Budget Tips


Any good budget tips out there you’d be willing to share?

I keep a fairly simple budget that combines our two incomes (mine is salaried, but wife is hourly so hers changes a bit). We both get paid every two weeks, so just have expenses split between Pay Period 1 and Pay Period 2. Whatever is left over gets put toward debt, savings, or any outlier expenses that may have arisen.

Unfortunately I haven’t been saving off each month’s budget. So, I haven’t been able to look back at last years March, for example, which allowed my wife’s car tag renewal to sneak up on us.

Do you save each month’s budget? Or, do you have a separate “recurring expenses” file that you keep up with stuff like that? Just looking to see what type of tips may be floating out in this sea of financial knowledge :slight_smile:


sounds pretty basic. On top of doing a monthly budget, have you tried putting together an annual budget? This should allow you to pop things in like the car tags on the expiration months and be able to better plan ahead. Google sheets has a pretty nice usable annual spreadsheet that you could try out for free.

I currently have a google sheets spreadsheet with every budget on it since August 2011 on it. I don’t reference it a ton as of lately, but still keep my main months in there month to month.

As far as the recurring stuff, we also keep a “buffer” in our bank accounts to deal with stuff like this too. That way if a ‘gotcha’ comes up, we aren’t scrambling to find the money for the payment. Hope you find something that works for you!


I save each month in a separate tab on a spreadsheet (I use a spreadsheet budget). I think it’s critical to track past spending so you can make comparisons as time goes on. It’s important, and you should do it.

Here’s a link to the budget template I have on my Resources page, feel free to have a look.


Yeah, after looking at @RetirementManifesto spreadsheet and the Annual Budget on Goggle Sheets, I don’t even want to call what we’re doing budgeting :joy: It’s definitely basic, and we aren’t tracking daily spending. Some differences I notice just at a glance:

  1. We allot ourselves $100/each per paycheck as “Fun Money.” But that is used for Restaurants/Date Nights/Concerts/etc so we don’t technically budget for “Entertainment” which I think would be a little more eye opening.
  2. Our grocery budget is $125/week but that also includes necessities like pet food, paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies whenever they are needed.

So, it’s definitely more of a “budgeting light” version that can use some improvement. My debt tracker is a bit more robust so at least I can hang my hat on that! Thank you both!


I use an Excel spreadsheet for every month. The layout is done by spending category and has a “spending ledger”. It is very easy to go back and compare spending for the last year (or month) as well as see what is coming up for expenses in that month such as birthdays, auto registration if you put it in the notes etc. You can quickly see where your money is going, how much you have left and set limits for each category. I can email you a copy of the spreadsheet if interested.


Nothing wrong with basic @TheWalkingDebt. What matters is that it works for you. There’s certainly value in simplifying your categories, and I’ve got no issues with lumping restaurants/entertainment/etc under one “Fun Money” account. The tradeoff is your ability to analyze spending trends in detail vs. the level of detailed spending you’re willing to track. No problem either way, and there’s no “right” or “wrong” answer.

That’s the beauty of “Personal” FInance, it’s Personal, and has to work for you!


I track monthly and annual expenses (broken down to monthly cost and placed into a savings account each month) fixed expenses in an Excel spreadsheet. We pay out all of our fixed expenses and savings first each month, then withdraw cash once for everything else.

We use cash for non-fixed expenses such as groceries. We have a monthly cash allotment for groceries of $400. All groceries, basic household items, and dining out together comes out of that cash. We each also get $300/mo as a personal cash allowance to do with as we please. This is for lunches out, entertainment, alcohol, clothes, shoes, etc… It’s sort of an all-in-one cash system that allows us to maintain our own priorities without judgement. If you REALLY must have that latest gadget or expensive handbag, you’ll have to save your cash stipend, not dine out, etc…

We also have a monthly “shit happens” budget. Things like - someone took a crowbar to one of my exterior doors last month, and I unexpectedly needed to replace a door.

Anyway, this system keeps us from getting into the weeds with tracking every little thing, keeps us from going over budget despite not tracking everything, and allows us the freedom to use our monthly money however we please while not significantly impacting either savings or quality of life.


This sounds a bit more in line with how we currently do things. I think the numbers nerd in me wants to be a little more specific, while also not making my wife’s head explode…


I have a secret confession: I absolutely hate budgets and I don’t do them! I just reverse the process that most people use and max out all my tax favored accounts (401k, HSA, Roth) and I live on what’s left. I’ve been able to do this for about the past 12 years and now almost to F.I.R.E. When I did the math, I live in about half of my income. I don’t like to spend a penny more than I have to on anything.


Hey @SheRocksFinances - that’s what I do, too! I did track spending for about 10 months (all I could stand, my head almost exploded), but that was for a specific purpose of developing a Retirement Spending projection.

I’ve been doing the “max the savings, spend the rest” approach for 30 years. In June 2018, I’ll be retiring at Age 55. Not as radical as some of the younger FIRE proponents, but I have no complaints.


Wow @RetirementManifesto! Great minds think alike! It’s much more fun tracking net worth than tracking a budget. Congrats on your upcoming FIRE. I’m right on your heals, my FIRE date is Oct 2018 in my 40’s.


@RetirementManifesto and @SheRocksFinances, ya’ll aren’t perpetuating my feeling of being behind at all! :sob: Honestly, though, that’s awesome! My goal has always been 55 at the latest, so I guess I’m on a 25 year plan!


We had never lived on a budget or even thought about a budget until we decided to get out of debt. I found that an annual budget made the most sense because that includes expenses that only occur once a year. To get started I kept a record of every penny I spent (even a small coffee at McD), and that was an eye-opening experience. It took about a year to get a clear picture of how to allocate spending , but after that was understood, it was no longer necessary to write down every expenditure or think about budgeting because we were then living on much less than we earned. From that point forward I relied on a monthly net worth statement for charting our progress.

It should be noted that becoming too frugal can have a perverse effect of eventually constricting one’s ability to enjoy life. I have a relative who was raised in a family that was fanatical about the expenditure of every penny, so today, at the age of 60, even though he is debt-free and has a huge savings account, he cannot enjoy eating a meal at a restaurant because it feels far too extravagant. Budgeting and frugality are important, but going too far in that direction can limit one’s joie de vivre. The whole point of budgeting is to be able to intelligently prioritize how money can be most effectively used.


I thoroughly agree with the point about becoming too frugal. I noticed this happening to myself when making a decision on whether to travel to a cycling race last weekend. I was partly justifying not racing in my mind due to the expense of fuel and hotel and this is completely wrong when I have plenty of money for this small expense. I decided to travel to two other events in April and May instead. You cannot just sit on the sidelines your whole life trying to save a few dollars. You have to have experiences too.


I use and love YNAB. It is easy to update and we can keep it on our phones to check where we are in different categories when we are out.

I agree with @zendancer and @joe_5700 about being to frugal. My money personality is saver and for a while spending money was like pulling teeth for me. (I distinctly remember crying in a Best Buy When I was 12 because I had saved up for a GameBoy but when I got to the store with my mom it was making me sick to my stomach to spend the money) I will say a budget actually helps me with this. My husband and I each have a “spending money” budget, and if I can look at that and see that (a) I have money available and (b) know that our savings are already funded, it is easier for me to pull the trigger.


I think part of the answer to your question is to do a yearly budget first and then work those numbers into your monthly budget.

You mention your wife’s car tag renewal snuck up and gobbled up your March savings. Try making a list of all the yearly expenses and then make sure you work those into a monthly amount to save specifically for these items.

Then, work that amount into your monthly budget and then add an additional savings onto of that.

Here’s a spreadsheet that would help…

And lastly…

I use a budget spreadsheet that I made myself using Google Docs…
I used it for 5 years until I found Tiller. Now I use the same spreadsheet only it’s linked to Tiller.

If you are a spreadsheet user, I highly recommend checking out Tiller.

(Full discloser, I’m a Tiller Brand Ambassador. So if you’d like to become a Tiller Affiliate hit me up and I’ll hook you up!)


Make a list of all the predictable annual expenses that don’t really fit into your monthly budget. Figure out what the total of those items is annually and divide by 12. Whatever that total is, add a line to your monthly budget for that amount. Then set aside that amount each month into one pot that can be used when these expenses come up.

For us this is Property Taxes (2x/year), Home insurance, Car insurance for our 2 cars, Car registration.

But you might run into a cash flow problem if a lot of these expenses hit at the beginning of the year. For each year we save up the money for these expenses a year in advance. So the monthly amounts we are saving right now will be used for 2018 expenses. The money we saved last year is being used towards this year’s expenses.


I’ll raise you one further. For our retirement cash flow planning, we’re doing the same thing, but over a longer time frame. I got the idea from Wall Street Journal, and have applied the concept to longer term “one off” maintenance costs:


I do bare bones.

All my retirement savings is taken out pre-tax so I don’t even have to think about it.

I budget bi-weekly with a good old fashioned notebook. Reoccurring expenses are accounted for like mortgage, insurance, debt payments etc, including paying myself first (I count this as a bill) directly into savings. We have a biweekly allowance of $800 for everything else, food, entertainment, shopping, dining out, gas. Whatever we don’t spend from this gets rolled into savings.

After that, everything left gets put towards three things, life savings, spending slush fund (vacations, big purchases), and the ol debt snowball. This is where the competitive side in me comes out, the more overtime I work, the larger this part of the budget is… This strategy has also allowed me to increase my savings rate to 40%!!! (from maybe 10% overall this time last year)

The beauty of bi-weekly is twice a year we get an extra paycheck a month that goes straight into savings.


Dear TheWalkingDebt,

I am going to be honest, and call out the very first thing that comes to mind. Your “Username”. If you are calling yourself TheWalkingDebt, then chances are you are subconsciously embracing “debt” and that’s exactly what’s manifesting itself. In essence you are living, breathing, walking debt. Please don’t mind my honesty and I do get the humor, but this is the basics of financial planning - mental first and then physical.

Sharing some simple budgeting ideas:

  • I use Excel on Google Drive because it allows me and my husband to be able to collaborate. One sheet for expenses and one for income and the third one is a summary that nets out. We also use Mint.com to understand our biggest expense categories and the run rate
  • My husband and I take turns saving our paycheck every other month. So, his one paycheck in its entirety goes to a saving account during one pay period, and then its my turn. Etc.
  • We have one credit card that is split between both of us for household expenses- and this card has a very good cash back + points system. This way we pretty much have one card only, which not only allows us to control our expenses but also get great cash back and accumulate points (for travel) (ps, we pay off our card in full each due date)
  • We are still renters, and even with two kids, we are have a high savings rate because of the advantages of renting (can talk about it separately)
  • We allocate $10 per day to “staycation fund”, which is so easy to do and take road trips with our kids to awesome places.
  • We are careful with spending. In the past few years, we have located from east coast to west coast and then back to east coast. Because of this, we ended up losing our stuff, stuff breaking, etc. And we realized, hey, we don’t need that big box of things which a) we don’t know whats in it b) never ever opened
    Sooo, we stopped accumulating. And only have the basics. Anytime any drawer starts filling up, its time to do a quick rebalancing.
  • And, please please please if you shop online, use ebates. You get cash back for shopping. We bought a fridge via Sears online - and not only it had coupons but we got 10% cashback right away. Every three months, the collective amount gets deposited in my paypal account.

That’s all. But happy to discuss if you need more information.