When it comes to getting intentional with your money, it is important to find a spending plan that works best for you. I’ve laid out five approaches to spending that scale from being automatic to more hands-on and that can be customized to whatever level of detail works for you.
I do believe there is always value in increasing your money awareness and evaluating if your spending is aligned with what matters most to you – regardless of the method or the level of detail at which you examine your spending.
Save Off the Top Automatically!
One way to be intentional about your money is to look at the total amount of income you receive each month and then save a set percentage right off the top. Often, the easiest way to do this is to set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings. Everything else left in your checking account is available to spend.
If this works for you, great! If you find yourself borrowing from savings because of unplanned expenses like travel or big investments, then you might need a bit more structure.
Set up Automatic Sinking Funds
Another way to spend and save according to your priorities is to split your pay up into more detailed priorities. First, figure out what sinking funds are most useful to you.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Fun Savings – Save up for the fun stuff in life, like travel, vacations, or big life events such as weddings or anniversaries.
- Not So Fun Savings – It can be helpful to set aside funds for irregular but inevitable expenses like home repairs, auto maintenance, and property taxes.
- Estimated Taxes – If you’re a business owner, it’s always a good practice to set aside funds for estimated taxes!
- Long Term Savings – This can hold your emergency fund and/or extra cash that might later get diverted into investments.
The easiest way to execute this method is to set up automatic transfers between your checking and savings accounts and then split the transfer up into sinking fund buckets. For example, Ally Bank allows you to have a singular high yield savings account, but to divvy up your cash into savings buckets. Other banks allow you to do the same thing by opening up multiple bank accounts.
Go Full On Budget Nerd
If you want the full budgeting experience, try You Need a Budget (YNAB). By allocating only what you have in the bank and by setting up savings goals, it is easy to prioritize your money to go where you most want it to go. It’s especially great for business owners with irregular cash flow because YNAB encourages you to divvy up only what you have in the bank. I personally use YNAB and love it!
You also can set up YNAB to evaluate your expenses at whatever level of detail you want. You can have three categories (“Spending, Savings, and Taxes”) or you can have 40 categories like I do. See YNAB’s Budget Nerds podcast for more inspiration!
Want to Just Track Expenses?
If you want to take the occasional deeper dive into your expenses, you can review your transactions in your bank account to see where you are spending your money and if it matches your priorities. Tools such as Empower.com or Mint.com minimize the administrative work by automatically pulling in your transactions. These online platforms don’t help you project cash flow or allocate money in advance, but they do give you visibility into your expenses and can help you evaluate if you are spending in line with your priorities.
Prefer Paper over Electronics?
If you like paper over a computer, check out The Budget Mom’s Budget by Paycheck Workbook This workbook allows you to plan out your income and expenses on paper each time you get paid – and accommodates any whatever pay schedule your family has.