Budgeting is Hard – How to Make it Easier

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It’s Friday, you know what that means? It’s payday – yay! Unfortunately that also means it’s budget day {insert exasperated sigh here} in our house. Let’s be real – budgeting is hard! It’s one of those things that you have to do as an adult but most people don’t like doing. I’m included in that group. I dislike budgeting but I know it’s something I have to do. So I procrastinate for days, avoid writing down transactions, and end up spending way more money than I should. So today I decided to write about budgeting and a few tips on how to make it easier. You don’t mind being my accountability buddy, do you?

budgeting by hand

We can all agree that budgeting is hard, right?

So how do we make it easier? The answer is technology, of course! Two of my favorite ways to budget are using spreadsheets or even better, the computer program and app called “You Need a Budget” (also known as YNAB). Let’s talk about YNAB first because I think it’s rather amazing.

“You Need a Budget” aka YNAB – Budgeting Software

YNAB is a software program for budgeting with several amazing features. First, you can import your spending directly from your bank account. This is not a requirement and I don’t use it but it’s a great feature. Second, you can split all your transactions into categories. So if you go to Target and spend money on food, toiletries, and clothing, you can split that transaction into 3 different categories. That makes it so much easier to determine how much you have left to spend in a given category.

YNAB Budget Screen
Budget Screen on YNAB – see how it shows you when you’ve overspent in a category?

Also, YNAB has a companion app so you can check and update your budget from your smart phone! And finally, you can sync your budget on multiple computers and devices using cloud storage on Dropbox. I absolutely love this feature because it means that Phillip and I are on the same page with our budget at all times.

YNAB transaction register
YNAB transaction register, just like your checkbook, only better!

The only real downside to YNAB is that it’s not free. It costs $50 per year or $5/month. It can certainly save you a lot of money though (by preventing overspending) so it’s worth it. Also, we have a referral link that will save you $6, or just a little over 10% off your first year. If you just want to try it out, they have a 34 day FREE trial that doesn’t even require a credit card. Just download YNAB and see if it’s right for you.

YNAB Alternative – Free Budget Spreadsheets

If you know that you can’t afford YNAB, that’s okay! A free alternative is to use a spreadsheet. If you don’t have a spreadsheet program, you can download Open Office for free! The name of the Open Office spreadsheet program is Calc and it works just as well as Excel, in my opinion, and it can open Excel files as well.

Monthly Budget Spreadsheet preview

My favorite budgeting spreadsheet is this Monthly Budget Spreadsheet (screenshot above). It allows you to budget all of your income for the month and then you can update the actual column throughout the month to ensure you aren’t going over your budgeted amounts. It takes a bit more work than YNAB but it’s free and isn’t too difficult to use. It can help you stay on track with your budget because you get instant feedback (in the form of red negative numbers) when you overspend.

If you don’t like that spreadsheet, you can try this super simple budget. If you want something more robust, try the family budget planner. It allows you to plan out an entire year at one time and has some great charts and graphs. If none of those seem right, Vertex42 has a whole page full of free budget spreadsheet templates.

 Budgeting is Hard! How to Make it Easier!

So I guess you’re wondering how our budget is coming along. It’s almost done, we just have to decide on amounts for a few more categories. Let me know how your budget is coming along and if you have any questions, just ask!


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4 Comments

  1. We are starting to look at what we spend our money on in an effort to start a special savings account (“Emergency Fund”) and to start a 401k or IRA. Our credit card expenses have been too high since we bought a house, and we are trying to make a conscious effort at attaining other financial goals.

    My wife set up a spread sheet, and I will enter our expenses into it. We have many spending categories, and within those categories, we are even track the stores where we spend within those categories. Maybe we’re overdoing it, but we want to know this stuff.

    Do you follow any money management sites? I do. Money Talk News (www.moneytalknews.com) and Quick and Dirty Tips: Money Girl (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/money-girl).

    1. We’ve been going through the Dave Ramsey program to help us get out of debt. We’re in “baby step 2” right now. The first baby step is putting $1000 in savings. The second one is paying off ALL debt. Once we finish that, we’ll be working towards saving 3-6 months of expenses for emergencies.

      Your spreadsheet sounds great! It’s basically exactly like YNAB only in spreadsheet format. In YNAB, we track everything – how much we spend, what category, what we bought (sometimes specifically and sometimes just a general overview), etc. It really does help to pinpoint where we are overspending.

      I do like to read a few personal finance websites although I’ll admit that I don’t read them all that often, haha. I like Get Rich Slowly and Mr. Money Mustache. I used to read Christian Personal Finance but they changed the blog to emphasize their “classes” that you have to pay for so I stopped reading.

  2. Lol. Before I opened up the entire article I was going to suggest ynab to you. Love it. I still use the old one though. Did you switch over or start with the new subscription based one?

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