The Beginner’s Guide to the Simple, 10-Minute Budget
Budgets have a reputation for being time-consuming and boring. While tinkering with a budget may not be very entertaining, the whole process doesn’t have to take as much time as you think. Besides, it’s an important tool for your financial success and one that shouldn’t be ignored. In the book The Millionaire Next Door, the majority of millionaires surveyed kept a budget. That’s enough to convince me!
I hope you’re convinced, too. Here’s how to get going in just a few minutes.
The Two-Step, 10-Minute Budget
Here’s a two-step process to get a create a budget in 10 minutes:
- Use Mint or a spreadsheet template. You can set up a Mint account in just a few minutes, or you can download a budgeting template from Google Docs quickly.
- Within each category, estimate your spending. You might not know how much you spend yet, but make an educated guess. The goal is to make sure your total expenses are less than your monthly income.
1. Mint or Spreadsheet? Decide Which System to Use
Using one of the options below will save tons of time versus trying to invent your own system from scratch.
My recommended option: Mint.com. This works best if you’re into technology and own a smartphone, too, although that’s not a requirement.
Why Mint? A lot of the process is automated, which saves time. All you need to do is open a Mint account with some simple information, and you’re basically set up. Mint will automatically create the spending categories for you and will track your spending without much additional work (more on this below). It will even estimate your budgets based on past spending.
If you don’t want to use Mint, there are some great spreadsheet templates available in Google Docs that are ready to use. Google Docs are convenient to use because it’s all “in the cloud” and you can access your spreadsheet from any computer that has an internet connection.
I recommend the Personal Monthly Budget template found on Google Docs. As you can see, there’s a good mix of categories already set up. When you fill in cells, totals will automatically be tabulated, too. You can easily change category names or make other changes as well.
2. Estimate Your Past Spending to Create Your Budget
This step can be completed on either the “Budgets” tab on Mint or within the pre-defined “projected” cells on your spreadsheet.
It’s best to break down your spending into several categories to see where your money is really going. For example, it typically makes sense to keep “grocery” and “restaurant” spending separate from each other because restaurants are often much more expensive than groceries. Use at least a few different fields to start, but feel free to ignore categories that aren’t relevant or important.
If you’ve never tracked spending before, just estimate what you spend monthly. Your guesses may be pretty far off in what you think you spend and what you actually spend each month. It can be helpful to look at any old bills or receipts you might have to get a rough idea, but you’ll most likely need to adjust these numbers after the first month
For now, fill in your budget with values that both:
- Are about what you think you spend each month already and
- Fall within your total spending limits.
You shouldn’t create a budget to spend more than you make (unless life circumstances make it difficult). Don’t forget to include savings, debt payments, and other financial goals you have in your budget, too.
When filling out your budget, make sure to account for fixed costs first. If you pay rent or have a mortgage, this is a regular monthly expense that you’re always going to have to pay. Make sure to include these things before giving yourself a large allotment for entertainment or nights out.
Spend a Few Minutes Tracking
Now that your quick budget is set up, you just need to set aside a few minutes every week to update your spending to make sure you’re staying on track. A budget is useless if you have no idea if you’re following it.
Mint users can easily link credit card, debit card, and bank accounts, and Mint will then pull the data (don’t worry, it’s secure) on charges and withdrawals from your accounts.
As mentioned above, Mint’s even smart enough to automatically put transactions into the proper categories for you. Just make sure to double-check as Mint still makes occasional mistakes.
If you own a smartphone, you can add cash spending on the go using the Mint app. Even without a smart phone, you can still enter the transactions on your computer when you get home.
If you’re going the spreadsheet route, simply set aside receipts to enter once a week into the proper categories. Adding a batch of receipts every Sunday afternoon shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
Review and Adjust
Your budget isn’t going to work out perfectly on the first month. That’s why you should review it at the end of the first month and each month after. If your were too optimistic, increase amounts as needed while still keeping total expenses less than total income.
Get Started Now!
Now that I’ve shown you how you can get started with your budget in 10 minutes, start right now! Head over to Mint or Google Docs and do the first two steps immediately. You’ll be glad you did!