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A budget binder is one of the easiest, simplest, and dare I say prettiest ways to organize your finances.
I’m the kind of person who likes to write things down. I remember them better that way, and I’m also more likely to achieve my goals when I’m constantly looking at them on paper.
Don’t get me wrong, budget apps are great — I should know because I’ve tried them all — but there’s something about a physical budget that makes it feel cleaner, more real, and more like I actually have my shit together.
That’s why I created a budget binder that you can use to manage your money with ease.
How to Use the Budget Binder
Setting up your budget binder is quick and easy. Here are the supplies I use:
- 1″ three-ring binder
- Hole punch and/or sheet protectors
- Divider tabs
- Binder pouch (for receipts)
- And, of course, a printer
The budget binder comes with 10+ pages of printables, including a:
- Pretty cover page (obv)
- Financial Goals Worksheet
- Year at a Glance
- Recurring Expenses Tracker
- Debt Tracker
- Monthly Check-In
- Monthly Budget
- Expense Tracker
You can use these sheets to set up your budget binder however you like, but here’s how I use it:
Financial Goals Worksheet
This sheet goes in the front of my binder after the cover page so my annual financial goals are the first thing I see when I open my budget binder. You can print as many copies as you need for your goals.
Remember, when creating your financial goals, be specific. The layout of this worksheet is designed to help with that by listing not only your goal but also when you plan to achieve it and what steps you’ll take to get there.
For example, if you want to save money for Christmas throughout the year, one of your financial goals may be to “Save $1,000 for Christmas by October 1st.”
Copies to Print: 1 (for annual goals at least — you can also use this sheet for monthly goals)
Year at a Glance
In my budget binder, the Year at a Glance sheet comes right after my annual financial goals. This is a place to track your savings, debt, and checking balances from month to month to get a clear overall picture of your account changes.
Copies to Print: 1
Recurring Expenses Tracker
This tracker is one of my favorite sheets in my budget binder! We all have those bills that come around every month — rent, utilities, water, car payment, etc. Those are easy to remember. The ones that only happen once a quarter or even once a year are a bit trickier. That’s where the tracker comes in!
Take property taxes, for example. I know it’s a thing, but somehow I always, without fail, forget to include it in my December budget. (Or at least I did until I started using a tracker.) Other examples of quarterly or annual expenses include:
- Club membership dues
- HOA fees
- School tuition/fees
Copies to Print: 1
Every time I make a payment towards a debt or get a notification that my autopay hit, I mark it on the Debt Tracker. There’s nothing more motivating to me than watching the number in the far right column of this sheet decrease month after month.
While in most cases I could get the same information from an online statement, the Debt Tracker gives me all the important bits in a single, easy-to-reach location without fumbling around for a forgotten password. Plus, I like seeing my progress written down my own handwriting. Feels empowering, like “Fuck yeah I just paid $100 more than my minimum payment!”
Copies to Print: 1 for each debt account
Inspired by the planner I cannot live without, this sheet helps me begin each month on a positive note and plan for success in the weeks ahead. In the last few days of each month, I like to sit down and reflect on what went well over the last few weeks and outline my goals for the following month.
I like to list at least 3 things that went well in the previous month and 2 ways I can improve. You also don’t have to fill all 5 goals every month. Some months I only want to focus on 2 or 3 goals.
Examples of monthly goals I’ve had in the past:
- Save $200 for upcoming vacation
- Review bank/credit card statements and cancel old subscriptions
- Spend $0 on unnecessary expenses (no-spend month)
- Don’t spend any money on Mondays (no-spend day)
- Call cell phone carrier to negotiate plan pricing
Copies to Print: 12 (one for each month)
This is the bread and butter of the budget binder and where you can compare your planned budget against actual spending. At the beginning of every month, I set my monthly budget, adjusting for over/underspending from the previous month, and record it here. At the end of the month, I calculate my actual spending and come up with the difference.
This helps me see what I’m spending my money on and whether or not my spending aligns with my goals and values.
Copies to Print: 12 (one for each month)
Monthly Expense Tracker
I have a love/hate relationship with this worksheet. It’s not required, but I find that tracking my expenses on paper often prevents me from going over budget. I don’t do this for every category in my budget, but I do use it for groceries and “miscellaneous” expenses.
Food is a tough category for me and always has been. I love to buy and cook healthy, whole foods, but I tend to go overboard sometimes and exceed my preset spending limit. Tracking my expenses as they occur helps to keep this from happening.
The other category I like to track is “miscellaneous” purchases. I’m not the kind of person who breaks down every penny of my budget from month to month. You never know what’s going to pop up, which is why I add a nice little buffer for unplanned purchases.
For me, this often includes small decorations for the house, new indoor or outdoor plants, gifts for friends and family, small toys for myself, etc. Since these expenses are usually few and far between, there’s no need for me to calculate them into my budget every month. However, I can go back at the end of each month or year and look for patterns/get a more detailed view of my budget and see if there are monthly categories I should consider adding.
Copies to Print: One for each category you plan to track
A budget binder is an easy, beginner-friendly way to manage your finances.
If you’re like me and prefer to see things written down, a budget binder may be the solution you’ve been searching for to get on track with your spending. Don’t forget to download yours if you haven’t already!
Leave a comment and let me know how the budget binder worked for you!
I’m a financial coach and author + owner of Goodbye to Broke. I love all things personal finance, money management, and healthy living. And I talk to my dog way too much, if we’re being honest.