Many of us need to budget to stay on top of our finances, but sometimes that can feel like a full-time job. Money coming in, money going out, keeping track of it all can be challenging to remember.
Today, there is an abundance of online budget tools that will help you keep track of virtually everything money-related. For example, sites like youneedabudget.com, mint.com, or personalcapital.com have been built to help users create a budget and keep track of their finances.
However, these solutions aren’t for everyone. Even with technology on their side, linking all your accounts, making sure all the transactions are categorized automatically, using all the available tools, and constantly logging in can be cumbersome.
There has to be a simpler way, right? Sure there is. Although the use of technology seems better, sometimes the simple, low-tech solution is the easiest to use. That is where a budget binder comes in handy.
What is a Budget Binder?
A budget binder is simply a physical binder you create in any way you like to keep track of your monthly expenses. You can make it as basic or complex as you want and tweak it as you continue to use it. In most cases, it is used to implement zero-based budgeting. Think of it as a day planner, but for your money.
As great and flexible as some of the apps, websites, and other financial tools can be, none are as specific to you as your budget binder will be. That’s because your budget binder is created by you, for you, and only you. There is no one size fits most here. It’s one size fits you, and you can change it as you see fit.
Whether you get paid once a week, twice a month, bi-weekly or monthly, you can make your budget binder fit your schedule. Do monthly bills come on the 1st, 5th, 15th, 30th? No worries, you create the plan to which you record the expenses.
With a personal budget binder, you’ll easily be able to keep track of all your income, expenses and have a place to put any important document. You can store bills, envelopes with cash as sinking funds, or anything else financially-related all in one place. No more logging into multiple sites or hunting around for that document you stashed away somewhere. With a budget binder, it’s literally always at your fingertips.
Why Use a Budget Binder?
There are lots of good reasons to use a budget binder. As mentioned earlier, it’s fully customizable specifically for you and your budgetary needs. It will also give you one place to put everything you need to keep track of your finances and living expenses.
With all the tech around us, many people still prefer low-tech options. With a budget binder, you won’t need a computer. You don’t need to sign up for yet another site or service. Many people don’t like putting all their financial information on one site like Mint or PersonalCapital. With a budget binder, you avoid needing to do any of that and keep track of your finances with good old-fashioned pen and paper.
Overall, having a budget, in general, is a good idea. Those of us that have budgets written somewhere, online or physically, have a better shot at sticking to them as opposed to those of us that “keep it all in our head.” Creating a budget binder can be a fun and super helpful way to build a better budget just for you.
What to Use Budget Binder For?
What you use your budget binder for and what goes into it is ultimately up to you, but here are a few common uses.
Start with the basics and track how much income you have. These days, everyone seems to have multiple sources of income. First they have their primary source of monthly income, plus a side hustle or two. So keeping track of your income is a must for any budget binder.
Goal Setting and Tracking
It’s a proven fact that writing goals down of any kind will make you more likely to accomplish them. Use your budget binder to write down any short-term or long-term financial goals you want to achieve. Put them right up front on the cover, first page, or wherever; just make sure it’s a spot you’ll look at often.
You can even dedicate an entire section to them, with one page for each goal. You can break down each goal into small steps as well. Checking off each step as you go along. This is especially useful for long term goals.
If you want to be a little techy with it, you can always track the actual numbers in an Excel Spreadsheet but show the progress in your budget binder.
Wouldn’t it be great if our bills and paychecks were always in sync? But, alas, that’s rarely the case. Using your budget binder, though, you can start to assign money from each paycheck to certain expenses to help create a monthly budget.
For example, your first paycheck can cover your rent\mortgage. Then you second can cover any other expenses. After that, whatever is left over is yours to spend as you like.
Maybe there are months that you get a third paycheck. These can be assigned to investing, special expenses, or savings in general.
Debt Payoff Tracking
No matter why you are in debt, it’s essential to pay it off as soon as possible, especially high interest loans. However, any interest being paid is an extra expense that you can get rid of, and you can use your budget binder to keep track of your progress. “Pay off debt” should definitely be one of your highest priority goals.
Print out a payment plan or schedule and cross out any on-time payments. Highlight payments made, but late in yellow and missed payments in red. This is just an example of how you can do it, but do whatever works best for you.
If you have multiple loans, keep them all in the same section. You can choose the avalanche (pay off the highest interest rate loan first) or the snowball (pay off the smallest loans first) method, either way, keeping track of them in your binder and getting out of debt is essential.
No budget is complete without tracking your expenses, so it should go without saying that no budget binder is complete without an expense section either. Unfortunately, we can forget some expenses when we mentally track our costs. So write them all down in your budget binder and have a complete picture of your spending habits.
You can keep track any way you like here too. Maybe you have a separate page for each category of expense. Perhaps you have them all on the same page but written down in different colors. Maybe you color coordinate based on the amount of the payment. It’s all up to you; the important part is making sure each expense is accounted for.
If you really want to get into the weeds, you can align your expenses and your goals in your budget binder as well to make sure they are in sync. If not, you can easily and quickly find categories you can cut back on to get everything aligned again.
Are there a few recurring bills you know will come monthly, quarterly, or yearly? Plan for them in your budget binder. Put a calendar somewhere in there and write down approximately when you think they’ll come each month so you can be ready.
Are you having trouble keeping the grocery bill down? Try making a weekly meal plan and putting that in your binder too. You can save a few of your favorite recipes and the ingredients you typically need to have a more detailed list while at the store, which will stop you from buying unnecessary groceries.
Ok, I know we’re going low-tech here, but it’s impossible not to have a few sites to log into to keep track of certain financial aspects. If you’re the type of person that has a different password for each site, write them down and store them in your binder too.
Budget Binder Supplies
The greatest part about a budget binder is that you can 100% make it any way you want. Whatever works best for you is the right way to make it. Here are just a few suggestions of things you might need to get you started.
A budget binder wouldn’t be much of anything without the binder, right?! Start with a three-ring binder, at least two inches. Going a little bigger is a good idea since you might start putting more in there than you think.
You can use color coordination any way you like. For example, you can have different colors for different categories of expenses, income, etc. Or you can color coordinate by the amount of the transaction, or you can come up with any system you like.
Nobody is perfect, right? We’re all bound to make a few mistakes when writing all this information down, be ready with some whiteout to correct them.
With all the documents and paper you’ll have in the binder, having a few paper clips handy will be a good idea. You can make sure nothing will fall out of the binder, and you can group documents that you’ll need at the same time.
Dividers With Tabs
You’ll want distinct and separate sections for your binder. Adding in a few dividers will help you separate each section. Find dividers with the tabs on the end so you can quickly open up to the exact section you need each time.
Have a few envelopes handy to store cash in. This can be for any savings, sinking funds, or just general spending you might want to have separate funds for.
There are tons of sites out there that offer printables to help you get started. You can create your own system for each section or use these as inspiration. In either case, do a quick google search to see what others have done. You’ll find worksheets, spending plans, budget planner, and other useful printouts.
A budget binder is a great low-tech way to keep track of your finances. Having everything written down and laid out in front of you is will make it easier to budget and give you a clearer financial future. Make your budget binder your own with customizations just for you.
Jeff is a fan of all things finance. When he’s not out there changing the world with his blog, you can find him on a run, a Mets game, playing video games, or just playing around with his kids.