Budgeting often gets a bad rap. But it’s only unbearable if you think of it that way.
Essentially, a budget is just a plan for what to do with your money. We spend so much of our time at work earning a living. We might as well invest an hour or so into deciding the best ways to allocate those funds.
Going into 2020, it’s time to stop wondering where the heck all our money goes each month. Here’s to a prosperous New Year — one where we control our money rather than letting it control us.
The Penny Hoarder’s Top 10 Budgeting Posts of 2019
We’ve rounded up our favorite stories of the year on starting and maintaining a budget.
1. Download a Free Budget Spreadsheet Template
A spreadsheet is a popular way to record your income and expenses. But don’t worry if your Excel skills are rusty.
There are various budget spreadsheets available for free online that do the work for you. Whether you budget for the week, month or entire year, there’s a template for you. You can even find spreadsheets customized to specific events, like budgeting for a wedding.
2. Or Use an App to Manage Your Money
If you prefer a more digital approach to budgeting, there’s an app for that. Make that, several.
We evaluated eight of the best budgeting apps out there. Check out our breakdown of the pros and cons. The bonus? All the apps we reviewed are either free or include a free trial so you can test them out before committing to a paid subscription.
3. Include All the Budget Categories That Apply to Your Life
Making a plan for your money can be tricky if you forget to account for all the expenses you really have. When you overlook the cost of toiletries or your mom’s birthday present, your overall spending estimate will be off.
That’s why it’s important to think about all the relevant categories your spending will fall under. This list of 101 budget categories will ensure you include everything.
4. Know What You Should Be Spending on the Essentials
Without a few guidelines, you may not realize you’re allocating too much — or too little — of your money to important categories like housing or retirement.
We tapped government sources and industry leaders to get the best idea of what budget percentages you should be sticking to.
5. Don’t Limit Yourself to One Budgeting Method
Budgeting is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. There are many budgeting methods out there, and what works for one person may not work for the next.
That’s what Kumiko Love found out when she began her budgeting journey. Instead of wallowing in the defeat of failed budgets, she combined three money management styles to create her own budgeting method.
Love’s budget by paycheck method proves you don’t have to box yourself into one approach to gain control of your finances.
6. Master Budgeting When Your Income’s Not Steady
When you don’t get paid every other week like clockwork or your paychecks vary based on how many hours you’re scheduled, it can be a challenge to stick to a budget. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Budgeting when you have variable income requires you to work with income averages and save money in sinking funds to make up for periods of lean earnings. You’ve also got to make smart choices about what gets paid first.
7. Prepare for Worst-Case Scenarios
No one likes to dwell on the worst, but the time to plan for financial emergencies is before they occur. One important tip is to regularly budget to build up your emergency fund — but that’s not the only thing you should be doing to safeguard your finances.
8. Rebound From Life’s Curveballs
Life’s curveballs — like a layoff, divorce or sudden illness — can wreck your finances. If your family is left with one income when you’re used to thriving on two, what are you to do?
These tips help you navigate your financial life when you’re experiencing a major reduction in income. Be prepared to overhaul your budget.
9. Get Back on Track After Blowing Your Budget
Everyone makes mistakes now and again… like indulging in too much retail therapy after a really tough week. The goal is to not allow setbacks to derail all your progress.
10. Curl Up With a Good (Personal Finance) Book
We love a good money book here at The Penny Hoarder. So does our cohort of TPH Community members. We turned to them for recommendations of personal finance books that have changed their lives for the better.
If you’re looking for some additional inspiration to gain control of your money, check out this list of the best personal finance books.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.