This is the priority based budget. And it is a great tool to use to help you realize just what your priorities are and exactly where you want your money to go (and, maybe even more importantly, not to go).
I could look at where your money is going and give you an idea of where you might be able to trim the fat and the things that I would not “waste” my money on, but at the end of the day it is your money to choose to spend as you will. Of course if you are looking to save money you cannot “choose” to keep spending on all the things you have been spending it on. This is where the priority based budget comes in as a tool to help you with that decision making process.
The concept is very simple. You start with the most important things that you want your money to go for. And here we are not talking about the things you “want” the most. We are talking about your most basic needs. You also start with the amount of money you bring in for the month. As you list each expenditure you subtract that amount from your monthly income.
So you would start with things like housing (rent or mortgage, and property taxes if applicable), food, electricity, water, heat, insurance, and then continue down the list to “lesser” but necessary to your life expenditures. And as you do this you continue to subtract from your monthly income. By the time you get to the bottom, depending on what your income is you should be getting to your “want” items in order of which things you want the most. When you get down to zero on the other side you are done. You can’t (or I guess I should say shouldn’t) spend money that is not coming in, because this is, of course, what leads to debt.
Everyone has different priorities and what would be a frivolous expenditure in my eyes may be a very important source of joy and happiness for you. But the bottom line (zero) is the bottom line no matter what your circumstances are. You cannot go beyond that and this is what forces you to examine what your spending priorities are.
If your money is very tight, you may not even get past the “needs” at the top of the budget. There is no room for “wants” at all. If this is the case you will need to examine how you can increase your income. You can temporarily take on a second job, but you will also need to come up with a more permanent solution to your income dilemma. Can you ask for a raise? Look for a better job in your field? Should you try a different line of work? Get additional education? You need to come up with a plan of action, and start taking the necessary steps to get there.
If you have debt, then paying that off should go right after your basic needs are met. If you do not have debt, then you are in a position to start saving and that savings should be at the top of your line items. Retirement savings being at the top, followed by other savings goals. i.e. a wedding, a house, kids (or your own) education, a car, vacation, home improvements, etc.
This is the concept of “Pay yourself first” and it works! This way you have all your life goals covered by the time you get down to the bottom of the budget to those everyday “wants”.
I have included some budget worksheets that you can use to create your own Priority Based Budget. One has categories to give you some guidelines (but feel free to change them according to your own priorities). And some samples to help you see how it's done: Sample 1. Sample 2. The other is left blank for you to fill in as you see fit. And more samples: Sample 3. Sample 4 The lefthand column of both of them is for you to start with your monthly income and then subtract as you make your way down your list of spending priorities until you get to zero at the bottom... money gone... budget done!
You must of course (if you are sensible and want to get ahead with your money) include your saving goals as part of your monthly budget and also things that you will not necessarily spend money on every month, but that you will do so from time to time (like car or home repairs).
Once you finish with this exercise you will have a clear black and white picture of where your money is going according to your own life’s plan. You are on top of your money. You are in control. And that’s a pretty darn good feeling! Congratulations!