Maybe you’re living on your own for the first time. Perhaps you just got married, and you’re learning to tackle your finances together. If so, you may have noticed you feel much more financially secure when you have a plan for your money.

Creating a budget doesn’t sound fun, but it takes away the monthly stresses of wondering where your money went. It can also help you build savings and meet your long-term financial goals. So even if you’ve tried — and failed at — budgeting before, here are some tips to get you on the right track.

Try No-Fee Banking

You must keep your money somewhere, and under your mattress isn’t a good option. The kind of bank you choose, though, can impact how much money stays in your budget. Overall, brick-and-mortar banks stick you with a lot of hidden fees, including low balance, overdraft, and monthly maintenance fees. Those can whittle away at your funds or create mid-month shortfalls.

According to Chime, online banking can give you checking, savings, and secured credit card options without all the fees. Such accounts don’t ding you a few dollars here and there over the course of a month. That takes a lot of the guesswork out of money management. Plus, you don’t have money leaking from your budget for no good reason.

Figure Out Your First Four

Some monthly expenses are “must haves,” so they’re also “must pays.” Food, rent/mortgage, utilities, and transportation costs are basically the four pillars of your monthly budget. You’ll need to take them into consideration first.

When you sit down to create your budget, start by allocating funds to the big four, taking into account any likely fluctuations. In most cases, your mortgage or rent payment will stay the same month-to-month. You’ll want to budget enough to cover the months when your utility bills are the most expensive, though. Be realistic about how much you spend on groceries and eating out — and how that might change around the holidays, say. Also, pad how much you earmark for transportation; this will help you if fares go up or gas prices spike.

Create a Zero Budget

That sounds scary — a zero budget?! Does that mean zero money?

Slow down and take a deep breath. All this means is that your budget will be balanced at the end of every month. When you’ve budgeted everything out, your income will be equal to your expenditures. This can work even if you have an inconsistent monthly income. Just create your budget around your thinnest month.

To do this successfully, you’ll need to give every dollar you earn its own job. Some will pay for housing, others for your phone, additional money goes toward your internet. You get the idea. Budgeting apps, such as DollarBird or PocketGuard can help you figure out where to assign your funds.

Be sure to include a miscellaneous category. This bucket will cover unexpected expenses, such as a surprise birthday party invitation or a blown tire. If you have miscellaneous money left over, think twice before spending it on something you might not need. Instead, consider saving it or putting it toward a big financial goal, such as paying down debt.

Ditch Your Debt

Speaking of paying down debt, you should make it a top priority. Student loans, car loans, and mortgages can feel like heavy burdens. The longer they stick around, the more interest you’ll have to pay. That’s money walking out the door that you could use for other things!

Be sure to allocate a certain block of cash in your monthly budget toward getting rid of debt. If you can, put more toward it than the required minimums. Paying it down faster benefits you in both the short and long term.

Keep It Simple

Budgeting might sound complicated, but it doesn’t need to be. In fact, when you’re just getting started, simple is better. It’s a lot harder to stick with a complex budget. Plus, if you’re just getting on your feet financially, you probably aren’t worried about investments or stocks.

So use the 50-30-20 rule. When you’re creating your budget buckets, put 50% toward needs, 30% toward wants, and 20% into your savings. It’s an easy budget design that doesn’t make you keep track of too many spending details.

Switch to Cash for Some Expenses

Sticking to a budget doesn’t mean you don’t get to enjoy some fun purchases. Yes, you still get to go to dinner with friends or buy the occasional concert ticket. Just plan for these indulgences in a smart way.

Using cash can be a good option. It’s much harder to spend money you don’t have when handing over bills instead of swiping plastic. With so many places going cashless during the pandemic, we know this might be hard. Stick with cash where you can, though.

At the start of every month, set aside a certain amount of cash in an envelope. That’s your dedicated play money. When it runs out, take your cue to put on the brakes. To stay within your budget, stop the extra spending until the next month. If you space it outright, you can do something social every week.

Embrace Readjusting

Once you design a budget, it’s not necessarily set in stone. You’re allowed to make changes. Your income might fall with a job change. Rates might go up on your utilities. Anything is possible, and you’ll need to bob and weave with your money.

If that happens, don’t stress. Just look for places where you can fine-tune your expenditures. Consider cutting your cable or switching to a cheaper internet provider. Put down the takeout menu or cancel your reservations and cook at home instead. Pass by the sale at your favorite store. If you really need something, consider the funky thrift shop down the street.

Remember these changes are temporary. When things look up, you’ll be able to adjust your budget accordingly.

With so many bills to pay, managing your money may feel like an overwhelming task. A well-designed budget not only helps you identify where you’re spending money but also lets you know how much you’re paying. Using these tactics to get a firm handle on your monthly finances can help you hold on to your income. Consistent budgeting over time also puts you on the path to reaching your long-term financial goals.

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