How I Made a Budget and Stuck to It

I’ve been working since I was 15-years-old. Of course, back then, I only needed the money for my upcoming Disneyland trip and then later that year, gas money. Now, I have bills to pay, food to buy, and not only gas money, but insurance, too.

Having a solid budget is the most “adult” thing that I’m actually good at, and I’ll take that over anything else. Budgeting is super important, no matter how much money you make or spend- you need to see what you’re spending your money on so you’re able to make the best decisions.

When I was in high school, spending money was one of the biggest causes of my anxiety. Even getting gas, which I needed, caused my chest to tighten and my breath to get shallow. It was especially hard to spend money on something I wanted but didn’t need, even if I had plenty of money.

That’s where my very first budget came in. Once I started college, I decided to budget all the money I made at my part-time job so that I could spend money on myself without feeling bad, but also make sure I had enough money to pay for food and my next semester of school.

Because I never made a consistent amount of money, I took my paychecks in percentages. I don’t remember the exact numbers I used, but it was similar to these:

I kept track of everything in a notebook, and every time I made or spent money, I would subtract/add it from/to the previous number. I definitely could have made it easier for myself, but this worked for me, especially because I wasn’t making or spending a significant amount of money. It usually looked a little something like this:

Doing this allowed me to have some spending money, pay for gas and the occasional meal in my dorm room (I usually ate the cafeteria, which was already paid for), and save just enough to pay for the next semester. I did this for about two years, and it worked so well for me.

Now that I’m married, my budget has changed drastically. Not only do my husband and I have two incomes, but we also spend twice the amount of money. We pay bills- rent, utilities, phone bills, car insurance- and have savings to keep up with. Things are a lot different from my freshman year of college.

We keep our expenses on a Google Sheets document, which is just like Excel, except it’s online so both of us can access it. At the beginning of the year, I looked at a rough estimate of what we make each month. The first thing I did was take out how much we would tithe from our monthly checks, and then I did bills, because those are things I cannot adjust. From there, I added money to different sections (groceries, gas, miscellaneous needs, emergency savings, laundry, etc) until I reached our full monthly amount.

We then split our monthly budget into a bi-weekly budget, just because that’s how often we get paid and it’s easier to keep track of. The money we made in the previous two weeks is what we would use for the coming 2 weeks.

This is an example of how Shane and I did our budget for a while. I adjusted the numbers, both of what we make per month and what we pay on our bills, just because I want to give an idea of how we do our budget rather than give exactly how much money we have haha.

I set the document up where every time I added an amount that we spent, it adjusted the numbers at the bottom of the screen and at the side. This helped me keep track of how much money we had left in the total budget, and how much we had for a specific section, like groceries. At the end of two weeks, it looked a little something like this:

At the end of the month, we would hopefully not be negative on any amounts. Most of the times, we came up with perfect zeros, and sometimes had some money to carry over to the next month.

This worked really well for Shane and I for a while. Now we’re back to a very similar way of budgeting that I used before, just on Excel rather than a notebook. We have sections for each type of spending, and we figured out how much money from each check we need to put into each section (so just $$ amounts rather than percentages). Whatever we have leftover per check we get to keep as spending money. This is a fairly new budget, but it seems to be working well for us so far!

No, we aren’t perfect, and sometimes we have to use money from other sections to pay for things (using “personal” money to pay for eating out when we run out of “eating out/fun” money, for example) but it’s okay not to be perfect. We’ve found a budget that works for us, and even though we’re college kids, we’re being responsible with our money and it feels pretty dang good.

Here are some tips I have for creating a budget and sticking with it:

  • Be honest with yourself. It’s better to underestimate how much you make during a given time than to overestimate. In other words, it’s better to underestimate the money you’ll have in your bank account than to overestimate.
  • Start an emergency fund!! This is super helpful in rough times. Say you aren’t able to work for a week due to sickness, but those bills still have to be paid. You don’t have to stress as much because you’ll have extra money in your savings that you can dip into.
  • Give yourself some spending money!! Buy stuff you want, go on trips, eat out, see a movie, do fun things with your money. Don’t go overboard, but make sure you budget for fun things. If you’re only working to live, you’re gonna grow pretty tired of it and lose motivation to budget at all.
  • If you find that you’re making more money than you’re budgeting for (consistently), look into a monthly donation to a non-profit. Shane and I found that we could afford to sponsor a child in Africa (through Compassion International) for $45 a month. Using money God has blessed us with to bless someone else is amazing.
  • If you have debt, whether student loans, car loans, credit cards, etc. make sure you’re budgeting enough to make solid payments on those. If you’re not scraping the bucket every month, pay more than you need to each month! You’ll pay those off faster and end up having less debt in the long run. (If you can avoid it, though, do not take out loans or rack up debt- it makes life so much easier!!)
  • If someone offers you free Starbucks, even if you don’t like coffee, you take it.

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