How to Start Budgeting- Part 4

Once you’ve determined what amounts you would like to spend on each budget category, you need to figure out how you’re going to track your spending and stick to your budget. Again, expenses should be equal to or less than income. If you have leftover income, that is an opportunity for saving or investing. There are many different tools out there to help you track your spending.

  • If you are not very tech savvy, the most basic option is to keep receipts and write down your purchases on paper. Of course, at the end of the month, you will have to add everything up and compare it to your budget goals for each category. This method is usually not best for people that have problems overspending because they may not add up everything that they have spent until the end of the month, and at that point, it is too late to cut back on spending to make sure that you stay within your budget goals.
  • Another option is to use excel spreadsheets to track spending, which can do all of the math for you. Of course you will have to manually input everything you have spent, so again, if you wait to do this until the end of the month, it may not help you to avoid overspending. However, if this is something you are wanting to try, we have multiple spreadsheets available for you to use on our website here.
  • Another popular choice is using a budgeting app. Budgeting apps are becoming a favorite among students, especially people who have their phone with them all the time. It is easy to see where you are at with your spending for the month because you have it right at your fingertips. There are many different budgeting apps out there for you to use with varying features. There are also other apps that help you save money as well. You can find some of our favorite apps here.
  • One of our favorite ways to track spending is by using Mint. Mint has both a website and an app. One of the reasons we love Mint and other budgeting websites and apps, is that you can see all of your financial information in one place. You can connect your checking and savings accounts, debit and credit cards, student loans, investments, and more, in addition to being able to see your net worth. It is nice not to have to log in to all of those different websites, especially if you are spending with more than one debit or credit card. In addition, it does all of the math for you. It will figure out that a purchase at Runza should go under your fast food budget category and then it will subtract your purchase from the amount you have budgeted for fast food. This makes it very easy for you to see exactly how much you have leftover in your fast food budget category to spend.

In addition to tracking your spending, you will also need to stick to the amounts you have prescribed for each budget category. One of the easiest ways to do this, especially if you use Mint or a budgeting app, is to check how much you have left to spend in the category BEFORE you decide to make a purchase. If you friend texts you to ask if you want to go out to lunch, all you have to do is check your budgeting app on your phone. If you only have $2 left to spend in your going out to eat category, you will have to say no. Another method that we often suggest to students who are just starting to budget is the envelope method. This can also be really useful for people who are struggling with overspending on just one or two budget categories such as clothing, entertainment, or going out to eat. With the envelope method, you take an envelope and write on the outside the name of the budget category, such as “Clothes.”  Then, you put cash inside the envelope for whatever amount you have allocated for that budget category. For that category, you can only use cash, and not a card. This method prevents you from overspending because you simply cannot spend money that isn’t there. So the main way that you can stick to your budget is to check your app or envelope before you make a purchase, instead of swiping your card and realizing later that you have overspent. For members of the UNL community, you are also welcome to make monthly appointments with us here at the SMMC. We can give you someone to be accountable to if you need that extra outside push. Please schedule an appointment with us at if you need helping making a budget or if you have any questions.

Happy budgeting!