Budgeting is one of the most basic forms of financial accountability. Whether you’re a single person or running a huge company, it’s important to know how money is coming and going. But what should you include in your monthly budget?
Understand Your Current Income and Expenses
Before diving directly into what you should include in your monthly budget, it’s wise to understand your current money situation. Your budget is ultimately a way for you to balance the inflow and outflow of your money—otherwise known as income and expenses.
Without a budget, it can be tough to know exactly how much money you’re spending and on what. Gather up all your financial documents. This might include things like bank account statements, credit card bills, paystubs, receipts, or anything else that shows some kind of income or expense. It’s important to include everything here, or else you won’t get an accurate portrayal of your current position.
Designate Between Fixed and Variable Costs and Income
Once you have all your financial information that shows income and expenses, it’s time to make a further important distinction with these categories: fixed versus variable.
Fixed income and expenses are things that don’t change on a month-to-month basis. If you have a full-time, salaried job, your income is likely going to be the same every month unless you get a raise or bonus. Things can be a bit more complicated for people who don’t have a salaried position, as gig and part-time jobs tend to provide more varied income.
Just because your income isn’t the same every month doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to budget. In fact, it’s probably more important since having varied income can easily lead to needing debt if things don’t go well for a month.
Expenses can also be broken down between the fixed and variable designation. Things like rent, mortgage, and insurance payments are typically going to be fixed costs. It’s important to know how much you need to cover these things each month.
On the other hand, one-off buys can also be needed, but are more difficult to plan for and seamlessly incorporate into a budget. These might be things like auto repairs, or having to take a pet to the vet. Keeping track of your expenses, and building a savings safety net into your budget, can help people prepare for variable expenses.
Don’t Forget About Debt
People sometimes forget about debt when they’re building their budget. While it’s essential to always have minimum debt payments built into your budget, it’s also important to consider what you owe holistically.
It takes a long time for debt to go away if you’re only making minimum payments. Interest on the debt will allow it to linger and grow into a much larger amount than what you originally borrowed. People who are having difficulty tackling their debt on their own should consider looking into credit counseling. Credit counseling is a way for consumers to get advice and free resources about things like budgeting or creating a debt repayment plan. People who find credit counseling on its own isn’t enough can also look into other debt relief options.
Create a Savings Category for Your Budget
Savings is something that should be built into every budget. The fact is less than half of people in the U.S. can afford an unexpected $1,000 expense. Even if you’re running on a tight budget, it’s important to dedicate some of it to create an emergency fund. This will allow you to stay afloat even if you need to make a substantial, unforeseen purchase. It’s smart to dedicate as much money to savings as you possibly can. Saved money can always be used later.
Having a budget is a great way to play an active role in your financial life. But to budget correctly, it’s essential to keep track of the right things.