The best personal or household budgets are more than a simple list of monthly expenses. To manage and improve your financial situation, you should create a dynamic budget that helps you spot trends, savings opportunities, and potential spending problems.
Adding a few extra columns and rows to a budget document lets you update your average spending and savings each month for better planning—letting you keep more money in your bank account.
Gather the Right Information
You don't have to make wild guesses at what your spending will be this year. Using last year's credit card and bank statements, you can see exactly what you spent last year on common expenses. These will include:
- Vehicle payments
- Vehicle maintenance
- Car insurance
- Health insurance
- Hair and nails
- Student loan payments
- Credit card payments
Last year's financial documents will show you other regular monthly payments you have, or quarterly or semi-annual payments you'll have, such as insurance premiums. You'll also see any large annual expenses you need to budget for, such as holiday gifts.
Find the Averages
Write down the total amount you spent on each of the above categories last year, then divide the total by 12. This will give you a pretty good idea of what you'll spend each month during the coming year for these goods, services or debts. You might be surprised to see how much you're spending on discretionary categories, such as dining out, helping you find areas where you can spend less, save more or manage your credit better.
Total Each Month's Expenses
Create a simple budget document in a spreadsheet by listing your expense categories down the first column and then enter the months of the year across a row near the top of the page. Before the "January" column, insert two more columns titled "Projected" and "Actual." In the "Projected" column, insert the amount you expect to spend each month on each category. After the "December" column, create an "Annual" column that tracks your total spending for each expense during the year. For example, if you spend $300 a month on groceries on average during the year, the "Annual" column will show $3,600 at the end of the year.
After your last expense category, create a "Total" row that adds up all of your expenses for each month and shows your total spending per month. Add one more "Gain/Loss" row after the "Total" row with a formula that subtracts your total expenses each month from your total income, showing your monthly cash gain or loss.
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Make the Budget Dynamic
To get an update each month on your personal financial situation, enter a formula in each category field in your "Actual" column that projects your annual spending, which you will update each month. This column will simply total the amount of total spending you've done at the end of each month, divided by the number of months. For example, if you spend $125 on entertainment in January, $175 in February and $150 in March, at the end of March when you update your formula, your "Average" column will show that you are (so far) spending an average of $150 per month on entertainment. You can then compare this against your "Projected" column to see if you are staying on track, or if you are overspending.
Create Dynamic Savings Goals
Many people budget for savings, such as for a vacation, emergency fund, house down payment, retirement contribution or debt reduction. If you set a specific (static) savings goal for each month, you might not have enough money left over after you pay your bills to meet your goals. To create a dynamic savings plan, set a goal of saving a percentage of your net gain in your "Gain/Loss" column for each savings goal each month. For example, you have five savings goals, you can put 20 percent of your extra money each month to each of the five targets, or you can save a bit more for one or two of your more important savings goals.
Watch your Cash Flow
Cash flow refers to when you'll actually spend money, rather than projecting a monthly average. For example, if you will have four quarterly insurance premiums totaling $600, your monthly average will show you only need $50 per month to pay your premium. Then, you'll get hit with a $150 payment one month you weren't expecting. To track cash flow, create a row along the bottom of your document that includes alerts in certain months that will have higher-than-normal expenses.
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