It occurred to me when I was putting my receipts into my monthly spreadsheet last night that I may not have said ever exactly how I figure out what I spend monthly on different items in my life.

You can go to the Microsoft web site for all the free budget planners you can think of. May I make a few suggestions:

  • You may not be able to update and analyze a budget weekly or bi-weekly but you can probably commit a couple times a month to your finances, right? Plus monthly is how your bills are probably set up anyway. You might as well get a monthly template. Here’s the one I use.

  • Decide on computer or pen and paper: For many things in my life, I am a paper and pencil kind of girl. Contrary to what you would think, you can do your budget this way with a template. Instead of filling it out on the computer, keep it tacked by your desk and fill it out in pencil. File them away when you are done, starting a fresh one every month. In budget instances, I prefer storing things on my computer.

  • Round up or down to the nearest dollar. That movie receipt for $24.49 becomes $24 while the cleaners receipt for $7.56 becomes $8. You will thank yourself when you are looking at a sheet of nice round numbers and in the end, it all evens out anyway.

  • Keep a Post it note stuck in your wallet and write down purchases for which you don’t get a receipt. Do it at the time of the purchase since there is usually a pen at the counter, otherwise you will forget. This may seem a little nuts but after a month, it will seem perfectly normal. Even the guy at my usual convenience store seems to think my writing “$1 coffee” on the paper in my wallet is perfectly normal now.

  • Set aside a time (me it’s Wednesday nights and when my wallet gets full) to input your transactions into your budget. Pick a time when you aren’t likely to get interrupted. Do something you enjoy while you are doing it, like drinking coffee or listening to music. It’ll make the task seem more meditative or perhaps even pleasurable. It usually takes me 20 minutes.

Budgetmoolah So pick your template, download it off Microsoft, and then fix it up really general for you. Put your income in (net, not gross), your expected costs for different things. Then save it as “mybudgettemplate” or something generic like that. This way, all your base info is already in there. Then your template becomes “budget-feb-2008”, “budget-march-2008”, etc.

I warn you this will seem pointless the first couple of months you do it but then patterns will emerge. Perhaps you will notice, as I did, that you are spending more money then is coming in and adjust. You may realize you spend a lot of money on coffee. I guarantee you an epiphany within three months. (I had both of the example epiphanies and in general learned a lot about my spending habits.)

Are you ready to take the Three Month Budget Challenge? If so, email me with “I am ready!” the subject line. We will have weekly check-ins and otherwise be supportive of each other’s budget journeys. We’ll set up how it will work together. Think of it as a virtual budget club.

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