Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something at no extra cost to you. Please check out our policies page for more details.
It can all be so overwhelming, can’t it? At least it was for us. We were staring down the barrel of over $100,000 in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and spending more than we were bringing in.
In those moments, almost everything is run on emotion. You’re scared, overwhelmed, anxious, and possibly angry. The problem seems bigger than what you’re capable of.
The great thing, it’s not bigger than what you’re capable of!
There are so many tools, references, apps, and information out there to get you started and set you back on track. It can be a lot of information.
This ultimate budgeting checklist goes through what you’ll need to not only get started but to succeed with getting your finances on track and start your budget!
Table of Contents
Find something to start your budget
The first step is to figure out what kind of budgeter you and your partner are.
Would it suit you better to have an app that you can always have on you, as long as you have your phone? Or are you more comfortable with spreadsheets and would be more successful with that (we use this one). Or, maybe, you are a pencil and paper kind of person.
Whatever tool suits you best, it’s never been an easier time to acquire that tool and get started on your budget.
Sit down and list incoming/outgoing money
Now that you have a way to track your money, you’ll need to come to the table organized.
Your task here is to list out how much income you typically bring in every month, then write down when each bill comes out and how much they are.
That way, you’ll have a good picture of what your incoming and outgoing money looks like, and you’ll be set up right for the next step.
Choose a budgeting method
If you are using an app, there are likely some built-in budgeting methods available to you. But if you remember my opinion on setting and forgetting, it’s that you should not do that.
Because your finances are more important than that. Your financial future deserves you being in the driver’s seat. Not only for something like choosing your budgeting method, but tracking expenses and savings, choosing how much is saved, choosing each how much you set aside for each budgeting category.
It’s important for you to understand your budget, in case technology fails you one day and you are left high and dry.
Okay, let’s talk budgeting methods.
The zero-based budget
This method has you giving a task to every dollar that comes in before it comes in. The idea is to give every dollar a purpose, instead of your money sitting in your account and tempting you to spend it on something you don’t need.
The idea here is to use your income, pay all of your recurring monthly expenses, and if there is money left, allocate that as well.
For example, if your current goal is to pay off your debt, you will allocate all of your extra money to paying the principal of your smallest debt. Or, if your current goal is to save for the vacation you’re taking next year, plug that money into your vacation fund.
Overall, you shouldn’t have even one dollar left after you have allocated everything.
This rule is pretty simple to follow. With your monthly income, you allocate 50% to essentials (mortgage/rent, bills, groceries, etc.), 30% to wants, and 20% to savings.
I’ve heard of some with the goal of paying off debt to use that extra 20% toward debt payoff as well.
It works well for beginners and those desiring simplicity.
This method really could go hand-in-hand with other methods but could be its own as well.
We used the envelope method with the zero-based budget when we were getting out of debt and it worked like a charm.
The idea behind this is to take cash out for things you’ll be paying for anyway, like groceries, clothes, gas (for obvious reasons, it doesn’t work with your monthly bills like electricity).
Each of those envelopes are sort of like a mini savings account for each category. But when you’re out of money, you’re out. If you really need something in an envelope that has run out of money, you’ll have to take it from another envelope.
This is an EXCELLENT tool for when you first start budgeting, because it really makes you understand the system. If you just had all of your money in your banking account and pulled from the same money pot for everything, it doesn’t really drive home the notion of allocating your money to individual categories.
Plus, there’s a pain factor of handing over cash that’s just not there when you use your debit card.
Pay yourself first
With this method, you first apply money to your savings. Then pay for your monthly expenses from the rest of your income.
This method ensures that you apply money to your savings, but could be dangerous if you are not wise with allocating the rest effectively.
Consistency is key
Be sure to do whatever you can to keep things going each month! It can be so easy to let it fall by the wayside. Especially if you’re only spending once a month working on it.
I like to open our budget at least once a week. If not, even more often than that. It keeps budgeting in my routine, and that’s important to me.
If you’re not good about keeping up with something, try things that will remind you. Set a calendar notice, alarm, write it on a post-it note, and put it on your mirror. Whatever way works for you, do it! It’s important to keep up with your budget, especially after putting all of this work into it so far.
Finally, find something or someone that will keep you accountable. This is especially important if you are working on a big goal, like paying off your debt.
There were times when we really needed that accountability when we were paying off debt. We cut out restaurants and vacations, and sometimes we just wanted to go out to a nice place to eat.
In those moments, we really had to hold each other accountable. That, and we had our debt progress right on our fridge. So it was impossible not to see it and remind ourselves of our progress!
Others like to join groups (like Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University), use cash envelopes (nothing says accountability like an empty envelope!), or keep your friends/family updated with your progress.
Did our ultimate budgeting checklist help you? Do you use a different budgeting method that really works well for you? How do you hold yourself accountable, especially when it gets difficult to keep up? Let me know in the comments!