Only 41% of Americans have a budget and keep close track of their spending, according to a survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. But as the most fundamental tool in the financial planning process, a budget can make it easier to achieve your financial goals.
Not only does a budget help you keep track of where your money is going, but it also gives you more control over that process. Without a clear plan for your cash flow, you could be spending against your own best interests without even knowing it.
Read on to learn how a budget can help you improve your financial health. There are various budgeting methods you can use to do it.
How a proper budget can power your financial independence
Budgeting isn’t always fun, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to improve your financial health. Here are a few ways that living on a budget can make a difference.
- It aligns your spending with your goals. By creating and following a budget, you can decide how you’re going to spend your money each month based on what’s most important to you.
- It can improve your debt repayment strategy. If you’re working to pay off student loans, credit cards, or some other type of debt, having a budget can help you set aside more cash to become debt-free.
- It can help you achieve your savings goals. Whether you want to save more for retirement, build your emergency fund, or set aside cash for your next vacation, a budget can help you plan out how much you’re going to save toward your goal at the beginning of the month.
5 budgeting methods to consider
Before picking a budgeting method, you might want to figure out where your money is going so that you know what areas need your attention.
“An easy way to get things started is to collect all of your receipts for a month or two for every penny you spend,” said Megan Luke, a senior vice president at PNC Bank. “At the end of the month, sort the receipts into piles for food, gas, entertainment, and so on. This will give you a good picture of your current spending and provide opportunities to find ways to adjust and perhaps save.”
Or you can use your online checking or credit card account to view your transactions and do the same.
Once you have an idea of your spending habits and where you can make changes, five main budgeting methods can help you make it happen. No single method’s best for everyone, so it’s important to compare each and determine what works best for you.
1. Zero-based budget
The concept of a zero-based budget is simple: income minus expenses equals zero.
This budget is best for people who have a set income each month or at least can reasonably estimate their monthly income. After calculating your monthly income, add up your monthly spending and savings to equal that income amount.
It’s important to plan out all your expenses as accurately as possible. If you go over on one spending category, you’ll need to take cash from another category to make up for it. And if you forget a large expense, it could throw your budget off.
“[Zero-based budgeting] is the most time-consuming method because you have to dig into the details behind each line item,” Luke said.
Since there’s less room for error with a zero-based budget, it might be a better option for someone who has already been budgeting for a while. Even then, it’s a good idea to keep extra cash in your checking account as a buffer. Also, have at least a small emergency fund in case you incur a large unexpected expense.
2. Pay-yourself-first budget
The pay-yourself-first budget is another simple budgeting method that focuses primarily on savings and debt repayment.
Simply put, you set aside a specific amount every time you get paid for savings and debt payments, then spend the rest of your money however you see fit. By doing this, you can prioritize your savings and debt repayment goals and make do with whatever is left over.
For example, you may want to focus on paying off high-interest debt first while slowly building up an emergency fund. But as you get rid of your high-interest debt, you could focus on other savings goals.
Of course, it’s important to prioritize your necessary expenses and bills. But you don’t have to watch where you spend your discretionary income because you’ve already taken care of what’s most important to you.
This budget is best for someone who struggles with saving each month or doesn’t want to focus too much on budgeting each expense.
3. Envelope system budget
This budgeting method is similar to the zero-based budget but with one big difference: You do it all with cash. In an envelope budgeting system, you plan out how you’re going to spend your money each month and use an envelope for each spending category. Then you withdraw as much cash as you need to fill each envelope based on your budget.
As you go grocery shopping, for instance, take your grocery envelope and pay for your items with cash. If you run out, that’s all you can spend in that category for the month unless you want to take cash from other envelopes. Avoid raiding other envelopes too often, though, because it can cause a snowball effect and you can run out of cash before the end of the month.
Financial expert Dave Ramsey is the biggest proponent of the envelope system, so it’s a great option for people who espouse his beliefs about money, which focus heavily on paying down debt quickly and using cash only.
But it’s not a good idea for someone who doesn’t feel comfortable having that much cash on hand or prefers using credit cards or debit cards.
4. 50/30/20 budget
The 50/30/20 budget is straightforward and requires less work than the zero-based and envelope budgets. The idea is to break down your expenses into three categories: necessary expenses (50%), discretionary expenses (30%), and savings and debt payments (20%).
This budgeting method is a great option for newbie budgeters because it doesn’t require meticulous tracking of all your expenses. You can succeed with this budget as long as you know what counts as a want versus a need and put enough money toward savings and debt.
The main drawback is that the 50/30/20 rule might be unrealistic for people who have a lot of debt or have big savings goals because 20% isn’t a lot.
But the good news is that you can customize it to fit your needs. For example, you may want to consider increasing the savings and debt repayments category and decreasing the discretionary or necessary expenses categories.
In other words, don’t get stuck on the 50/30/20 proportions. Tailor the concept to your needs.
5. The ‘no’ budget
As the name suggests, this budgeting method consists entirely of not spending money that you don’t have. Rather than create a budget:
- Keep an eye on your checking account balance. Use a budgeting app or your bank’s online banking or mobile app to help you track this.
- Know when recurring bills hit your account. One way you can do this is to keep a list handy in a spreadsheet, Word document, or on a piece of paper.
- Set aside cash for savings and extra debt payments. When you can, use automatic transfers from checking to savings, as well as increase your automatic monthly debt payments.
- Spend what’s left over without overdrawing your account. Again, by keeping an eye on your account balance, you’re better able to know how much money is available after core expenses.
While the “no” budget sounds easier than the other methods we’ve listed, it’s not always easy to tell yourself “no.” This budgeting method is best if you’ve demonstrated spending discipline in the past and are confident that you can continue that streak.
Also, it’s best if you use only a debit card with this budget because it’s tied directly to your checking account and automatically updates your balance.
Don’t give up on your budget
Even if you pick the right budgeting method for you, it can still take a few months to get used to the system, especially if you’ve never budgeted before. But like any habit, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Think about why you want to take more control over your money management. Consider your goals and why you want to achieve them. Doing this can help you regain your motivation to keep working to improve your budgeting skills.
Also, don’t be afraid to make changes to your budgeting strategy to make it more effective. For example, try a different method if one isn’t working for you, or make adjustments to one to tailor it to your needs. And consider using a budgeting app to help make the process easier.
Whatever you do, the important thing is that you develop the habit of managing your money in a way that helps you improve your financial health and achieve your goals.
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 7 lenders of 2019!
|Lender||Variable APR||Eligible Degrees|
|Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.45% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.99% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.81% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.49% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of November 6, 2019, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 11/06/2019. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.
2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
3 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Mortgage lending is not offered in Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association.
ANNUAL PERCENTAGE RATE (“APR”)
There are no origination fees or prepayment penalties associated with the loan. Lender may assess a late fee if any part of a payment is not received within 15 days of the payment due date. Any late fee assessed shall not exceed 5% of the late payment or $28, whichever is less. A borrower may be charged $20 for any payment (including a check or an electronic payment) that is returned unpaid due to non-sufficient funds (NSF) or a closed account.
For bachelor’s degrees and higher, up to 100% of outstanding private and federal student loans (minimum $5,000) are eligible for refinancing. If you are refinancing greater than $300,000 in student loan debt, Lender may refinance the loans into 2 or more new loans.
ELIGIBILITY & ELIGIBLE LOANS
Borrower, and Co-signer if applicable, must be a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident with a valid I-551 card (which must show a minimum of 10 years between “Resident Since” date and “Card Expires” date or has no expiration date); state that they are of at least borrowing age in the state of residence at the time of application; and meet Lender underwriting criteria (including, for example, employment, debt-to-income, disposable income, and credit history requirements).
Graduates may refinance any unsubsidized or subsidized Federal or private student loan that was used exclusively for qualified higher education expenses (as defined in 26 USC Section 221) at an accredited U.S. undergraduate or graduate school. Any federal loans refinanced with Lender are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment.
All loans must be in grace or repayment status and cannot be in default. Borrower must have graduated or be enrolled in good standing in the final term preceding graduation from an accredited Title IV U.S. school and must be employed, or have an eligible offer of employment. Parents looking to refinance loans taken out on behalf of a child should refer to https://www.laurelroad.com/refinance-student-loans/refinance-parent-plus-loans/ for applicable terms and conditions.
For Associates Degrees: Only associates degrees earned in one of the following are eligible for refinancing: Cardiovascular Technologist (CVT); Dental Hygiene; Diagnostic Medical Sonography; EMT/Paramedics; Nuclear Technician; Nursing; Occupational Therapy Assistant; Pharmacy Technician; Physical Therapy Assistant; Radiation Therapy; Radiologic/MRI Technologist; Respiratory Therapy; or Surgical Technologist. To refinance an Associates degree, a borrower must also either be currently enrolled and in the final term of an associate degree program at a Title IV eligible school with an offer of employment in the same field in which they will receive an eligible associate degree OR have graduated from a school that is Title IV eligible with an eligible associate and have been employed, for a minimum of 12 months, in the same field of study of the associate degree earned.
The interest rate you are offered will depend on your credit profile, income, and total debt payments as well as your choice of fixed or variable and choice of term. For applicants who are currently medical or dental residents, your rate offer may also vary depending on whether you have secured employment for after residency.
The repayment of any refinanced student loan will commence (1) immediately after disbursement by us, or (2) after any grace or in-school deferment period, existing prior to refinancing and/or consolidation with us, has expired.
POSTPONING OR REDUCING PAYMENTS
After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship.
We may agree under certain circumstances to allow a borrower to make $100/month payments for a period of time immediately after loan disbursement if the borrower is employed full-time as an intern, resident, or similar postgraduate trainee at the time of loan disbursement. These payments may not be enough to cover all of the interest that accrues on the loan. Unpaid accrued interest will be added to your loan and monthly payments of principal and interest will begin when the post-graduate training program ends.
We may agree under certain circumstances to allow postponement (deferral) of monthly payments of principal and interest for a period of time immediately following loan disbursement (not to exceed 6 months after the borrower’s graduation with an eligible degree), if the borrower is an eligible student in the borrower’s final term at the time of loan disbursement or graduated less than 6 months before loan disbursement, and has accepted an offer of (or has already begun) full-time employment.
If Lender agrees (in its sole discretion) to postpone or reduce any monthly payment(s) for a period of time, interest on the loan will continue to accrue for each day principal is owed. Although the borrower might not be required to make payments during such a period, the borrower may continue to make payments during such a period. Making payments, or paying some of the interest, will reduce the total amount that will be required to be paid over the life of the loan. Interest not paid during any period when Lender has agreed to postpone or reduce any monthly payment will be added to the principal balance through capitalization (compounding) at the end of such a period, one month before the borrower is required to resume making regular monthly payments.
KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.
This information is current as of November 8, 2019 and is subject to change.
4 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.
Splash Financial Disclosures
Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 1.9299999999999997% effective October 10, 2019.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of 5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.
As of 11/07/2019 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.90% to 8.65% Variable APR with AutoPay and 3.49% to 7.75% Fixed APR with AutoPay.
7 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Disclosures
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
1College Ave Refi Education loans are not currently available to residents of Maine.
2All rates shown include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
3$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees.
4This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.
Information advertised valid as of 09/23/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
|1.81% – 6.49%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.31% – 7.36%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.99% – 6.65%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.43% – 7.60%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.02% – 6.30%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.90% – 8.65%6||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.74% – 6.24%7||Undergrad & Graduate|