What is a budget? A budget is a financial plan that divides your income and expenses into categories. Most people create a monthly, zero-based budget. A zero-based budget is where you have $0 at the end of the month, but that’s okay! Ideally, you’ve accounted for all of your bills and expenses, and you’ve put some money into savings. Additionally, a budget will show you how much you have to spend on everything from food to entertainment to clothes to rent.
Why is it important? A budget tells your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went. It also allows you to assign every one of your dollars a job. It will help to make sure that you’re not spending outside your means and will help you build good financial habits.
Let’s get started! If you’ve never created or used a budget before, you will likely be surprised with how simple and helpful it can be!
- The first step in setting up a realistic budget is to track your spending and expenses. Start by keeping track of every purchase you make for a week—include those Starbucks coffees, Target trips, restaurant meals, movie tickets, new shoes, etc.—and write down any monthly bills that you’re responsible for. Once you have an idea of your spending patterns, make sure you have enough income to cover it all.
- The next step is the budgeting process is to write down all of your sources of income (you can do this by week, month, or semester). Your income may come from your parents, a part-time job, scholarships, or a student loan refund.
Once you have a solid idea of your expenses and your income, hopefully it looks something like this: Income-spending=something leftover
Ideally, your spending is less than your income. This is very important! If you’re spending more than you having coming in, you’re living outside your means and this can lead to a slippery slope of bad financial habits.
If you do have some money leftover in your budget after you’ve taken care of all of your monthly expenses, then consider putting it into a savings account. Learning to save is a valuable financial skill to have! If you find yourself with more expenses than income, then you’re going to either have to 1.) Find ways to cut costs or 2.) Find ways to increase your income.
Different Budgeting Options
Creating a budget is easy, but sticking to it might be the hardest part. It involves a lot of self-discipline and consistency. There are so many budgeting options available, so the most important thing is that you find one that works for you and is something you’ll stick with in the long run.
Here are a few options that we suggest:
- Online budget form—CU Money Sense has created a budget form for living on- and off-campus.
- Spreadsheet—by using a spreadsheet, you can customize your budget to fit your needs. However, this method is a little more hands and requires more detailed maintenance.
- Mint—this free website and smartphone app tracks your spending and lets you set budgets for yourself. If you go close to going over your budget, you will receive notifications to cool it on the spending.
- You Need A Budget—this a software that is similar to using a spreadsheet. The website provides classes, articles, and support to help make your budget successful. The software is normally a $60 one-time purchase, but is currently free for students.
The #1 reason why students visit CU Money Sense is for help in making a budget. If you have questions about setting up a budget (or sticking to it!), make an appointment with us and we’ll be happy to help you out!