An easy way to build a realistic budget

Having a budget can help you stay on track to meet your everyday expenses and try to save some money for your longer-term goals. But how do you get yourself started without feeling like it's just another chore?

It helps to start small. Begin by quickly jotting down how much you made last month and how much you spent. Then compare the two.

Writing down your expenses on paper can help you see if you might be spending too much, saving too little, or spending and saving the right amounts. When you make your "spending" list, make sure you include:

  • monthly expenses—for essentials such as housing, heat, food, clothes, and transportation,
  • spending money—for entertainment and non-essentials,
  • insurance—for car, home, medical, dental, and life insurance coverage, and
  • savings—including what you put aside for your retirement or the down payment on a house.

Don’t forget to look at your paycheck and see what expenses are being deducted automatically—before and after taxes are taken out—such as health insurance and 401(k) deductions.

You can also use our What's your monthly budget? worksheet to see where your money is going.

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