The Best Monthly Budget Template for 2024

The word ‘budget’ has become synonymous with depriving yourself of the things you love.

But I’d like to differ. 

Budgets should help you get to your Rich Life, not stress you out with needing to save money on lattes.

In this post, I’ll walk you through the basics of budgeting for all income levels, and I’ll also teach you the process of creating and implementing a sustainable monthly budget template

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New to IWT?
  • Watch Ramit Sethi host Netflix’s “How to Get Rich” 
  • Get the NYT-Bestselling book (over 1 million sold) 
  • Check out the podcast (200K plays per episode)

And join over 800,000 readers getting our Insiders newsletter, where we share exclusive content that’s not on the blog:​

Table of Contents

How to Choose the Right Budget Template

Understand the Different Types of Budget Templates

When it comes to budgeting, having the right tool can make all the difference:

  1. Simple Spreadsheets: Flexible and customizable, you can create your own spreadsheet using software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, and then tailor it to your specific needs. Spreadsheets allow you to track income, expenses, and savings goals with ease, and they’re ideal for those who prefer a hands-on approach to budgeting.
  2. Budgeting Apps: Budgeting apps, such as YNAB (You Need a Budget), and PocketGuard, offer features like expense tracking, budget goal setting, and automatic categorization of transactions. With real-time updates and syncing across devices, budgeting apps provide a seamless way to manage your finances on the go. 
  3. Printable Templates: You can find a variety of printable templates online, ranging from simple monthly budgets to comprehensive financial planners. Printable templates are great for those who prefer a pen-and-paper approach or want a physical reminder of their financial goals.

Remember to Consider these Two Factors

When selecting a budget template, it needs to align with your needs and preferences. For example: 

  1. Level of Detail: Some templates offer basic income and expense tracking, while others provide more advanced features like categorization, goal setting, and financial analysis. Think about your financial goals and the level of detail required to achieve them. For instance, if you’re focused on paying off debt, a template with a dedicated section for debt repayment might be beneficial.
  2. Personal Preferences: Think about factors like your preferred method of budgeting (digital vs. analog), your comfort level with technology, and your aesthetic preferences. If you enjoy using budgeting apps and prefer a modern interface, you might opt for a mobile app like YNAB. On the other hand, if you prefer a minimalist approach, a simple spreadsheet template might be more appealing.

Setting Up Your Monthly Budget Template

1. Step-by-Step Guide on Setting Up a Budget

  • Gather Your Financial Information: Before diving into your budget template, gather all your financial information, including income sources, bills, debt obligations, and savings goals. Having everything in one place will make it easier to create an accurate budget.
  • Calculate Your Income: Determine your total monthly income, including wages, salaries, bonuses, freelance earnings, and any other sources of income. Be sure to account for taxes and deductions to get an accurate picture of your take-home pay.
  • List Your Fixed Expenses: Identify your fixed expenses, such as rent or mortgage payments, utilities, insurance premiums, and loan payments. These are expenses that remain relatively constant each month and are essential for maintaining your lifestyle.
  • Track Your Variable Expenses: Next, track your variable expenses, such as groceries, dining out, entertainment, and discretionary spending. These expenses can fluctuate from month to month, so it’s important to estimate an average based on past spending habits.
  • Set Savings Goals: Determine your savings goals for the month, whether it’s building an emergency fund, saving for a vacation, or paying off debt. Allocate a portion of your income towards these goals to ensure you’re making progress toward your financial objectives.
  • Adjust Your Budget as Needed: Once you’ve filled out your budget template, review it to ensure it aligns with your financial priorities. Make any necessary adjustments to ensure you’re allocating enough towards your savings goals and covering essential expenses.
  • Focus on Big Wins: Remember to focus on “big wins” when setting up your budget. Identify areas where you can make significant cuts or optimizations to maximize your savings potential. This might involve reducing discretionary spending, renegotiating bills, or finding ways to increase your income.

2. Categorizing Income and Expenses

Categorizing income and expenses allows you to track how much you’re earning, how much you’re spending, and where you can potentially make adjustments to improve your financial situation:

When categorizing income, common categories include:

  • Salary/Wages
  • Freelance Income
  • Investment Income
  • Rental Income
  • Other Income Sources

For expenses, common categories include:

  • Housing (rent/mortgage, utilities)
  • Transportation (car payments, gas, public transit)
  • Groceries
  • Dining Out
  • Entertainment
  • Health Care
  • Debt Payments
  • Savings/Investments

While there are standard categories, it’s important to customize them based on your individual needs and preferences. Consider your unique spending habits and financial goals when creating categories. For example, if you’re saving for a specific goal like a vacation or a down payment on a house, create a separate category for that expense.

Additionally, be flexible with your categories and adjust them as needed. Over time, you may find that certain expenses are recurring or that you need to create new categories to better track your spending.

3. Tips for Estimating Variable Expenses

When it comes to estimating variable expenses in your monthly budget template, you need to be thorough:

  1. Review Past Spending: Start by reviewing your past spending habits to identify patterns and trends. Look at your bank and credit card statements from the last few months to see how much you typically spend on variable expenses like groceries, dining out, entertainment, and shopping.
  2. Use Averages: Once you have an idea of your past spending, use averages to estimate your variable expenses for the upcoming month. Add up your total spending in each category over several months and divide by the number of months to calculate an average. This can give you a baseline to work with when setting your budget for variable expenses.
  3. Be Realistic: Consider factors like upcoming events or holidays that may impact your spending. If you know you have a friend’s birthday dinner or a weekend getaway planned, budget accordingly to avoid overspending.
  4. Track and Adjust: If you find that you’re consistently overspending in certain categories, reassess your budget and look for areas where you can cut back. On the flip side, if you have extra money left over in a particular category, consider reallocating it to savings or another financial goal.
  5. Plan for Fluctuations: Build some flexibility into your budget by setting aside a buffer or contingency fund to cover unexpected expenses or fluctuations in your spending.

Here's a summary on how to build out your budget:

Step

Description

Example

1. Gather Financial Info

Collect all financial documents, including bank statements, pay stubs, bills, and receipts.

Bank statements, pay stubs, utility bills

2. Choose Template

Select a budget template (spreadsheet, app, printable) and set it up.

YNAB app

3. Input Income

List all income sources and enter amounts into the template.

Salary: $5000, Freelance: $1000

4. List Fixed Expenses

Identify and enter fixed expenses (rent, utilities, insurance) into the template.

Rent: $1500, Utilities: $200, Insurance: $100

5. Identify Variable Expenses

List and estimate variable expenses (groceries, dining out, entertainment).

Groceries: $400, Dining Out: $150, Entertainment: $100

6. Set Savings Goals

Determine savings goals and allocate a portion of income to these goals.

Emergency Fund: $200, Retirement: $300, Travel: $100

7. Review and Adjust

Review the budget to ensure all income and expenses are accounted for, and make adjustments.

Adjust dining out budget if overspending, allocate more to savings if income increases

How to Use and Maintain Your Budget

1. Tracking Your Spending Regularly

Regularly tracking your spending is crucial for successful budgeting because it offers insights into your financial habits, empowering you to make informed decisions about your money. Here are some tips:

  • Use budgeting apps or software: Utilize technology to automate tracking by linking your bank accounts and credit cards to budgeting apps or software like YNAB.
  • Set aside time weekly: Dedicate a specific time each week to review your expenses and update your budget. This can be done during a quiet evening or weekend.
  • Keep receipts and records: Make it a habit to collect receipts and record cash transactions immediately to ensure accuracy in tracking.
  • Use cash envelopes: Allocate specific amounts of cash for different spending categories and use envelopes to keep track of your expenses in each category.

Consistency in tracking spending ensures you have an accurate understanding of your financial situation. It helps you identify patterns in your spending behavior, pinpoint areas where you can cut back or reallocate funds, and stay accountable to your financial goals.

2. Adjusting Your Budget as Needed

Life is unpredictable and financial circumstances can change unexpectedly. Being flexible allows you to adapt your budget to accommodate these changes and stay on track with your financial goals. 

Adjust your budget whenever there are significant changes in your income, expenses, or financial goals. This could include:

  • Getting a new job with a higher salary: Adjust your budget to allocate more funds towards savings or debt repayment.
  • Facing a reduction in income due to job loss or pay cut: Cut back on discretionary expenses and reassess your spending priorities.
  • Unexpected medical expenses: Allocate funds from other budget categories or consider adjusting your savings goals temporarily.
  • Changes in living arrangements, such as moving to a new city or downsizing: Adjust housing and utility expenses accordingly.
  • Reevaluating financial goals, such as saving for a vacation or buying a home: Allocate resources to prioritize the new financial objectives.

3. Monthly Reviews and Making Improvements

Conducting monthly budget reviews ensures that you stay aligned with your financial goals. It allows you to track your progress, identify areas for improvement, and make necessary adjustments to your budget. 

Here’s how to do it:

  • Gather Financial Data: Collect all relevant financial statements, receipts, and records for the month. 
  • Compare Actual Spending to Budgeted Amounts: Review your actual expenses against the budgeted amounts for each category. 
  • Identify Discrepancies and Variances: Note any significant differences between your planned budget and actual spending.
  • Analyze Spending Patterns: Look for trends or patterns in your spending habits to understand where your money is going.
  • Assess Financial Goals: Evaluate your progress towards your financial goals and determine if any adjustments are needed.

Some example improvements based on the review:

  • Cutting Back on Unnecessary Expenses: Identify areas where you overspent or where expenses were higher than anticipated and find ways to reduce them.
  • Adjusting Budget Categories: If certain expenses consistently exceed budgeted amounts, consider reallocating funds from other categories or adjusting your budget accordingly.
  • Setting New Goals or Priorities: Use the insights gained from the review to reassess your financial goals and priorities. Consider setting new goals or adjusting existing ones based on your current financial situation.
  • Seeking Ways to Increase Income: If necessary, explore opportunities to boost your income through side hustles, freelancing, or career advancement to better align with your financial goals.
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4. Tools and Apps for Tracking and Maintenance

Leveraging technology to streamline the budgeting process can help you gain better control over your finances and work towards achieving your financial goals with confidence and ease:

  • YNAB (You Need a Budget): YNAB is a budgeting app based on the principle of giving every dollar a job. It helps users prioritize their spending, set financial goals, and track progress over time. YNAB’s proactive approach to budgeting encourages users to plan for future expenses, avoid overspending, and build savings, aligning well with my teachings on conscious spending and financial empowerment.
  • Personal Capital: Personal Capital offers a comprehensive suite of financial tools, including budgeting, investment tracking, and retirement planning. Its intuitive dashboard provides a holistic view of your financial situation, allowing you to monitor your cash flow, analyze spending patterns, and optimize your budget for maximum efficiency. 
  • PocketGuard: PocketGuard is a budgeting app that focuses on simplifying money management by providing users with a clear overview of their finances. It automatically categorizes expenses, tracks bills, and alerts users to potential savings opportunities, making it easy to stay within budget and avoid overspen

Here's a summary on how to use and maintain your budget:

Task

Description

Example/Tool

Tracking Spending

Regularly record and categorize expenses to stay aware of spending patterns.

Daily check-ins with a notebook or app like YNAB

Adjusting Budget

Make changes to your budget as needed based on unexpected expenses or income changes.

Reallocate funds from entertainment to cover a medical bill

Monthly Reviews

Compare actual spending with budgeted amounts, assess progress, and make improvements.

Review grocery budget; reduce overspending; adjust for next month

Tools and Apps

Use digital tools to simplify tracking and maintenance of your budget.

YNAB for proactive budgeting; Personal Capital for investment tracking

Tips for Sticking to Your Budget

1. Create a Realistic and Flexible Budget

A budget that imposes excessive restrictions often leads to frustration and eventual failure. How to avoid this: 

  • Be Honest: When creating your budget, be honest about your spending patterns. Rather than completely eliminating expenses you enjoy, such as dining out, allocate a reasonable amount for them. For instance, if you typically spend $200 monthly on dining out, consider budgeting $150 instead of cutting it entirely. 
  • Incorporate Flexibility: Introduce flexibility into your budget to accommodate unexpected expenses or shifting priorities. This prevents feelings of constraint and fosters commitment. For example, allotting $50 monthly for miscellaneous expenses can buffer for unexpected needs.
  • Adjust Appropriately: Regularly assess and modify your budget based on actual spending and changes in your financial circumstances. It’s acceptable to refine your budget to better align with your requirements. If you consistently exceed your grocery budget, for instance, adjust it to reflect a more accurate amount and seek opportunities to reduce spending in other areas.

2. Set Short-Term and Long-Term Financial Goals

Setting both short-term and long-term financial goals is key for maintaining motivation and focus on achieving financial success.

For example, Saving up $1,000 for a vacation within the next six months is a short-term goal, while paying off $20,000 in student loans within five years is a long-term goal.

More importantly, the goals you set must be SMART:

  • Specific: Define your goals with precision. Instead of saying “save money”, specify the exact amount and purpose, like “save $5,000 for an emergency fund”.
  • Measurable: Establish criteria for measuring progress. Quantify your goals so you can track your achievements.
  • Achievable: Ensure your goals are realistic and within reach. Consider your current financial situation and capabilities.
  • Relevant: Align your goals with your values and long-term objectives. They should contribute to your overall financial well-being.
  • Time-bound: Set deadlines to create a sense of urgency and accountability. Determine when you aim to achieve each goal.

3. Reward Yourself for Sticking to the Budget

Rewarding yourself provides positive reinforcement for good financial behavior, making it more likely that you’ll stick to your budget in the long run. 

Here are some ideas for affordable rewards:

  • Small Luxuries: Treat yourself to a small indulgence that aligns with your budget. It could be enjoying a fancy coffee, buying a new book, or having a movie night at home.
  • Experiences: Plan budget-friendly outings or experiences, such as visiting a local park, exploring a new hiking trail, or attending a free community event.
  • DIY Rewards: Get creative and make your own rewards, like cooking a special meal at home, organizing a game night with friends, or having a DIY spa day.
  • Personal Rewards: Consider rewards that cater to your interests and hobbies, like spending time on a favorite hobby, taking a relaxing bath, or enjoying a quiet afternoon with a good book.

How to integrate these rewards into the budgeting process:

  • Allocate a specific amount in your budget for rewards each month. This ensures that your rewards are planned and accounted for, preventing them from derailing your financial progress.
  • Set clear criteria for earning rewards, such as sticking to your budget for a certain number of weeks or achieving specific financial goals.
  • Incorporate rewards into your budgeting routine as a way to celebrate milestones and reinforce positive financial habits. 

Here's a summary on sticking to your budget:

Tip

Description

Example/Action

Creating a Realistic and Flexible Budget

Set a budget that reflects true spending habits and can adapt to changes.

Budget $150 for dining out instead of cutting it completely.

Setting Financial Goals

Establish short-term and long-term goals using the SMART criteria.

Save $1,000 for an emergency fund in six months.

Rewarding Yourself

Use positive reinforcement to stay motivated. Choose affordable and meaningful rewards.

Treat yourself to a spa day after sticking to your budget for a month.

Getting Support

Seek support from family to provide accountability and encouragement.

Hold regular family meetings to discuss financial goals and progress.

Benefits of Using a Monthly Budget Template

1. Improved Financial Control and Awareness

A monthly budget template lays out your income and expenses in an organized manner, giving you a bird’s-eye view of your financial landscape. A budget template shows where your money is coming from and where it’s going, providing clarity and direction.

Armed with a detailed breakdown of your expenses, you’re better equipped to make intentional spending decisions. Let’s say you’re considering buying a new gadget. With your budget template, you can see how this purchase fits into your overall financial picture. 

2. Helps in Identifying Spending Patterns

A budget template tracks every dollar you spend, revealing patterns and trends that might otherwise slip under the radar. It’s like shining a spotlight on your spending habits. You might notice recurring expenses like daily coffee runs or impulse purchases that add up over time.

Recognizing these spending patterns is crucial for making informed adjustments to your budget. Once you see where your money is going, you can identify areas where you’re overspending or where you could reallocate funds more effectively.

3. Aids in Setting and Achieving Financial Goals

Using a monthly budget template provides a structured framework for setting realistic financial goals based on your income, expenses, and priorities. By quantifying your goals within the budget, whether it’s saving for a down payment on a house or paying off debt, you can break them down into manageable milestones.

Short-term goals provide immediate targets for motivation, while long-term goals give you a sense of purpose and direction. Balancing short-term gratification with long-term financial security is key to achieving overall well-being.

Whether it’s travel, hobbies, or investing in personal development, budgeting ensures you’re directing your money toward what truly matters to you.

4. Reduces Financial Stress and Improves Decision-Making

When you know exactly where your money is going and have a plan in place to cover expenses and save for the future, you can feel more in control of your financial situation.

A budget template provides a snapshot of your financial health, allowing you to make informed decisions about spending, saving, and investing. By tracking your expenses and income regularly, you can identify areas where adjustments are needed, leading to more confident financial decisions.

Conclusion

Now that you have the tools and knowledge to simplify your finances, it’s time to start using your budget template and experience the benefits of effective financial planning firsthand. Remember, every step you take towards managing your finances better brings you closer to achieving your financial goals. 

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Written by

Host of Netflix's "How to Get Rich", NYT Bestselling Author & host of the hit I Will Teach You To Be Rich Podcast. For over 20 years, Ramit has been sharing proven strategies to help people like you take control of their money and live a Rich Life.