Keeping up with a budget used to sound like a joke to me.
Me? Track my spending? Write stuff down? Do math?? Nah. There was no way. I’d never been good at it before so why even try?
I’ll tell you why.
I started to reconsider my money habits after overdrawing my bank account for the fifth month in a row. Barely being able to afford food because I was about $300 under budget due to overdraft fees and “surprise” automatic bill payments I’d forgotten about… that was a bit of a wake up call for me.
I had to get serious about my budget. I couldn’t just wing it anymore.
My ADHD brain didn’t feel up to task, but as I’ve said in previous articles… with the right motivation, our brains are capable of just about anything.
And barely affording food was a pretty good motivator.
So thus began my intense relationship with coffee, and the start of my journey to start back on ADHD medication. It took several months for me to find a doctor, wait for my intake appointment, and finally be prescribed the medication I’d been on as a teenager. It took a lot of guts too because frankly, I was terrified of “Big Pharma” as I called it, and I felt a lot of distrust for unnatural methods of treatment. But I was desperate. My brain just didn’t work correctly and I needed help.
Until I could start on meds, I forced myself into a coffee habit in an attempt to self-medicate for the time being. Of course, I don’t recommend any form of self-medicating… but I won’t lie to you. My new found coffee habit helped tremendously.
With coffee in hand and caffeine surging through my brain, I found a huge notebook and wrote “Budget Book” on the front.
I googled “budgeting basics” and worked out a plan.
I started by meticulously recording each and every expense I had in a typical month, as well as any annual expenses. Bills, taxes, subscriptions, things I needed to buy regularly… everything was written out.
Then I added it all up and subtracted the total from the income I had coming in.
I discovered quickly what things needed to be cut from my expenses and what things needed to remain a priority.
I started redoing this whole process each month, and I stopped overdrawing my bank account and started having a better idea of where all my money was going. I still ran into some issues here and there, because throughout the month a budget tends to change. It never really stays exactly the way you wrote it out to begin with.
So when I finally started on medication, I came up with a new budgeting system that worked way better. I’ve been using it ever since and I haven’t had any issues. Not one. I’ve even been able to start savings funds! That’s not something I ever thought I’d be able to do.
I thought that since this system has worked so well for my ADHD brain, maybe it could work well for yours too?
You can of course play around with it and make it your own. But this is what I do:
I have a giant notebook with four sections in it
- Fixed Expenses: These are the expenses that stay the same, like rent, maybe car insurance, cable, subscription services, etc.
- Variable Expenses: These are the expenses that may change, like your electric bill, maybe things you buy regularly that could change price, etc.
- Savings & Other Money Planning: This is where you would list the savings you’d like to be putting aside, like an Emergency Fund, Saving for yearly Taxes, etc. You’ll use this section to write out a game plan with how much you want to put aside and how often
- Weekly/Monthly Budget Checklist: This is where you’ll visit each week and month to check in on your budget and see how you’re doing. You’ll be surprised how many little updates need to be made each week that could have messed your whole budget up if you’d never checked back in
Firstly, inside the front cover of the notebook I write out my “Budget Overview”.
Don’t fill in any numbers yet. Just write out the outline. We’ll come back to this after we write out the other sections.
Here’s an example of what that might look like:
$______ a month ($______ a year)
$______ a month
$______ a month (High End)
$______ a month (Low End)
$______ a month, $______ a year (High End)
$______ a month, $______ a year (Low End)
This will give you a basic idea of what your budget generally looks like.
Next step is to write out your fixed expenses.
Go to the Fixed Expenses section and list out every single expense where the number never changes. Same number every time.
Here’s an example of what this might look like:
Trash Pickup- $33
Car Insurance- $109
General Savings- $50
After that you can write out your Variable Expenses.
Go to the Variable Expenses section and write out every expense you have where the number could change. Be very thorough–even write down things you buy semi-regularly.
This could look like:
Electric- $170 (low) $300 (high)
Fish Oil vitamins- $13
Vitamin D- $9.28
Household items- $50
In the “Savings & Other Money Planning” Section you’ll write out a game plan for whatever savings funds you want to implement.
Maybe you want an emergency fund, and you only have about $10 bucks a month you can put into it. That’s better than nothing! Write it down, then go back and include it into your “fixed expenses” section so you’ll see it as something you need to keep up with.
You’ll write down what your goal for each savings fund is. Ideally you’ll want more in the fund than the goal number because the idea is to continuously grow each fund, but the goal number is the minimum amount you’d like to be in the fund at all times.
You’ll also write down how much you’ll save towards that goal each month. This number can be as high or low as you’re able to go. And remember, don’t make yourself miserable putting away savings either. You won’t keep up with it if you don’t make room in your budget for a little fun.
It can look like this:
Emergency Fund- $1000 (Goal)
General Savings Fund- $1000 (Goal)
Monthly savings towards Goal:
Emergency Fund- $50
General Savings Fund- $50
Once you’ve written out these three sections, you’ll want to go back to the front of the book and fill in the Basic Budget Overview outline with the totals from your Fixed Expenses and Variable Expenses.
For Variable Expenses, you can do two totals: The High End Total (this would include even the things you buy semi-regularly, and the higher estimate of things like your electric bill) and the Low End Total (things you buy every month and the lower estimate for any bills).
Now for the last section: Weekly/Monthly Budget Checklist
This is the section where it all happens. Throughout the month, you’ll be putting bills you get in the mail in this section, putting little reminder notes to yourself there, etc.
In this section you want to have two notecards paper-clipped to the first page:
1- A Monthly Budget Checklist
2- A Weekly Budget Checklist
You’ll use the Monthly Budget Checklist at the beginning of each month to write out your whole budget for the month. And you’ll use the Weekly Budget Checklist to check back in with your budget each week.
Your monthly Budget Checklist will look a lot like the “Budget Overview” at the front of your book.
Here’s the outline for the Monthly Budget Checklist:
MONTHLY BUDGET CHECKLIST
$_______(Total Monthly Income)
FIXED EXPENSES (F.E.):
$________(Total of fixed expenses)
VARIABLE EXPENSES (V.E.):
$________(Total of variable expenses)
TOTAL FIXED EXPENSES + TOTAL VARIABLE EXPENSES = TOTAL EXPENSES
INCOME – TOTAL EXPENSES = EXTRA $
(INCOME minus your TOTAL EXPENSES equals EXTRA MONEY in your budget)
Then each week you’ll come back to the budget and use your Weekly Budget Checklist to check back in and make any necessary changes. For this you’ll need to look at your bank account and know what things you’ve already bought this month. Maybe keep all your receipts too so you can look over those.
Your Weekly Budget Checklist should look like this:
HOW MUCH IN ACCOUNT (H.M.I.A.):
$_________ (how much money is in your account)
FIXED EXPENSES LEFT TO COME OUT (F.E.):
$________(total Fixed Expenses that still need to come out of account)
VARIABLE EXPENSES LEFT TO COME OUT (V.E.):
$________(total Variable Expenses that still need to come out of account)
F.E. + V.E. = TOTAL EXPENSES LEFT TO COME OUT
TOTAL EXPENSES LEFT TO COME OUT (T.E.L.)
H.M.I.A. – T.E.L. = EXTRA $
(amount left in account minus total expenses left to come out equals extra money in budget)
And there you have it. My Budgeting System. It might look a little complicated at first glance, but it’s actually pretty simple, and very efficient.
I hope it can help you with your own budget, whether you follow it exactly or make it your own.
Until Next Time,
Keep Calm and Grow On