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7 Days to a Budget

If you’re like me, you can sit down for hours at a time and enjoy looking over your budget.  If you’re normal, you have neither the time nor the inclination to spend a perfectly good evening crunching numbers.  I’m assuming that most people are ‘normal’ (at least in terms of budgeting) and for that reason, I have broken the process into seven, doable steps, so that by this time next week you will finally be on a budget. 

What a budget will do:

  • Help you get out of debt.
  • Help you set and achieve financial and savings goals.
  • Help you conserve your resources.
  • Help you anticipate financial problems before they occur.

What a budget will not do:

  • Keep itself – budgets do require monthly maintenance.  
  • Keep track of every little expense – budgeting is about your BIG financial picture; like when lots of little things start to add up.
  • Magic – budgets do not do magic, that part is up to you.

Day 1 – Choose Your Weapon

Before you decide on your method for keeping track of your finances, ask yourself a few questions:

Do I want to record of everything by hand? 

  1. Will I be motivated to do this every month?
  2. Do I have the time to do this every month?
  3. Are my finances simple enough to do this every month?

Do I want to use budgeting software?

  1. Are most of my transactions electronic, or will I have to manually input a lot of cash transactions?
  2. Am I comfortable giving my bank information to an online service?
  3. Am I willing to pay for software?

Here are just a few of your options (be sure to shop around to see what you like):

  • Excel (By Hand) – There are plenty of free spreadsheets online to get you started.  Also, be aware that many banks allow you to export your account information directly to Excel.
  • Mint.com (Online Service)
  • PocketSmith.com (Online Service)
  • Quicken (Software, Available via Download)
  • You Need a Budget (Software, Available via Download)

Day 2 – Get Your Poop in a Group

Now that you have your budget platform, you need to gather and input your budget data.  Try to get information for at least 2-3 months back so that you can set realistic budgets for this month.  Your budget will only get better and better as it builds on itself over time. 


  • Pay Stubs for both you and your spouse.  Enter your total monthly income into your platform. 
  • Monthly income after tax – use a paycheck calculator like this one.  Doing this will help you make sure that your W-4 is filled out correctly. 
  • Any other sources of monthly income that you might have (rental properties, etc.).


  • Bank Statements – export these to Excel, or upload them to your software.
  • Credit Card Statements – ditto.
  • Check Registers – when check information is uploaded to your budget, it will not include specific information. 
  • Cash Expense Records? – if you are this anal retentive, then use it to your budget’s advantage.

Day 3 – Categorize, Organize, Harmonize 

This is the hard part.  When you first set up your budget, you are going to have a lot of transactions to categorize.  Don’t let this put you off though, because when you take the time to start your budget off properly, maintenance will be much, much easier. 

We use Mint for our budget and they have just about a million categories (no, not really).  Make sure that you use just enough classifications to make your budget useful, not more, not less.  Could I be more vague?  Yes.  Trust me, you’ll know when it’s right.

Day 4 – Set SPECIFIC Goals

Dream: Someday I would like to have a castle in southern Tennessee. 

Goal: I am going to build a $2 million castle in southern Tennessee in 20 years.  That means I need to be saving $X,XXX per month.

Goals have specific amounts and time-lines.  Nobody lives forever man!  Here are a few common considerations:

  • Retirement
  • Emergency Funds
  • Home Buying
  • College Savings
  • Vacations

Day 5 – Balance the Budget

Here is the secret, here is the key to saving money: spend less than you make.  Look at your big financial picture, goals ‘n’ all: 


– Expenses

– Monthly Goals     

Surplus 🙂 / Deficit 🙁

When you plug your budget into this equation do you come out with a surplus or with a deficit?  If it’s the latter, then something in the equation has got to change.  Either find a way to reduce your expenses or push back your goals a few more years; which sounds more appealing?  I’ll wait while you decide.


Day 6 – Optimize Your Efforts

I’m impatient, you’re impatient.  Sooner or later we all realize that we would like to be achieving or goals faster.  Fortunately, there is a very simple way to do this: earn more, spend even less. 

Ways to Earn More Money:

  • Make the most of the benefits you have now and contribute to your employer’s 401k matching program.
  • Ask for a raise.
  • Take a second job. 

Ways to Spend Less:

Day 7 – Keep on Truckin’

Schedule your next budget review for one month from now.  Keep improving your spending habits and tracking your financial health.

Article publié pour la première fois le 24/08/2010

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