How to Build Your Own DIY Budgeting Notebook

If you want to start a budgeting notebook and search “budget” images, you’ll probably see a bunch of graphs, checkbooks, calculators, and folks scratching their heads.

Budgeting gets a bad reputation because some people think it’s boring and only about making sacrifices, missing out on fun activities, and—worst of all—doing math!

But budgeting is all about you and your goals, and you can make the experience your own by creating your very own budgeting notebook.

Like a hero crafting their own sword for battle, you can create the tool you need for financial success to help you slay the Debt Dragon and claim a castle of your own.

The fundamentals of budgeting

Budgeting is planning how you spend your money. Creating a budget gives you a picture of what you can afford and helps you evaluate how you can save money toward a goal.

Whether you’re doing this on your own or with family, budgeting helps you make smart decisions with your paychecks while you work towards large financial goals.

It involves logging expenses, setting money aside for saving, and reducing spending where you can. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you budget.

Keep it consistent

To make something a habit, it needs to be a routine. If you’re practicing healthy eating and eat a bowl of ice cream every night, you may end up undoing your hard work. Practicing good habits and splurging on tempting behavior keeps people from seeing results. This is especially true for spending habits.

Budgeting isn’t a natural ability but a behavior we learn through practice, so if you want to make it a habit, it needs to be consistent.

Budgeting is a time commitment, so start by setting up time in your week to actively budget. Whether it’s reviewing spending at the end of the week or planning paychecks the night before payday, picking a consistent time to set aside helps make it a routine process.

When it comes to day-to-day activities, consider your budget whenever you make purchases. The more consistent you are with these little decisions, the more money you can save overall.

If you save $5 on your morning coffee each day by making it yourself, you can save up to $150 by the end of the month!

Motivate yourself to save

Obligation can take the joy out of anything, so try to frame your thinking around saving as a positive choice you are making for yourself.

You’re not just budgeting for the sake of budgeting—you’re working towards a goal! Staying motivated isn’t so tricky when you have clear reasons for saving.

Set out some short-term and long-term goals for yourself. Maybe you want to go on a vacation with your family, or maybe you want to pay off your student loans. Whatever your goals are, they should be reasonable, actionable, and timely. It’s much easier to stay motivated when you know where the finish line is!

Also, remember to reward yourself along the way.

Having milestones makes the path toward saving a lot more bearable. If you need some help, try using SaverLife to reward you each time you put a little money aside for yourself!

Make saving a lifestyle

Making budgeting a habit by instilling it in your lifestyle will make saving second nature.

However, saving shouldn’t take over your life. The goal is to build lasting habits, not to force yourself into an uncomfortable lifestyle.

Putting away more than you’re reasonably able so you can rush the saving process can be counterproductive. Opt for a steady, reasonable percentage of your income to set aside consistently instead.

Also, don’t work towards unsustainable goals. Your first savings journey shouldn’t be buying a lake house, especially if the costs associated with that investment aren’t in line with your financial well-being. When considering your goals, ask yourself if they are SMART:

  • Specific: What exactly am I trying to accomplish?
  • Measurable: How will I measure my progress?
  • Achievable: Do I have the resources to achieve it?
  • Relevant: Is this goal important to me?
  • Time-Bound: When can I reasonably achieve my goal?

Budgeting can be much friendlier when you treat yourself right. Nothing is more important than making sure you have what you need!

Get started with a DIY Budgeting Notebook

Gather supplies

Want to make budget setting a fun activity? Try making your very own budgeting notebook! Personalizing your notebook is a great way to infuse it into your lifestyle.

You’ll need:

  • A binder or notebook
  • Dividers (actual dividers or sticky notes)
  • Monthly calendars, which can be printed for free
  • Writing utensils (pens, pencils, markers)

Your notebook can be as creative or simple as you like. Color coding can help keep you organized and can make budgeting a more positive experience.

Map out your planner

You can start by planning the structure of your notebook. You can put sticky notes on the pages or map them out on a separate piece of paper. Consistency is key, so make sure every part of the page has a purpose that you stick to.

Try to make a designated space for each of these things in your budget notebook:

  • A reminder of fixed expenses (rent, phone bill, insurance, etc.)
  • The spending categories you want to cut back on
  • Account usernames and passwords
  • A calendar for each month
  • A notes section

A calendar can especially help you keep track of payment due dates, paydays, and planned events that may require you to save some money (travel, birthdays, etc.). You can also prepare ahead for times that involve a lot of purchases, like holidays or back-to-school.

Attach envelopes or zippered bags to different pages for receipts or saved cash if you prefer to do things with paper rather than reviewing digital statements.

Get creative with the structure of your notebook and make it work for you!

Start with an overview of your spending

Somewhere in the first few pages of your notebook, make space for dedicated expenses.

Start by listing your fixed expenses. This includes rent, subscriptions, bills, insurance payments, etc. Getting these out of the way gives you a better picture of what you’ll actually be able to spend each month.

If you’re using a calendar, write down when these payments are due. You don’t want to get sidelined by an automatic payment, do you?

Next, include the spending that happens frequently but isn’t a fixed amount: groceries, utilities, transportation, etc. You can determine an average or goal spend for these categories so that you can keep track of them.

It’s okay to adjust these amounts as they change according to different circumstances.

Debt Overview

Do you have credit card debt or loans you want to pay off? Write those down, too!

Detail your debt tracker with the service name, interest rate, and the minimum payment due each month. Then, once you have a better picture of your earnings and fixed expenses, you can decide how much to devote to paying off debt.

If you have a number you’re chipping away at, you can write the new amount left over each month. This helps you stay motivated in tackling debt, and it may better inform you about your interest.

Write out your goals and savings

Remember those goals you’ve set for yourself? Make sure to put those down to keep yourself reminded and motivated.

Each month, have your short-term goals listed at the top.

You can put checkboxes next to them to cross them off when completed. For example, if your goal for the month is paying off $200 of your credit card, then check it off once the payment has been made. Milestone achieved!

Try incorporating a reflection section for those long-term goals, too. Give your future self helpful advice for sticking to the lifestyle, steps you can take in the coming months, or ways to kickstart saving for those goals.

Get each month set up and start filling it in

Track as you go and map out whatever you can preemptively. If you take care of these items beforehand, your focus can remain on tracking large spending categories.

As you start actively filling in your calendar, list the actual amounts you paid each month for variable expenses so you can estimate whether or not you need to budget more for those categories. This is especially helpful for groceries, which can vary a lot week by week.

Keep track of saved money, too, so you can appreciate your hard work and roll over amounts into the right saving categories.

Use SaverLife to help you save toward goals and reward yourself along the way

Saving is easy when you know how to manage your money. With the fundamentals down and your tools all ready, you can start being proactive with your money. Your budgeting notebook is how you can set up a financial plan, and SaverLife can help you bring that plan to life- and reward you for it, too! SaverLife is a free program from a nonprofit organization that rewards you each time you save money. Sign up today and start earning points toward your future!

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