I don’t generally keep a physical budget book. I tried for a while, but if I missed a day or two with making entries, it got overwhelming and became more of a hindrance than a help. (But that’s me, your experience may vary.)
The way I budget is with my banking app, a calendar, and a calculator. I look at my balance, check the due dates of upcoming bills, and work out how much I have to pay out before my next check hits. I have a pretty regular bill cycle now, with things grouped around the first and third week of the month. Writing reminders on the calendar helped for a while, but I’ve got it pretty much memorized now.
Once I’ve figured out what my bills are going to be, I subtract that from my current balance. Whatever’s left gets divvied up between food, gas, and card payments, and if there’s enough, I might set aside a little to have fun. If I have an event coming up, I try to save for a few weeks so I have spending money.
The trick here is to always pay your have-to’s first, and budget like the money’s already gone. Don’t look at your balance as it is. Look at it like the bills have already come out. You might have $400 in the bank, but if you’ve got $320 in bills coming up before your next check, you only have $75 and that’s got to last you until payday. (Yes, I know that’s bad math - always leave a $5.00 cushion, just in case.)
I know parents have told me for years “pay yourself first.” Nope. Pay the people who are far less forgiving first. If I don’t put ten bucks in my savings account, it won’t matter nearly as much as if I don’t put the proper amount toward our rent.
Focus on items with a concrete due-date first. Rent, car payments, phone bills, insurance, loan payments, etc should come first. If you can put something off for a day to make sure one of these gets paid, do it. If you’re having difficulty paying things because of how the billing cycles fall, call your creditors and see what you can do about getting your due dates moved around. Some insurance companies will allow you to bump your due date a few days out during non-renewal months, so that can give you a little bit of breathing room. (I know Progressive does it, and it’s saved my butt a number of times.)
If you’re having trouble budgeting, keep track of your spending for a couple of weeks. Keep receipts and look at where your money is going. Are you going out shopping when maybe you don’t need to? Are you buying needful things or could that book maybe wait a couple of weeks? Are you ordering takeaway or going out to eat when you could make something at home instead? (Those last two were my big pitfalls for a long time.)
Try to curb your spending where you can, or shop with cash only. When it’s gone, the shopping is done. With food and household necessaries, try to shop in shifts for non-staple, non-perishable items. Laundry detergent and personal care products can be expensive, but if you don’t have to buy them in the same trip, your bill will be lower. Also, buy in bulk where you need to, when you can. It’s more expensive at the time, but the price per unit is lower and it will last longer. (We mostly do this with cat food and litter. Guaranteed use, guaranteed need. If we only have to buy that once a month, it’s better than having to do it every week.)
The other important thing is to know how much money you’re working with. Sit down with your housemate and work out how much you’re each bringing home, what the shared expenses are (rent, cable, internet, utilities, food, etc) and then work out how much each person can contribute based on their personal bills. In our household, I handle the budget, so all the payments go through me. Husband sends the moneys when they’re needed, on a regular basis, and I make sure things get paid. We had a due-date checklist on the calendar for a while, to make sure things had gotten paid on time.
I’ve had this system in place in my home for about four years now and it’s working pretty well. We were able to survive a couple of big financial reductions in circumstance, several unexpected expenses (including vet bills and having to buy a car on short notice), and our wedding without losing our minds. It hasn’t always been perfect, but it’s kept us afloat.
Hope this helps! :)