6 tips for how to budget your money

A woman in a yoga class gazes ahead while holding the warrior II position.Image: A woman in a yoga class gazes ahead while holding the warrior II position.

In a Nutshell

The key to budgeting successfully is to be realistic. But whether you’re a beginner or a budgeting veteran, techniques like automating your savings and using online tools can help.
Editorial Note: Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.
Advertiser Disclosure

We think it's important for you to understand how we make money. It's pretty simple, actually. The offers for financial products you see on our platform come from companies who pay us. The money we make helps us give you access to free credit scores and reports and helps us create our other great tools and educational materials.

Compensation may factor into how and where products appear on our platform (and in what order). But since we generally make money when you find an offer you like and get, we try to show you offers we think are a good match for you. That's why we provide features like your Approval Odds and savings estimates.

Of course, the offers on our platform don't represent all financial products out there, but our goal is to show you as many great options as we can.

Budgeting is an essential skill, but it can be hard to know where to start.

Here are six tips for successful budgeting.

  1. Be realistic
  2. Consider automating your savings
  3. Use online tools
  4. Try budgeting for additional expenses
  5. Find a plan to deal with debt that works for you
  6. Adjust as needed

1. Be realistic

Budgeting isn’t easy — it can feel like a restrictive diet. The key to budgeting effectively and saving money is being realistic.

In other words, try to make room in your budget for things you value, including entertainment. If you need to make significant changes, consider cutting back little by little and enjoying things in moderation.

Just like your eating habits, you probably won’t be able to completely alter your spending habits overnight. A well-balanced budget can consider your needs and wants as well as your savings.

2. Consider automating your savings

Think about setting up automatic withdrawals from your checking account into your savings account at least once a month. It’s a common goal to aim for saving 10% or 20% of your income — but if that’s too high, try starting with 1% and working your way up. If you’re able to get by on a little less, you can set it and forget it.

Jacob Wade, founder of the blog iHeartBudgets, recommends looking at your monthly income and expenses to determine how much you can afford to save. How can you put this into action? Wade offers this example.

“If you have $300 left over every month and get paid twice a month, have your bank automatically transfer $150 each payday to your savings account. You never see the money hit your checking account, which reduces your temptation to spend.”

3. Consider using online tools

To keep an eye on your budget, consider using online tools that can track your income and expenses — these tools offer an easy way to create a budget. Understanding how much you’re getting paid and where you spend is key. These resources may help you quickly see where your money is going and where you can cut back.

Mint is a free online tool that allows you to create a budget, track your income and expenses, and set savings goals. You’ll get weekly reports in your inbox so you can keep tabs on your spending.

It may seem counterintuitive to pay for budgeting software if you’re trying to get your expenses in control, but You Need a Budget, or YNAB, is another option to check out. It can help you set up a budget, save for a rainy day and set aside money for larger, infrequent expenses. YNAB is based on a four-rule system: giving every dollar a job, embracing your true expenses, rolling with the punches and aging your money. It costs either $11.99 a month or $84 a year.

4. Try budgeting for additional expenses

One of the things that can get in the way of budgeting is surprise expenses such as car repairs or illness. Even recurring expenses like annual insurance payments or paying your taxes may catch you off guard.

It’s generally easier to budget for regular monthly expenses like rent, food and transportation. But all of us have expenses that are hard to budget for, and we’re likely to forget about them until the payment is due or we’re hit with a big surprise.

To remedy this situation, consider adding an extra category in your budget as a buffer for these expenses this situation, consider adding an extra category in your budget as a buffer for these expenses.  — set up an emergency fund.

5. Find a plan to deal with debt that works for you

If you have debt from credit cards or loans, making a plan to tackle it could help you feel more in control — and help you set your budget successfully.

There are strategies that can help with handling debt. Check out the snowball method and the avalanche method to see if either works for you.

6. Adjust as needed

A budget is a spending plan that should reflect your life and match up with your goals and lifestyle. In order to budget successfully and save money, review your budget every few months and adjust as needed.

This is especially true if any major life events occur, such as a job loss, a wedding or the birth of a baby. Let your budget grow and change just as you do.

Bottom line

Ultimately, your budget should help you reach your financial goals. Putting a plan in place can help you easily track your income and expenses, while also helping you save money and keep your spending in check.

Though budgeting may seem like work, these tips can help you streamline the process so managing your money and saving become second nature.

About the author: Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy and empowering people to take control of their finances. Her work has been f… Read more.