The Budgeting Methods Smart Finance Bloggers Swear By

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Emily Billings)

Maintaining a budget is one of those things everyone knows they have to do, but not everyone actually understands how to do it (or rather, how to do it in a way that benefits their specific, individual needs). If you need help figuring out your own finances, these bloggers have simple-but-totally-smart budgeting systems that are sure to inspire you, no matter what your financial goals are:

(Image credit: Anything You Want)

Try: A spreadsheet that allows for flexible spending

How it works

Ali at Anything You Want is all about using spreadsheets to track her budget. To monitor her expenses (her savings isn’t included in this post) she uses a spreadsheet that breaks them down into 5 major categories: Food, Fixed Home, Variable Home, Transportation and Other. You can see in the screenshot above exactly how her expenses are divided up between those categories. Ali explains that she budgets at a high level like this because her expenses aren’t always the same from month to month.

Why it’s smart

The attitude behind this system is a really healthy way to look at your budget—it allows for plenty of flexibility and for some fun “treat yourself” type spending, but within reason. Ali’s motto is “you can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want”—the example she gives is that in one month, she might want to buy a new purse and take a trip to Cape Cod, but in reality it needs to be about making a tradeoff in order to save. This budgeting system and attitude allows Ali to do fun things like go to concerts while still holding her accountable.

(Image credit: Pretty Prints & Paper)

A colorful bullet journal to track financial goals

How it works

If you’d rather write out your budget by hand than keep track of it on a spreadsheet—or if you’re looking for a reason to get into bullet journaling—Jessica at Pretty Prints & Paper‘s budgeting system is a great example. She and her husband started by writing down their financial goals and matching them up, then her husband used a spreadsheet to do the math and figure out how much they need to save each month to meet those goals. They treat that amount like another expense, as if it were a bill and go from there. Jessica uses her bullet journal to track both their shared expense target and her personal expense target. In it, she breaks everything down into smaller expenses, logs what she pays for and estimates future purchases, and she uses visual aids like colored-in bars to track how much money has been used.

Why it’s smart

One of the perks of bullet journaling in general is that you can customize it completely to fit your exact needs, so if you budget with one, you can totally build your own system like Jessica did. (You can also see at the bottom of her blog post all the different ways her tracking system has changed and evolved to meet her needs, which is super helpful.) Another reason this is a smart system? It’s goals-oriented, which takes into account everything from debts that need to be paid off to fun vacation goals—that makes saving and cutting back on spending a little easier to deal with, because it’s always tied to a reminder of why you’re doing it in the first place.

(Image credit: Feather Factor)

A major savings-first pie chart perspective

How it works

Kat at Feather Factor‘s budgeting system is a great example of budgeting with a savings-first mentality. She illustrates her budget using pie charts, and breaks it down into three cuts. The first cut takes her retirement contribution out of her gross income, while the second takes out half of her net income for long-term savings. Then, the third cut focuses on her short-term savings and monthly expenses like bills and groceries. This system operates on a high level like Ali’s spreadsheet system, but rather than focusing on expenses, it’s all about saving up.

Why it’s smart

Looking at your budget this way is great if you’re the kind of person who plans far in advance, since it focuses on contributing to your retirement fund and on trying to save up for big things, like purchasing a home in the future. Alternately, you could use a similar system to help you pay off big debts, much like you would saving up for big purchases. Kat also explained that they use separate bank accounts for some of these categories, which is useful for keeping your money divided up more easily.

But don’t forget—budgeting is important for a lot of people, but it isn’t everything. Some people do much better without a strict budget because they find it keeps them too frugal and afraid to spend any of their money. Kara at From Frugal To Free shared a great post about why she doesn’t budget, even though she’s super smart about saving money and paying off her debts—so if you don’t budget and that works for you, just keep on keeping on.