How do you set up a budget?

alisandeMay 12, 2003

This will sound like a dumb question to some, but just think of me as a very late bloomer. I've never had to use any kind of a budget. It's not that I've had unlimited funds; it's just that between my inherent thrift and my husband's ability to cover the major bills, I was able to go on from year to year without overspending or keeping track of my expenditures.

Now my situation has changed. My husband is in a nursing home, and I'll soon be on a limited income. I don't want any unpleasant surprises when the heating oil tank needs filling or the school tax bill comes in. How do I devise a system that lets me anticipate expenses and take care of everything else?

Thanks for your help,


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Susan: Not a dumb question at all. Some people do just fine without a budget. My parents drilled the need for one into my head, so I have always functioned better on a budget. It is pretty simple:

Make a list of all the bills that have constant monthly amounts; car payment, mortgage, car insurance, life insurance, health insurance, credit cards, taxes, etc.
Call your electric and gas companies, and request to be set up on a budget plan so that your monthly bill will be the same.
Estimate how much the others will be by looking back at past bills; groceries, gas for the car, telephone, etc.
Write down your income per month. Subtract all your expenses and what is left is available for use for other things.

This should give you a start anyway. Good luck, you will do great. Carol

    Bookmark   May 12, 2003 at 10:18PM
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I use quicken for keeping track of where my money goes. It also has a feature seting up a budget. There are also some books in office supply houses like Staples that have books.
One is Adams Financial Records, simple and inexpensive and another is from Waldon Books--The Budget Kit. That you can seperate and keep in a note book, but it is around 20.00, but it does have a ton of forms, ideas, etc. If you afford it, that would be the best. After you put the figures in Quicken or any other money program, each year gets easier.
Good luck to you

    Bookmark   May 13, 2003 at 3:13PM
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To me, the most important part of budgeting is to have a vary ACCURATE assessment of what your costs are. It may sound like a pain, but take at least a month and write down every single expense as you go along. Don't skip the morning coffee costs - I'm talking everything. I think many people fail on their budgets not because they don't have willpower, but because they aren't really aware of where all the money is going.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2003 at 1:07PM
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I completely agree with the above posters -- you need to take 1-2 months of completely accurate notes about where your money is being spent. Carry a little notebook around w/you if necessary. If you are like most people, you'll be suprised at where your money goes.

I keep two budgets - one includes set expenses such as house and car payments, utilities, etc. and the other is more discretionary expenses - things I have (a little) more control over such as groceries, entertainment, clothing and gasoline. If it's a lean month I know that I can always cut back on discretionary spending. Hope that's a little helpful...

    Bookmark   May 19, 2003 at 10:29AM
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Hi janetwilson,

You " ... keep two budgets ... "?

One for you ... and one for the income tax people?

Greetings Alisande,

You had about two weeks after the most recent post to do some thinking and writing about expected monthly expenses in June ... and what non-regular items might be coming up.

Now we're about half way into June.

Are things going more or less as you'd calculated (I hope, especially if your plan included spending less than your monthly income) or have there been some surprises? None seriously unpleasant, I hope.

The estimates aren't written in stone - juggling is permitted.

An encouraging word - the choosing of how to spend your income gets easier as you go along: I'm sure that you'll find that there'll be fewer surprises in future months.

It sure helps a lot, though, if there's some money left at the end of the month, rather than vice versa.

Actually - budgets more often than not help that to happen.

Good wishes as you pursue your dream,

joyful guy

    Bookmark   June 16, 2003 at 11:41PM
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Thanks for thinking of me, Joyful Guy. I haven't embarked on my budgeting work yet because at present my spending isn't at all typical and doesn't represent what will eventually be the norm, at least for a while. Right now I'm undertaking major work on my house, and the money is just flowing....out. :-)

I appreciate your good thoughts.


    Bookmark   June 17, 2003 at 10:58PM
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Keep Credit Card spending to a minimum. If you've got the cash, go for it. You're old enuf to know what you need in life, and more importantly.. what you DON'T NEED. go from there.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2003 at 1:51AM
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Hi again Alisande/Susan,

Even though most of your current financial issues are very different from what you expect them to be in future, I'd suggest that you get started now tracking every single expense. Though some of them are different, probably some will be ones that you have to deal with monthly in future.

To begin with, get a receipt for every (cash) expenditure.

You'll have a record of cheques. (Yeah, Canadians spell funny - you call 'em "checks"). If you don't get cheques returned regularly, be sure to write down amounts and the reason for it in your "cheque register" when you write each cheque. You should record the amounts as you go and deduct from balance, in any case - avoiding one $20.00 fee for "Not Sufficient Funds" will pay you a good rate of return on your record-keeping time.

I have a small box (formerly two milk cartons - need I say "thoroughly washed" - telescoped together and stapled) just long enough to hold a regular business-sized envelope. I try to use envelopes without windows, put a dozen into the box, labelled with each month of the year. Keep each receipt received this month in the "June" envelope, writing the name of the item and amount in my account book as I go.

Box holds about 18 envelopes, when filled, if desired.

During May I collected (current) "May" receipts in "May envelope. At end of "May", I moved it to back of the box.

"June" was then at the front of the box, filled with last year's June receipts. I removed those receipts, put them into another business-sized envelope, labelled it "June 2002" and stored it in archive - O.K. if it's window type, as it seldom gets viewed.

Last year's "July" receipts are just behind the "June" envelope - and "August"'s behind that. All of my receipts for the last year are right there, easily viewed whenever I choose.

But - it's easier just to look up last year's business in the account book.

Check with amount in the wallet every couple of days, so it's not too difficult to remember where the unrecorded amount(s) went. Soon you'll get used to remember amounts spent that you didn't get a receipt for - e.g. morning coffee.

Even though quite a few of the amounts you're dealing with now are quite different from what you expect in future - probably a number of your current expenses will carry over as regular expenses in the months to come. As you look at your record later - you can see which ones are special and which ones recurrent.

Suggest that you have a record book with five columns: Date, Item, Expenditure, Income, Balance. Maybe 6 - including 2 for "Expenditure", keeping record of each "Expenditure" item in left "Expenditure" column, add half a dozen, ten or so, writing total of those few in right "Expenditure" column, deduct that total from "Balance".

Count money on hand at first of month, write in "Balance on Hand". When receive cash, write in "Income", add to "Balance". When spend money, write under "Expense", deduct from "Balance".

Check amount in wallet against amount recorded very couple of days, in the beginning. Soon you'll get so used to remembering that once or twice a week will do.

Good wishes for being able to keep the ship of state moving along without hassles.

joyful guy

    Bookmark   June 19, 2003 at 9:05PM
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I keep a piece of paper on the fridge and record all expenses.Food, gas(gas for the mower,too), oil, car repairs and maintenance,clothing, house repairs,insurance(car,life,home),etc. I live in the northeast, so I have to have a full year's expenses to make a budget due to changes in oil heat and electrical use.And, of course,less gas mileage in winter due to that gasoline additive they add!The rest is simple.Add your yearly income and your yearly expenses for each category , figure how much emergency money you are comfortable with, and just make it balance. I figure if I spent $1000 on the car in the past year on repairs, oil changes, tires, I stick with that for next year. I would rather have the money than NOT have the money.I also sit down every two weeks and write out the bills and then I do a quick check on how I am doing for the month.Income minus outgo.Tells me if I have to slow down on my spending.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2003 at 3:40AM
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Hi again Alisande,

It's about 4 months down the road.

How have things been going?

Very well, with few hassles, we hope.

If there have been problems - if you feel that it might be helpful, tell us about it/them and likely someone will have some suggestions to make the transition less onerous.

The easier and more routine that it gets, not taking a lot of hourly or emotional time, the better chance that you'll persevere (and gain the benefits).

Hope things are going well,

joyful guy

    Bookmark   September 15, 2003 at 3:35AM
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To start a good budget first you must take %10 of your income and give it to the church.With what is left you live by it.You will see that everything will fall into place and you will have more than enough to live by.It might take a few months but you will see your needs are not the same.If you have the same money amounts coming in every month you have no worries .You don't have to save for a rainy day because it's already here and you can't take it with you..I have been doing this for ten years and have more now than I ever had.Maybe living in a senior complex help take the worries out of my life.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2003 at 11:15AM
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It's nice that you don't have any worries, Goldie, but believe me the rest of us do. Alisande has a seriously ill husband who requires institutional care and she's solely responsible for him and his needs, not just her own. How is cutting her income by 10% and giving it "to the church" going to help her when his medical and nursing home bills come rolling in?

    Bookmark   October 23, 2003 at 2:49PM
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You have to have faith.Try it.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2003 at 11:01AM
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Goldy, for some of us faith and spirituality have so little to do with money that we find it hard to discuss both matters in the same conversation.

I'm glad tithing works for you, but as Maxwell so articulately pointed out, it absolutely would not work for me.


    Bookmark   October 24, 2003 at 11:44AM
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I've found over the years that some Christians seem to think that if they give their 10% to God, he (or "she") will almost automatically ensure that they'll be O.K. financially. With very little study or effort expended on their part required.

Sort of - "You take care of God and s/he'll take care of you".

Some TV evangelists have encouraged such a viewpoint, I think.

It has seemed to me that it should produce less hardship for a family with annual income of $200,000. to offer that pecentage to God than for a family with annual income of $20,000.

I'm rather attracted to the concept that God gave us a good brain and expects us to use it, in part to manage our personal income and outgo. For most people, such operation is not effortless.

If we don't do that effectively, we may suffer some drastic consequences.

Also, though I have recently been giving more than 10% of my annual income to causes outside myself, only part of it goes to church-related agencies, including the (liberal Protestant) seminary where I was trained - over 50 years ago.

Fifty years ago this past summer I went to Korea to help clean up the mess after that war and to help a few of hundreds of thousands of refugees get back on their feet.

Some goes to the University where I studied (we need highly skilled leaders if we are to continue to be competitive in coming years).

Some goes to groups who help the homeless, some to families who, though employed, don't make enough to keep their family decently, some to a local food bank, some to a shelter for (mostly) battered women (for which my daughter helped raise a building fund several years ago), some for Habitat for Humanity, to builld homes for low-income people here and abroad.

Some goes to medical research to seek better treatment for various illnesses.

Ancient Greek thought claimed that there was a division between physical and mental or spiritual issues and many Christians these days feel that spiritual stuff is good and crass material things much less so.

The ancient Hebrews felt that life was all of a piece, with physical and mental or spiritual issues being linked and God interested in all of life. Sort of like the two ends of a pencil, that are separate, but linked and indivisible.

Further discussion of this issue welcomed, if you wish to contact me directly.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   October 30, 2003 at 1:11AM
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