When you begin to take a look at your finances and want to put a budget together, you might want something a bit more visual.
While the standard ways to budget typically include spreadsheets and even apps on your phone, sometimes it just does not resonate well with you personally.
Spreadsheets can be pretty boring and tedious, which can become forgettable in your day-to-day life. And technology can sometimes feel the same or maybe you don’t like the idea of having all your financial data being pulled into an app.
So what can you do to ensure you are budgeting and organizing your finances? Another option that might work better for you is to create a budget binder. But what is it and how can you build one that works for you?
What Is A Budget Binder?
A budget binder is an incredibly effective way to visibly handle your finances when working on a zero-based budget method. It’s a way for you to keep track of your financial goals, spending, and income you are generating. Plus, you can store your cash envelope wallets, as well as housing documentation and tracking spreadsheets.
You’ll use a budget binder regularly (at least once per month, but most about probably once per week) when you get paid, have bills going out, or do any kind of spending that requires access to cash.
This will exist in addition to your emergency fund and savings accounts and will work with your monthly budget calendar in order to keep spending under control. Each of your planned financial events, big or small, will likely go through the budget binder as you work to pay off debt, build an emergency fund, and more.
What Should You Include In A Budget Binder?
When you are thinking about building your budget binder, you need to know what you want to be tracking before creating it. There are plenty of budget categories you might want to track, but here are a few important ones your binder should include:
Goal setting and tracking
What are your financial goals for this year and beyond? In this section of the budget binder, you’ll set your aspirations and long-term plans.
This is effective as it provides a context to your day-to-day budgeting, and can help remind you of the purpose of your actions when you need motivation.
When you write your goals down, you should also have mechanisms in place to track them. This could be a checklist, for example, or a pyramid that you’ve broken into smaller blocks and can color in as they happen.
Examples of financial goals include:
- Pay off student loans or credit cards
- Save 3-6 months expenses into an emergency fund
- Save towards a house down payment
In order to set yourself a budget, you’ll require an insight into your income. Be as exact as possible from month to month, including income from your job as well as any side hustles, dividends, or anything extra you’re likely to receive.
Track your income with a simple spreadsheet you can print out, including columns for each source of income and pre and post-tax amounts. There are also a number of online budget templates if an excel spreadsheet is not for you.
Or you can create your own page in the budget binder in a way that makes sense to you! There is no wrong way for you to track your income within your budget.
Sources of income to track may include:
- Side hustle income
- Interest from savings accounts
- Tax refunds
- Odd job / sales income
Once you’ve calculated your income, it’s important to know what is leaving your bank each month. Your expenses are made up of any essential bills or personal purchases you pay. Managing expenses should not be overwhelming, and it helps to break down everything into simple categories.
Expense categories can include:
- Housing (rent or mortgage payments)
- Utility bills
- Groceries and restaurant spending
- Insurance & pension contributions
- Extra expenses relating to childcare, luxury purchases, etc.
Debt payoff tracking
Whether you’re buried in student debt or falling behind on credit card payments, many of us require help to focus on paying off debt. Using a tracking sheet in your budget binder is a brilliant way to visualize your progress and stay concentrated on the goals at hand.
There are numerous fun templates online, you can create sheets related to different debt, or you could use an excel spreadsheet that you create and print out for your binder.
You may choose to tackle one debt at a time, usually the one with the highest interest rate; or spread your income across multiple debt streams if you really want to work on it quickly.
Net worth tracker
Net worth is your overall positive or negative balance when subtracting all debt from your savings, investments and assets. You can calculate your liquid net worth in a few different ways. Typically, those who are in their twenties may have a negative net worth since they have a lower number of years worked and less time to start paying back student loans.
By the time you reach 30 years old, it is recommended that you have around 1 year’s salary saved away, with an exponential increase as you age past there. Net worth probably won’t be updated every month, but perhaps every 6 months to 1 year.
As well as your daily expenses and monthly income, you also want to plan long-term savings. These can work with your financial goals in order to facilitate lifestyle changes and help you use the money to get whatever you want. For example, you may want to save for children’s college educations, vacations, or a big purchase, like a car.
You can tailor your budget binder to your personal finance needs. You might want to include medical expenses, detailed credit card information, charity or donations, etc.
Remember, you do not have to limit yourself to the above categories in your budget binder. Make it unique and powerful so you can conquer your finances with ease.
How to Create a DIY Budget Binder
Creating a DIY budget binder is not hard, nor does it take a ton of supplies to get started. And don’t worry if you aren’t the most crafty or creative person. The goal of your binder is to keep your budget organized and to keep checklists that will guide your money in the right direction.
Here are the supplies you’ll need to create your own budget binder.
A three-ring binder will ensure your documents are securely fastened to the folder and can be organized as you like. Choose a sturdy binder, and personalize it with your own artwork or finishing touches. There are plenty of options on Amazon and eBay, for example. Or you can go to local office supplies stores where you’ll find what you need.
A three-hole punch
This should fit exactly with the binder above and ensure your paper is held in place. The three-hole punch can be moved so you should set it to the same distance as the binders in your folder. Once again these can be found on Amazon, eBay, or local office supply stores near you.
Colored pens or markers
Whether you prefer thinner markers or thick sharpie-style markers, bringing the color is fun! Color coding each of your budget categories can help keep everything neat and tidy, as well as easy to understand if you are quickly scanning through the binder.
Whiteout & paper clips
Inevitably, mistakes happen — but you shouldn’t let that ruin months’ of budget tracking and progress. Whiteout is found in any drugstore and paper clips can keep everything together in your binder in case you need to categorize papers or receipts together.
Again, this is an ease-of-use feature that will make navigating your budget binder so much simpler. When you use dividers, you’ll know exactly where to jump to and can find things quickly. You’ll be spending enough time tracking your budget each month, don’t waste another second trying to find your place.
Stickers aren’t just for kids! Use stickers to label each page in your budget binder, note when bills are due in the calendar, or fill in space as you pay off debt. These are a fun and exciting way to track your budget progress and can aid you in the overall consistency of your money management.
You’ll require labels to name each document and page, as well as for any spreadsheets and tracking sheets you decide to include. Labelling each section of your budget binder is useful for organizational purposes, but can also be a great way to break down your tracking, page-by-page.
Cash envelopes are essential to keep your money tidy and separated into the categories you intended. It’s hard enough to track your spending in cash, so breaking your budget into smaller envelopes is essential for things not to get confusing. You can make your own, buy from sites like Etsy, or find templates online with everything you need.
Budget Binder Printables for Purchase
Even though you do not need to be super artsy or creative to make a budget binder, the thought of building one still might not interest you at all. And if that’s the case, you have other option to purchase items that make it even easier for you to budget.
On Etsy, you’ll find a whole selection of customizable budget binders and accessories. Whether you just need the binder, or you require cash envelopes, printable tracking sheets, and labels, you’ll find a vast variety of options on here.
Get your name printed on the binder, or get a wallpaper background with your favorite place or dream holiday destination, for example. Etsy is sure to house something you’ll love.
Another incredibly large marketplace, Amazon could be the choice if you’re looking for a fast turnaround and want to get started immediately. Prime delivery will get you any orders by the next day, and Amazon sells for pretty cheap. The only downfall is that you won’t have the option to personalize your items as much if built it on your own.
There is no shortage of dedicated budget bloggers who can provide free or paid-for budget printables on their websites. Usually, you’ll be required to sign up to their email list in order to access the freebie or pay up to around $5 per printable tracking sheet. They may also offer bundles if you need multiple spreadsheets.
Start doing a search online and you’ll find many examples if you’d prefer not to make your own budget binder.