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Budgeting in 4 Easy Steps

No matter your financial situation in life, everyone needs a budget. With a budget you can plan for needed expenses and prepare for the things you want. In fact, the most simple budget only needs a couple lists, a calculator, and some goals. Below are the the main points our post will go over to help you set up your budget:

Budgets are an important tool in anyone’s financial arsenal. Budgets can help you organize your needed expenses, like rent and bills, prepare for emergencies and get ready for whatever your future might hold. By knowing how to budget you can learn to stop living paycheck to paycheck and start building up your savings. it can help you save up for big expenses or future life events like a wedding, starting a family, buying a car or a house or moving to a new state.

Budgeting can also help you save for retirement, something else that even younger people just starting out on their own sometimes forget to think about but should. But most of all a it can grant you financial power and freedom and help you provide for your wants and needs. But for those just starting out on their own especially, it can be hard to know where to begin.

There are several key elements you’ll need to include in your budget. You need to think about all your necessary expenses and plan them out accordingly so you are aware of how much of your monthly income you need to spend each month no matter what. Then you’ll have to think about unnecessary expenses. This is where you have the most freedom to plan out the numbers and make adjustments.

How to Budget

There are many ways to budget and there is a lot of advice out there in the financial spheres about how to do it. You can also choose to plan for certain events by making a specific wedding budget, or for major purchases like car payments. But if you’re making a simple budget for yourself, then the main thing you’ll want to decide first is whether you want to make a monthly or yearly budget. Most people like to create a yearly one to get a general big picture view of their financial goals and future plans. But, a monthly one is more helpful for everyday use. We’re going to try and condense all that down to the bare bones minimum of what every smart budget needs.

#1: List your monthly income

List out all your forms of income. This would include the paychecks from your job, but also any extra money you make from any of your side hustles. Here is also where you can decide whether you want to organize your finances for gross income or net income.

Gross income is simpler and easier to calculate. You just need to know how much you get paid and use that money for your calculations.

Net income isn’t as simple to figure out but there are advantages to using it. You figure out your net income by looking up what the income tax is in your state, and taking out that percentage from your gross income. Using net income instead of gross income is perhaps better because it more realistically reflects what you will actually receive from your paycheck.

#2: List your fixed expenses

After you have all your sources of income written down you’ll want to form another list for all your fixed expenses. Fixed expenses are the expenses you have each month that don’t fluctuate in amount. Everyone’s list is going to look different depending on what expenses do and don’t apply to you, but here is an example list of some fixed expenses:

  • Rent or Mortgage: A calculation you’ll want to do when looking at your housing expenses is to check that your total housing expenses aren’t over 28% of your monthly gross income.
  • Insurance
  • Debts: A calculation you’ll want to do when looking at your debts is to check that your total debts aren’t over 36% of your monthly gross income.
  • Loans
  • Student loans
  • Credit card payments
  • Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify
  • Phone bill
  • Medication you pay for each month
  • Child support
  • Education

After you’ve listed all your fixed expenses total the amount, subtract it from your monthly income, and that’s what you have left to spend on varied expenses . . .

#3: Set up your savings

Before we go into varied expenses though, let’s take a moment to think about your savings and retirement. Get a savings account if you don’t have one already, and set aside a portion of what’s left over after fixed expenses. Any amount you can afford to put away into a savings account each month will set you up for success in the long term, even if it’s only 5 to 10 dollars a month.

Aside from general savings and saving for retirement, you also want to set money aside in an emergency fund. It’s recommended that you have at least 3 months worth of your fixed expenses put away into an emergency fund at all times.

Digit is a great app you can use to help you plan and organize all your savings.

#4: List and portion out your varied expenses

Everyone’s list of varied expenses is going to look differently depending on what expenses do and don’t apply to you. Varied expenses are any expenses that are going to fluctuate in amount each month, or are considered more like luxury expenses than needed ones.

Varied expenses are a big reason to do a budget in the first place so that your varied expenses each month don’t overtake your more important fixed expenses and your savings. Here are some examples of varied expenses you might need to consider:

  • Groceries
  • Eating out
  • Entertainment
  • Gas and transportation
  • Recreation
  • Clothes
  • College textbooks

Another way to figure out the reality of what you’re spending on varied expenses is to look at your transaction history for the month and see 1) How much in total you were spending on varied expenses that month, and 2) What those varied expenses were on. Do this for a couple months back to get a more realistic idea of what you are spending on varied expenses each month.

Organizing your varied expenses is where you have the most control over your budget. Whatever is left over after your fixed expenses and your monthly payments to your savings account is what you have to spend on all your other spending for the month.

Here is where you will list out what all those varied expenses might be and portion what you have left in the budget into them. Remember that you don’t necessarily want to portion out 100% of what’s left into these categories so that you can accumulate a comfortable cushion in not just your savings account but your checking account as well.

Budgeting Tips


Making investments is a great way to beef up your financial portfolio. There are probably a trillion ways to invest, but the idea behind investments is that you put money into something that will give you more money in return later. This is called compounding interest.
A helpful tip to remember when going into any investment is the rule of 72. This rule means that if you take 72 divided by the interest rate you’ll figure out the estimated number of years it will take for your interest to double your initial investment.

Personal Capital and Acorns are some of the most helpful investing apps you can use to step up your investment game.

Where should I put my budget?

Figuring out where to even put your budget can get complicated. You can use excel or make your own table in Word or Google Docs or any note taking program of your choice. There are also many free budget templates online that you can print out and use. Budget tools are all around if you take the time to look and decide on which ones best suit your needs.

Click here for a free budget worksheet from the Federal Trade Commission.

You can also use budgeting apps to keep track of all your bills, expenses, plans, and goals. Some of these apps even allow you to connect your budget to your financial accounts.

Control your spending

Sometimes it can be difficult to control your varied expenses throughout the month and track your spending. You can make controlling how much you spend each month easier by using a prepaid debit card. With a prepaid debit card you put money on it like a gift card to yourself almost. You can also use a similar method of spending control by just taking money out and only using that cash for your varied expenses each week.

PocketGuard is an app that can help you track your purchases.

Get a Side Gig

Getting an extra source of income can really come in handy. There are a million different kinds of side hustles any ambitious person these days can get into. You can babysit, drive for uber, or sell your own products. The possibilities are endless and it never hurts to have a little extra money each month.

Plan to Decrease Debts

Debt can be a real financial weight on your shoulders, but it can also be a necessary evil in order to get a house, get a car, get through college, and much more. Decreasing the amount of debts you owe can still help alleviate some of that weight and provide more financial comfort and peace of mind.

So it’s important to budget with paying down your debts in mind. You can pay down debts quicker by planning to spend more on that fixed/necessary expenses each month, by spending less on varied expenses, or by getting another job to provide more income to put into your debts each month.
Budgeting doesn’t have to be hard. All you really need is 4 lists and a calculator! Everyone should practice using a budget now so that you can control your finances instead of your finances controlling you.

Check out some of other Check City articles on budgeting:
Budgeting for Dummies
What is a Budget?
Budgeting Tips You May Not Have Thought of Before
3 Simple Tips to Building a Budget
Ways to Keep Track of Your Spending

Saving Money on Wedding Invites

Fall is finally here and for many happy couples that means the beautiful fall wedding that they’ve been dreaming about all summer. As anyone who has planned a wedding before knows, weddings aren’t’ cheap, so anywhere you can save a dollar or two is worth it. In previous posts we’ve talked about several ways you can save money on a wedding, including saving money on the reception and even when buying a gift for someone else but in today’s post we’ll be covering how you can save some money on your wedding invitations.

Wedding invitations are seemingly obligatory to an excellent wedding because of the purpose they serve in announcing the upcoming marriage. By so doing, the wedding announcements and invitations serve to invite friends and loved ones to come celebrate the nuptials with the happy couple.

Without Announcements… How Will People Know?

And perhaps most importantly, besides the above meaningful reasons of course, realistically speaking, how is a couple going to receive gifts from people without sending wedding invitations to everyone they can collectively think of? Still, however, wedding invitations can be fun to pick out, design, and create, all while serving the valuable purpose of inviting and announcing the upcoming wedding day.

But wedding invitations can also be a costly expenditure if the couple is not careful or wise in how they choose to handle them. Splurging for a wedding is completely natural and even expected in most cases, but the wedding invitations in particular are one area of the wedding planning process that a couple choose to go frugal in without losing any of the wedding’s elegance or grandeur.

Cheap Doesn’t Have to Mean Ugly

Contrary to what some may think, deciding to spend less on wedding invitations does not directly translate into having less than stellar announcements. Good looking and beautiful invitations can be purchased and sent out by the couple at a lower cost if they will simply strive follow sound advice on how to save money on wedding invitations.
One of the first ways that a future married couple can save on their wedding invites is by understanding a few practical points concerning shipping costs and how shipping costs are calculated. For example, square shaped envelopes cost more to mail per item than do the normal rectangle shaped envelopes.

This fact of square envelopes costing more than rectangle ones is due largely to the fact that square envelopes do not fit into the standard shipping machinery used by the post office. The square shaped envelopes must therefore be stamped and process individually, by hand in most cases, which in turn boosts the overall costs of mailing the announcements significantly.

Instead of square shaped announcements, a couple can choose to use the standard shaped rectangle envelopes when mailing their invitations so that the added cost of square envelopes does not tip the budget. Additionally, the fad of including pre-stamped envelopes in the wedding invites for the invited guest to RSVP is long over.

The added cost of stamping an equal number of envelopes as wedding invitations literally doubles mailing costs for the announcements. Instead, a couple can consider making a simple wedding website or Facebook page that their invited guests can log onto to RSVP electronically, thereby saving money both on shipping and envelopes.

Save Money With Social Media

This increasingly common practice being employed by future married couples of using social media to handle RSVPs brings up the money saving practice of making use of technology when creating and sending wedding invites. While sending a mass text or a Facebook e-vite to all is still considered a little tacky for such a formal event as a wedding, there are other ways that a couple looking to save on wedding invitations can utilize technology to lessen the costs of the invites themselves.

One such way that proper use of technology can help a couple reduce the costs of their wedding invites involves the use of maps in the wedding announcements. In times past, couples would include a printed mini map in every announcement that would show guests how to get to the location of the wedding or wedding reception.

Including printed maps into every invitation can quickly add to the cost of each printed invitation, so instead use again a wedding website, blog, or Facebook page to provide the information on locations to the invited guests. The URL for these online helpers can easily and inexpensively be added to the bottom of the invitation.

Choosing the right place to have the invitations created and printed can also translate into big savings, or big expenses, for the happy couple. A bride and groom should shop around for different printing prices and competitive rates.

Additionally, there may be places that offer entire wedding packages that would include invitations in the discounted price. By knowing how to mitigated costs on wedding invitations, a couple can save more money overall on their special day.

Planning Your Wedding on a Budget

It’s almost August and that means we’re in the middle of the summer wedding season. In honor of all the weddings that take place each week during these warm summer months we’re going to discuss how you can plan and stay within a budget while putting your summer wedding together. When you’re engaged and getting ready to get married, your budget may be more important than it has ever been. Planning a wedding on a budget can be difficult and it is important that you understand what your reality is going to be with your wedding. There are a lot of brides that just don’t understand how much everything is going to cost with their wedding. When you do not understand how much things cost, it can be very difficult to lower your expectations. Rather than lowering your expectations, it is important that you are realistic from the beginning.

Set Realistic Expectations

First, you should realize that what you see on television is not an accurate representation of reality. There are reality television shows that depict a bride looking for a dress with her loved ones. The prices of the dresses that they show you are usually not the real price of the dress. This can be very frustrating to brides that see their dream dress on television and can’t seem to find the same dress for the same price anywhere. Rather than basing your budget for your dress off of what you see on the television, it is important that you look through stores and really get to know the real prices of wedding dresses in your area.

Set The Right Time Frame

Second, when you are planning your wedding you should be sure that you give yourself enough time to stay in your budget. Many brides do not realize just how expensive last minute changes are or how hard it can be to do things on a budget without enough time. If you are planning on doing any do it yourself decorations, you want to make sure that you have the time to create something that is exactly what you want.

When you plan your engagement, you should be giving yourself enough time to ensure that you are going to be able to stay in your budget. Don’t rush through to your wedding if you think that you are not going to be able to stay within your budget. If don’t set a realistic timeframe for planning your wedding you may need to pay for the expenses of your wedding with a credit card or short term loan.

Prioritize Your Spending

Third, make sure that you know what is most important to you with your wedding. There are a lot of people that just do not prioritize their money well when they are setting their budget. Make a list of expenses that are most important to you. You should be sure that the expenses are covered and that you splurge on the things that are most important to you. By doing this, you can be sure that you are able to save money elsewhere.

Giving yourself the time that you need to understand how you are going to prioritize your wants and your future spouses wants is integral to staying within the budget and still loving your wedding. Don’t be afraid to adjust your priorities as you go, but make sure that you have the budget to make the changes that you decide you want to make.

Continue Cultivating Your Relationship

Fourth, throughout your engagement it is important that you remember why you are planning your wedding. There are a lot of people that get so caught up in the details of their wedding that they forget about their marriage. When you are planning your wedding, you should be sure that you understand how you are going to continue to cultivate your relationship with your future spouse. Taking the time that you need to get away from wedding planning and continue to cultivate your relationship is necessary.

Finally, the day of your wedding can be a great day. When you are getting ready on your wedding day, try to remember how much you love your future spouse. There are a lot of people that get so caught up in details or small hiccups that they are not able to really be present and enjoy the day that they spent so much time planning. It is so important that you understand how you are going to take time that day to really appreciate all of the planning and the love that has gone into your wedding day. Take time to think about the love of everyone that has surrounded you on your special day and revel in the beauty of your wedding day. Don’t be afraid to take a few breathers, sit back and really take in everything that you have put into your special day. Your wedding day will be well worth the effort you put into it.


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