards has been shown to decrease the amount people spend.1 Physically exchanging money encourages us to be more conscious of our decisions because we can physically see what we have left.
  • Go through your debit and credit purchases for the last six months and divide up your transactions into three categories: living expenses (utilities, rent, groceries, etc.), entertainment expenses (restaurant meals, fun activities, music, etc.), and unavoidable expenses (medicine, oil changes, etc.). Reflect on how these three categories can be narrowed down to two: wants and needs. Once you have a better understanding of the purchases you can avoid, you’ll see the areas where you can save more.
  • Take note of any subscription-style expenses you have like video streaming, magazines, gym membership, etc. Does your use of the good or service justify the cost? Figure out the cost per unit for how much you use; if you wouldn’t pay that price for it, cancel your contract. Reoccurring costs are too frequently forgotten and can add up to major expenditures over time.
  • Unsubscribe from email lists that send you coupons and encourage you to make purchases that you normally wouldn’t make. If you really want to stay subscribed, set up a folder and have the emails drop directly in there so you can access them when you need to. That way they aren’t tempting you every day in your inbox.

Budgeting Strategy #1: 50/30/20

Works best for: someone trying to make room in their budget for savings.
Calculate your after-tax income. Then, disperse it by the percentages outlined below.
  • Housing
  • Utilities
  • Debt
  • Food
  • Memberships
  • Entertainment
  • Vactions
  • Dining out
  • Debt repayment
  • Emergency fund
  • Retirement fund
man using mobile phone
  • Whether you’re looking to create short-term or long-term budgets, Wally has you covered. Balance your income and expenses and see how they fit into your financial goals.
  • When you need to track all of your expenses (especially cash purchases), try OneReciept. Take photos of your receipts and upload them to the app. Once uploaded, you can categorize the purchase and can even export the data to your computer for a more thorough look.
  • If you have flatmates or a partner, Splitwise makes tracking shared expenses a breeze. They do the math for you and send friendly email reminders to help keep each bill-payer up-to-date.
  • If you struggle to keep track of your bill due dates, try BillMonitor. Push notifications remind you when it’s time to pay and will let you know when the payment clears.
  • Paying down credit card debt can be a challenge. Which card do you pay off first? How quickly will you be able to pay it off? Debts Break can help get you started. Input your balances, interest rate and due date and choose the payoff plan that best fits your needs.
  • Wouldn’t it be nice if our daily finances were available like a weather forecast every morning? Spend Today — Save Tomorrow predicts your budget for the day, week and month. The forecast tool will let you know if it’s OK to spend or if you should keep your plans low-key for the weekend. It will even show you how your spending today will affect the rest of your week!
  • Set up a yearlong savings challenge with 52 Weeks Money Challenge. Create a goal based on what you’re saving for, and the app will tell you how much you need to save per week.
  • Budgeting on a trip is just as important as daily budgeting at home. Keep track of your daily expenses when you travel with Daily Spender. The simple interface allows you to specify how much you want to spend on your trip and how it breaks down per day. You can then input the items and see how much you have left at the end of each day

Budgeting Strategy #2: Envelope Method

Works best for: someone who wants to rein in their casual spending.
You’ll need: envelopes or an envelope-sized accordion file, pen, scratch paper, calculator
Determine your after-tax income and subtract all essential monthly expenses (e.g. rent, utilities, car payment, insurance).
Write down any areas you spend money on that are not included in your expenses from step one. Think groceries, gas, pet supplies, entertainment and dining out.
Establish your budget for each category based on the remaining amount you have after step one. If you need help, look back at your last few months of bank statements to figure out how you typically distribute your funds across those categories. Calculate the percentage you give to each category and then use that to guide you.
Label each section in the accordion folder accordingly.
Visit the bank and get out the exact note denomination you need for each section. Avoid borrowing from one section to pay off another.
Spend the money according to what is in the divider — no more than that!
couple budgeting
  • Keep track of your budget wherever you are by using a Google Drive template. Google Drive is a great digital option with tons of budgeting guides available from their template gallery. Choose from family-based budgeting, long-term savings guides, debt repayment and more. You can even download the Google Drive app to check your budget when you’re on the go.
  • If you prefer to take your budgeting offline, use an online budgeting calculator to get yourself started and minimise the calculations you have to do. Online calculators help make sure you cover all the basic expenses, including the little ones you might overlook.
  • Crafting your first budget can be overwhelming, especially when you are looking at the big picture (retirement savings, paying off a car, etc.). Try a budget system that starts at a monthly or yearly guide, and then take it a step further to a weekly or daily budget. Breaking down your budget into digestible pieces can help you stay focused on achievable goals.

Budgeting Strategy #3: Rounding Method

Works best for: someone who wants to start saving on a small scale.
If you are paying down a significant debt or have a variable income that makes it a challenge to commit a set amount to savings, the rounding method is a great option. You can put rules in place or utilise tools to regularly siphon money to your savings account in small, manageable increments. Here are some simple means to accomplish this:

A quid here, a quid there:

Every time you get a one-pound piece back as change, set it aside in a jar for savings. Think of it as an unusable currency that you can later “exchange” into your savings account once a year. If you’d like to save a bit more aggressively, do the same with £5 notes.

No change is good change:

Check with your bank to see if they have a “round up” savings program, or look into automated savings apps like Qapital. “Round up” programs automatically round your debit or credit purchases up to the nearest pound. The difference is then stored in the savings account for you to withdraw whenever you’d like. The automation makes the commitment easy.
References 1ACCC. (n.d.). Infographic: Cash vs. card. Retrieved 23 May 2016, from http://www.consumercredit.com/financial-education/infographics/infographic-cash-vs-card.aspx
 
Barbara Davidson

About 

Babs is a content writer at Enova International, Inc. with a Bachelors in Cinema Studies and English from the University of Illinois (ILL-INI!). She loves binge watching musicals, reading in the (sporadic) Chicago sunshine and discovering great new places to eat. Accio, tacos! Find out more about her on Google+.

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The information in this article is provided for education and informational purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness or fitness for any particular purpose. The information in this article is not intended to be and does not constitute financial or any other advice. The information in this article is general in nature and is not specific to you the user or anyone else.