How To Make Your First Budget

Print Friendly

Special Limited Time Offer: Get The Secret to a Successful Budget for 50% off.  Valid through January 31st, 2012.

Learning how to make a budget it an important skill.  That is why this blog talks a lot about budgeting:

You Might Need a Budget if
20 Reasons to Start a Budget

A popular myth is that you can get financially fit even if you don’t make a budget.  They say don’t work hard.  Don’t track your spending.  But, you must.

If I had to identify one financial tool or resource that made the biggest financial difference in my life I would say it is the budget.

But, you cannot change your financial habits until you are willing to experience a little challenge to your financial world.  Before you start to track your spending, make sure you know what has kept your from budgeting.

Two Budgeting Phrases To Avoid:

“I don’t know enough.”

Budgeting is a process.  Over a lifetime tracking your spending will probably save you tens of thousands of dollars.

Like anything new budgeting has a learning, an energy, and a time curve attached.

Initially, the process will be difficult.  It will take more time than your current (lack of) spending plan.  You will need to learn something new in the process.  You will need to motivate yourself to keep track of your spending.

“I don’t make enough money.”

If your gross annual income is $1.00, you make enough.

A budget is simply a prioritized spending plan.  It helps you answer the question – what is the best way to spend this dollar?  Since most financial plans include multiple dollars, you just ask that question many, many times.

How To Set Up And Make A First Budget

Budgeting is a process, not an event.

There is no such thing as a budget failure.  There are simply ample opportunities to learn how to do it better.  There is no such thing as a perfect way to track your finances.

If you try to address every single financial detail, it will bury you.  Make it your goal to set a simple start and build from there.

Determine What Budgeting Tool You Will Use

If you have tried tracking your spending before but it didn’t work out, you should try and identify what didn’t work about the first budget.  Often times people fail because they create systems that are too complicated.  Should you try a pen and paper system?

Perhaps you would like to try this simple free budget template.

There are two good programs designated specially for budgeting – You Need A Budget (click for a free trial) and Mvelopes which allows you to make electronic envelopes and manage your money on the computer (click here for a free trail).

For my budget I use a program called Moneydance that also helps me manage my finances.  Lots of people I know use the free service called Mint.  Check out the best personal financial software.

Schedule an Initial Session to Create Your Budget

Don’t try and deceive yourself – you might need an entire afternoon to make a first budget.  Chose a free Saturday morning or afternoon.  Choose a date just over a month away.

Think about the laws of motion.  If a big rock is sitting in front of you, it will take a lot of energy to get the rock moving.  Once it is rolling, you take advantage of the momentum.

Since you’ve not successfully budgeted before you will need a big chunk of time to get the ball rolling.

Choice A: Set Your First Budget by Keeping Every Receipt for a Month

Choice B: Set Your First Budget by Following a Recommended Budget Percentage Guide

At this point you will need to start.  You can do that by choosing one of the above options.

If you keep every receipt for a month:

During this month you will slowly be gathering all relevant financial documents – bank statements, credit card statements, pay check stubs, bills, and anything else financially related.  If they are already in one filing cabinet then that’s fine.

During this month you will be collecting every receipt or recording every payment.  You might need to go to the dollar store and buy a small notebook.  If you spend money, get a receipt or write it down – for an entire month.  These expenses will give you a place to start to set budget categories.

For every bill you pay once a year, simply take the total payment and divide it by 12.

This is an important first step for getting out of debt.

If you follow a recommended budget percentage guide:

All you would need to do is to figure out how much you make and then slice your budget accordingly to these budget category percentage allocations.

If you want to give 10% and you make $4,000 per month, then you know you need to put $400 into the give category.

Track Your Spending Every Month and Enter Purchases Frequently

Be sure you get a receipt for every purchase or write it down.  On a regular basis (weekly or biweekly) take your receipts and enter the purchases.  If you do it weekly, in about 20 minutes a week you should be able to maintain your spending plan.  Budgeting is not a waste of time because in those 20 minutes you are saving a lot of money.

Tweak, Tweak, and Re-tweak:

After you have set everything up you will find some categories need more money.  Take some money from one category and move it to another.  Each month you will find that the budgeting is working better and requiring less time.

If you’re interested, here’s A Sneak Peak into Our Budgeting Process.

What has helped you budget successfully?

For budgeting MH4C recommends The Secret to a Successful Budget.


  1. says

    Thanks for this great article. i used to think that i dont make enough money for me to be able to save money. As i grew older i realize that i do have enough money, no matter how little, i just have to cut off my spending. I had to change my attitude towards spending and afterwhich, my savings grew. At least i was able to realize this before i got my first credit card. This saved me a lot of trouble and was able to stay away from bad credit rating. So I’m grateful I was able to realize things soon.

  2. TinaB says

    Thank you for posting this! It’s definitely difficult to get started on budgeting, but in this economy, I really had no choice. One super helpful tip that I wanted to pass on- I was having trouble keeping my cell phone bill within my budget range because even though I was on a contract, I paid different amounts each month. I’d get hidden fees or overages, which threw everything off. Then I started to hear all this buzz about prepaid cellphone companies. I’d recommend it to anyone in the same boat I was in!

  3. jerry says

    After many years of trying to manually keep my family to a budget I found the only way was to record/sum transactions from our checking account. I found my bank offers CSV format. So I searched on the web and found a few programs that “no touch” upload function for my bank details into a database for personal marking and tracking. Currently I am using a program called bank2budget free trial and it looks good so far. It offers my bank format so you would have to check to see if your bank is offered.
    Good luck to us all and thanks for christian touch you are offering.

    • says

      Moneydance personal finance software also allows you to download in CSV format.
      Thanks for letting us know what works well for you.

      • says

        You so funny! Love your post and the photos are betuiaful! I still hang up Christmas ornaments my brother and I made when we were kids that now hang by a thread but I can’t replace them. Great tradition you’re starting

  4. Justin says

    Hey Craig,
    I really like this post you made about your book. I was disappointed to see what happened when I tried to checkout. In your post you wrote that 50% off is valid until Janurary 31, 2012. Well… is the 31st and I tried entering that code and it says the code has expired. Good work on the content, but disappointed about the checkout result.


    • says

      I purchased this to learn it so that I can up-skill mlesyf. I had never heard of it until I went looking for some of the more common accounting packages in use today. (I’m originally from the southern hemisphere which explains my ignorance.)I have used various accounting products (many tailor-made to a company) and this is so easy to follow and makes many other complicated packages look like a waste of time. It comes with a great instruction booklet that is easy to follow, I wonder why I bought the Dummy’s Guide as I don’t think I would have needed it.I have only had it a few days, but already I can see that this is going to be easy to learn. My husband who has no experience with accounting found it pretty straight-forward too.For businesses, whether start-up or existing, I would recommend it. They even offer a $50 cash-back if you’re switching over from Quickbooks. To be honest, I don’t know why more companies aren’t using this software. It would take the headache out of teaching new staff the program.This package covers your accounts receivable, payable, payrole and much more (I could just about write a book). It doesn’t include the tax package, but that is something you can purchase to add to this.Regarding the license: Appears to be single user, but they do have multi-user software in this series.

  5. says

    I agree, you absolutely cannot get total control of your money without a budget. I prefer a written budget and I’ve been doing one every single month for years. It really opens your eyes to where all the money is going and how much you may be wasting.

  6. says

    You’ve made some decent points there. I looked on the internet for more information
    about the issue and found most people will go along
    with your views on this website.

  7. says

    Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve visited your
    blog before but after browsing through many of the posts I realized it’s
    new to me. Regardless, I’m definitely happy I discovered
    it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back often!

  8. Omer Frost says

    But the truth is when you use this formula, it becomes REALITY almost instantly!
    Keep on reading and pay close attention to what I’m about to reveal: You don’t need a product, list, domains, website, experience, or even MONEY to do it!

    This is how SIMPLE it is:
    1. Copy a listing from location A
    2. Paste it in location B & make $20-$80 every single time… You ALWAYS keep the profit!

    ANYONE Can Do This, Even Total Noobs
    Literally anyone can pick this up, implement the same day and see Real Results of this formula working VERY FAST, without
    working hard, spending a ton of Cash!
    You’ll be successful faster than you ever though was even possible.

    Is a brand new arbitrage formula – very few people know about it and even less are actually using it.
    We focus on an overlooked area when it comes to arbitrage – and it’s pretty crazy because EVERYONE wants these services.
    Anyone that does this makes an absolute killing – and there’s no end to how many customers you can have.

    If you’ve ever tried arbitrage, you know how POWERFUL it is…
    Regular evryday people that aren’t marketers have been using it for YEARS to make a steady online income… but if you think that you know the formula we’re revealing inside THIS FORMULA – think again!

    [Reply to this email] ==>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *