Budgeting FAQ

Maybe you’ve made your way through the entire Beginner’s Guide to Budgeting series, and are still a little confused.

First, understand that no one system will fit everyone’s financial situation. Take the tips and strategies mentioned in this series, and make it your own until you are 100% comfortable with your way of doing it. In fact, I’m still personally tweaking things here and there!

Second, this series is intended to give you basic foundation that you can build upon based on your personal insights and budget. It is pretty impossible to address all the “what if’s” in each post, which is why I’ve created this FAQ page from Creative Savings readers. It should help bring more clarity to this super important topic!

Your series seems like a lot of work! Is there any way you can make budgeting a little easier?

Yes, and no. My budget series is based on how Joseph and I do our own personal budget, so it’s really the only system I have experience with and feel comfortable enough to promote. However, I do have a resource page that includes more than 60 tips about how to manage money better! Some of these resources are from me, and some are from friends I trust.

I am also looking into some budgeting apps that would make this system more efficient, and also less time-consuming. I will keep you updated on what I find!

My budget does not seem accurate when it comes to variable expenses. How do I keep track of these amounts when it changes so much from month-to-month?

Variable expenses are one of the toughest to track! Your first month will be a lot of guessing based on what you think you might spend. That’s why I strongly encourage tracking your expenses as an ongoing process. Once you develop this habit, you’ll have a few months worth of variable totals to work from and can use an average to get a more accurate view of your spending.

For example, if you spend $120 in gas for March, $150 for April, and $130 for May, your average spending would be approximately $133/month. Then you can adjust your budget accordingly to reflect these changes.

Our family income changes month-to-month, and we do not receive a steady paycheck. How do we figure out how much to set aside for our budget?

Budgeting for variable income can be tough, but not impossible. I actually wrote a whole post about how to budget on irregular income, so if you still have any questions after reading it, email kalynbrooke{at}creativesavingsblog{dot}com, and I’ll help you out!

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I started filling out my Expense Tracker to track all my spending, then read your post on how to use the Account Trackers. It almost seems like I’m doing the same thing. What’s the difference, and why do I need to use both?

The Expense Tracker keeps detailed records of your spending for each month, based on where you spent, what category you spent in, and how much you spent. It adds up all your monthly spending totals.

The Account Tracker is like an ongoing tally sheet. It takes the beginning budget totals that you have for the month, and subtracts each receipt as you make a purchase, so you know exactly what you have left in each column to spend.

Your budget will work just fine if you only use the Account Tracker and nothing else. I personally fill out both worksheets, because I’m Type-A, and love seeing the detailed expense totals at the end of each month. It is also very helpful to have an Expense Tracker for the Measuring Your Budget’s Success part of the series. But honestly, it’s completely up to you!

What should I do if I’ve made a purchase that has items from categories found in both my savings and checking account, but I paid for it using the debit card attached to my checking?

Mixing category columns and trackers is bound to happen, especially when shopping at the grocery or drug store. I sometimes have 3-4 different categories all on one receipt! Do some number swapping between categories and accounts using the following options – just make sure your Account Trackers match your Checking and Savings accounts by the end!

You can…

1. Take it out of the Leftover column in your Checking and transfer that amount over from the Savings category to the Checking Account to replenish it. {If you have unlimited transfers.}


2. Take it out of the Leftover column, then go into your Savings Tracker and pull the same amount out of the correct category and add it to the Leftover column in Savings. Even though it’s technically not accounted for in the Checking Account, you’ve balanced out the process by adjusting the correct categories.

Do I have to fill out the Checking Account Tracker indefinitely? What about the Savings Account Tracker?

I personally use my Savings Account Tracker all the time. Because we have some major fixed expenses to pay, I never want to be caught off guard by not having enough money allocated to pay for it. However, I have discontinued the Checking Account Tracker after we’ve been spending within our budget for a few months and I feel confident we can continue to do so. At that point, I will combine all my Checking Account categories into one big one {since they are all variable/discretionary expenses}, and just use a regular check register to keep track.

If I feel our spending is getting out of control again, particularly in a certain area, I will keep a tally sheet on a scrap piece of paper of just that category, or revert back to the Checking Account Tracker system again.

How do I create a budget when my roommate like to split everything down the middle? Fixed expenses are easy, but how do we both track categories like groceries and eating out?

The best way to do this would be to use a cash envelope system for all groceries and eating out expenses. Decide on how much you want to budget for each, then divide it by 2. At the beginning of the month, both of you should pull out that amount in cash from your bank account, and put it in the envelope. You can now use it to go shopping or out to eat without worrying about how the bills are split!

If you happen to be out and forget the envelope, you can always use it as a “petty cash” system and reimburse whoever bought supplies. You can also use leftover money for a special occasion or to stock up when items are on sale!

Should I count my credit card payments as an expense on the expense tracker?

If the payment is on old credit card debt, then yes, do count those as a monthly expense and track them like you would do a student loan or a mortgage. However, if you are caught up on all your payments, and are tracking credit card purchases consistently via each store receipt, do not record any credit card payments as this will result in double tracking.

Help! I did my budget sheet, and my expenses totaled more than I make, but I can’t figure out any more places to cut! Can you help me? 

Even though a budget might seem pretty tight, there are still ways to cut down on your expenses! I even wrote a book about it!