There are all sorts of tools out there to help you create and manage a budget. But what about a simple, old-school budget binder?
Have you ever had your landlord send you a rent reminder email or had an unexpected car repair bill stress you out? I just had to replace my dead car battery and ugh…bye $400!
These examples demonstrate why it’s so important to be organized and plan for those expensive surprises. A popular way to achieve this is with a budget binder. You might be wondering if managing a budget binder is a lot of work, or even worth it.
Well, I’m going to give you the lowdown on budget binders, including what they are and how to use them.
What is a budget binder?
A budget binder is like a weekly or monthly planner for your finances. It’s a visual and creative way to organize and track just about anything money related. These are some of the key things I would recommend tracking in your budget binder:
- Monthly income
- Monthly expenses (rent, car payment, household bills)
- Annual expenses (car registration/insurance, subscriptions)
- Debts (credit cards, student loans, medical bills)
- Emergency fund (veterinary care, car repair, iced latte spills on your MacBook)
- Short Term savings goals (vacations, Christmas gifts)
- Mid term savings goals (down payments for a car or house)
- Long term savings goals (retirement, college)
What you need to make a budget binder
Creating a budget binder is a lot easier than you might think. You can make the binder very simple by including the essentials or get creative with fun and colorful additions to encourage yourself to reach for and enjoy using the binder. To get started you will need a handful of things:
A 3 or 6 ring binder
There are many choices when it comes to binders so choose a binder that best suits your lifestyle. If you like to travel light, then maybe a small planner sized binder would be best. If you have other binders that you use regularly like a day planner, then you might want a binder that you can clearly label so you don’t get them confused.
Once you decide what works for you, you can choose from leather to plastic and a wide range of colors or prints.
You will want to keep your budget binder organized by sections so that you can quickly log your latest credit card payment or see when that next utility bill is due. Dividers and labels are the best way to not only separate the sections, but also flip straight to the section that you’re looking for. Try labels in bright colors or add some fun stickers to personalize your binder! If you create something that is both useful and enjoyable to use you will be much more likely to reach for it. Ultimately, that’s what’s going to make the difference in achieving your financial goals.
Printables are the budget sheets, monthly or annual calendars, savings trackers and debt pay off tracking sheets that will help you keep track of everything in your budget binder. You can find detailed and creative versions of these printables for free online, etsy or even create your own!
This is one of the areas where you can have the most fun by choosing printables in beautiful fonts and visually interesting sheets to track your financial milestones. I’ve seen stunningly intricate printables for things as specific as “no spend challenges” and “debt snowball trackers”. Make use of these items to create a memorable and fun experience that will leave you feeling happy and looking forward to your next entry.
If you like to budget for things using cash, then zipper envelopes will be an important addition to your budget binder. You can save cash for a weekly coffee fund, new tires for your car or even plan ahead for an annual girls trip.
This is another opportunity for you to label the sections so you can easily access the right one. Something to keep in mind is that these envelopes will only get thicker, so if you plan to use zipper envelopes in your budget binder – make sure your binder is thick enough to handle it!
A few extra things that will enhance your budget planner experience are colorful pens, whiteout, highlighters, a ruler, calculator and stickers or stamps. This is the area where you girls with an artistic side can really shine! Add those fun colors to your savings tracking sheets or debt snowball tracker and watch those colorful sheets lead to even greater goals.
And that’s it! You can find all of these items on amazon (they even have premade budget binder kits), etsy or your local Target and get started today.
How to create a budget binder
So now that you’ve purchased your budget binder items, you’re ready to get started.
I suggest keeping your binder in a safe, but readily accessible place like a desk drawer. Here are the steps to using a budget binder:
- Gather all of your financial information (Bills, receipts, insurance policies, subscriptions)
- Organize the information (Determine if you prefer a weekly or monthly system)
- Fill in the printables (Create the calendar, write in your savings/payoff goals, budgets)
- Create the labels/dividers and label the zippered envelopes
- Assemble the binder
Now that you have a budget binder assembled and ready to go, it’s time to put it to use!
I recommend logging your income, payments, purchases and savings as you go. At a minimum, you should take the time to do this once a week. That will make your entries more manageable and help keep you on track. Besides, once you get the system going, you probably look forward to your budget binder time.
Do budget binders actually work?
Budget binders are a great exercise in putting all of your finances together in an organized and personalized way. It’s an ideal method for someone who likes visuals and enjoys the creative aspect of journaling or scrapbooking. Anyone who needs help tracking and staying on top of bills would benefit from a budget binder.
If you put in the time to create a budget binder to fit your specific needs, it will most definitely work. The key is to frontload the work and make it as seamless as possible to use. Then you will have everything readily available at your fingertips and you’ll question why you didn’t get started sooner.
Remember: successful budgeting should free up your mental load (and resources) to allow you to focus on wealth building. And if you’re ready to get started investing? Sign-up for my FREE investing class here.