Mortgage payment, $765. Utilities bill, $90. Unexpected car repair, $110. Extra money at the end of the month, $0. If you constantly wonder what happened to your paycheck, coming up with a budget may eliminate some of the guesswork and change that $0 figure into something a bit larger.
But developing a budget means you have to know exactly how much money you have coming in each month and how much you’re paying out toward bills and other expenses. Although this task takes some time and effort, the result may be better control of your finances.
- To create a budget for the future, you have to examine your past. Start by looking back through your check registers for the last year. Make a list of all the places your money went — mortgage or rent, utilities, phone, cable TV, food, insurance, taxes, entertainment, car and home repairs, and so on. You’ll also want to track how you spent any cash withdrawals.
- Make a list of all your income sources.
- Write down all your deposits over the past 12 months.
- Write the monthly payment next to each expense category. For variable expenses such as food and utility costs, find the average cost over a certain time period. For semiannual or annual expenses, divide by six or 12 to get a monthly cost.
- Develop a budget based on these figures, comparing them to your actual expenses over the next few months. If there’s a difference between the amount you budgeted for an item and the amount you spent, adjust your budget or find a way to reduce spending for that item.