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A budget is incredibly important once you start your life as an independent adult. You want to save money and retire early, you want to travel the world, you want to buy the latest iPhone — all of these require money. The better you plan, the easier it will get.
Simply put, a budget is an overview of your current expenditures, your current income, and your savings plan. All put together, it should tell you how to spend your money wisely. But it can be a bit difficult to come up with your own budget, especially since there are various philosophies as to what makes a good one.
Instead of stressing out and racking your brain, just relax and rely on these simple budget calculators to get your finances under control.
For those who are new to budgeting, the biggest question is, “How much should I spend on this category?” If you haven’t paid attention to your finances until now, it’s difficult to know what is the right percentage of your income to spend on food, travel, and other types of expenditures. Budget Breakdown Calculator does that for you.
Just key in your income and click “Calculate” to find out how much of your money should be spent on different expenditures like housing, food, clothing, medical, debt repayment, and so on. Each category has a minimum and maximum amount, so it’s still your call on the final amount — but at least you get a range. The calculations are based on Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey, who is known for doling out great personal finance advice every day.
The 50/30/20 Rule is one of the oldest and simplest budgeting ideologies. It’s perfect for beginners who are overwhelmed by a budgeting process otherwise. The rule is to divide your money into three categories: needs (50% of your money), wants (30% of your money), and savings (20% of your money). Like the many helpful spreadsheets to manage finances, there’s a Google Docs template you can get started with.
Add your annual income under Person 1 (and that of your significant other under Person 2, if you are budgeting together). The tool automatically calculates monthly incomes. Next, go through the list and fill in the blanks for your monthly expenses, like rent or mortgage, insurance, groceries, internet or cable bill, and so on. The spreadsheet handles all the calculations, you just fill the stuff in.
Once you’re done, you’ll see two helpful pie charts that compare your ideal and actual spending, so you know where you should cut down and where to divert your money instead. For example, you might see that you should curb your tech spending (wants) and put more into a vacation fund (savings). It’s budgeting at its simplest!
Dave Ramsey’s Recommended Budget and EveryDollar
Financial guru Dave Ramsey is a master at simplifying your finances, and his recommended budget maker is no exception. Choose how much you make in a month, and it will recommend the amounts that you should contribute to charity, savings, housing, utilities, transportation, and medical, as well as showing you how much you have left over for other purposes.
Once you see about how much you should be spending on different things, you can get on Ramsey’s original 7-step budgeting system to get you out of debt and build your wealth towards retirement. The best part is he turned it into an app so that you can take these seven baby steps to personal budgeting.
Input your financial information and EveryDollar will show you the percentages of your income that you’ve dedicated to various categories, then guide you through the seven steps:
- Start an emergency fund by saving $1000
- Pay off debt using the debt snowball
- Save 3 to 6 months of expenses
- Invest 15% of income into retirement
- Save for your kids’ college fund
- Pay off the house
- Build wealth and give to charity
These seven steps act as a single goal each time. When you’re on step one, don’t think about step two, let alone step seven. Just concentrate on the first goal. This is important because you need to give your budget a purpose so that you stick to it. It’s easy to create that budget and then cheat, but EveryDollar gives you ever-changing goals to aim for, which is not only satisfying but also motivating.
There are some fantastic money management tools in Google Drive, but the Personal Budget Planner template is my absolute favorite. It’s so comprehensive and seamlessly automated that it feels like a high-end, sophisticated app — but it’s completely free! The maker, Joao Cunha Jeronimo, has released an updated version with more features, so you can now register daily spending, and a new People sheet helps you track who owes you money and who you owe money to.
In the first sheet, put your all incomes and expenditures as always. You’ll see a summary of your income versus expenses, as well as a percentage breakdown of how much you have budgeted in each category, so you can see if you’re sticking with a particular budget plan or if one category is costing you more than you thought.
Now, you can shift to the second tab to check your budget by monthly. Other tabs like Tracking, Comparison, Debts, and People provide more insights into your money, and there’s even a month-by-month breakdown of all your finances. It’s fantastic how the quick budget brings a huge data set to your fingertips, without you doing anything. And hey, those charts and graphs don’t hurt when looking at your money!
At its most basic, budgeting is about setting limitations on your money, so you know how much you want to save and how much you can spend. Level Money is a whole new way of answering that simple question, “How much can I spend?” The free mobile app asks to be connected to your bank accounts and your credit cards, so that it can access how much money you have currently and all your transactions.
Once you have it set up, just key in the amount of money you want to save every month. That way, Level Money deducts that much from your total bank balance and calculates how much money you can spend every day, every week, or every month. It also shows you predicted balances and bills, which can be a huge help in calculating your budget.
Level Money has a simple interface focused on your “balance left” — kind of like opening a wallet to see how much money you have to spend. As you make any transaction with your card or withdraw cash from an ATM, the app updates the amount you have left. It’s one of the best money-saving and budgeting finance apps out here.
Download: Level Money for Android (Free) and for iOS (Free)
Put It Into Practice with a Budgeting App
Once you’ve used a budget calculator to get an idea of where your money should be going, as well as where it’s actually going, you can put those ideas into practice with a budgeting app. All of these apps can help you figure out where your money should be going, but because they’re full of so many other useful features, it might be a good idea to use a tool above to get that figured out before you starting using one.
Pear Budget: Best for Beginners
Pear Budget simplifies financial budgeting with a step-by-step guide. It’ll first ask you to choose expenditure categories (mortgage, vacation, etc.), choose their frequency, ask how much money you want to spend on each, and then create a plan for you. Then it encourages you to track your expenditures. As the app says, everyone gets their budget wrong the first couple of times, because we’re bad at estimating how much we actually spend.
It’s a helpful app that knows budgeting is about trial and error, and takes you through that initial process till you’re comfortable with making a budget. But it also isn’t free, and costs you $5 per month to continue using it.
YNAB: Best for Intermediates
Once you’re set with basic budgeting, You Need a Budget pushes you a bit further to make better choices. Its simple philosophy is to give each dollar a job, and to be honest with yourself about your expenses. So for example, it’s not a big chunk for “savings,” it’s three small chunks for “retirement,” “investments,” and “vacation.”
YNAB also has several powerful features. It can track your expenditures, hook into your bank accounts and credit cards to get a clear idea of your finances, and much more. It’s actually a robust budgeting tool comparable to Mint, but be warned that it requires a paid subscription of $5 per month or $50 per year.
Mint: Best for Experts
If you need more features from your budgeting tool, nothing comes close to Mint. Think of a feature and Mint probably has it. From connecting with your accounts to analyzing your expenditures to find trends and insights, this is the absolute best budgeting app out there. But it’s not for newbies.
Mint’s interface and options can be overwhelming if you’re new to the world of budgeting. When you aren’t used to keeping an eye on your money all the time, a tool like Mint and its many features and prompts isn’t what you need. Go for the simpler choices noted above to start off. Later, you can always import your data into Mint in a few minutes.
Share a Budgeting Tip
A successful budget isn’t static. You need to revisit and review it often. Try out financial planner Robert Pagliarini’s P.E.R.K. method to figure out what changes you should make. Just open your expenditures and categorize them as one of the following:
- Postpone: If it can wait, wait.
- Eliminate: Got two things that do the same thing? Eliminate one.
- Reduce: Go from two Starbucks coffees a day to one and save money.
- Keep: Some things like paying your rent should always be done, so keep them as they are.
That’s the best budgeting tip I know. What’s yours?
Leave a great budgeting tip in the comments below so we can all be better about budgeting. And if you know of another good budget calculator, please share it!