5 Extreme Couponing Tips to Cut Costs Quickly

Image Credit: Justin Lim on Unsplash

If you’ve ever used a coupon to
save on one of your favorite brands, you may have wondered just how much is possible with coupons. As it turns out, couponing is an entire lifestyle for some people, and it can be used to cut store bills down drastically – hello savings!

If you’re interested in giving extreme couponing a try, it’s important not to rush in without a plan. There are some best practices learned from the experts that require some preparation if you want to get the most out of your coupons. Let’s dive right into the process of extreme couponing so that you can start saving like a pro.

1. Learn the Lingo

The extreme couponing community has created its own language to quickly reference important ideas related to couponing. Familiarize yourself with them to be prepared for your first couponing adventure.

  • Blinkie: A coupon acquired in-store, usually next to the item on sale.
  • BOGO: “Buy One Get One.” This is a type of deal that stores offer, allowing you to walk home with an extra item for free, or for half of the price, if you buy multiple.
  • Doubling: When the store doubles your savings by matching your coupon.
  • Filler: An unneeded item that a couponer buys to make a deal work.
  • Overage: The money you can get from a store if you save so much that they owe you.
  • Stacking: Some coupons can be used together, like manufacturer coupons and store coupons, which can significantly increase your savings.

2. Collect and Organize

Of course, before you can walk into a store expecting to save big, you need to collect your coupons. There are several ways to do this, from online couponing sites to newspapers to store flyers. Explore your options and try to collect as many compatible coupons as possible.

After you’ve collected enough coupons to save big, you’ll want to organize them. Consider investing in a binder or an accordion folder so that you can keep your coupons organized and grouped in a way that makes sense. One popular way to group coupons is to keep the ones that will expire soonest closest to the front of your binder so that using them is top-of-mind.

3. Study Your Store

Unfortunately, not every store has the most generous coupon policy. Some don’t allow you to stack certain coupons or use coupons with deals. Before you walk in with a plan, check out the store’s coupon policy online or ask an employee about it. This will save you the embarrassment of being turned down at the register and feeling obligated to purchase items at full price.

If one store has strict rules, remember that you don’t have to stick with it! Explore other store options until you land on a store that allows you to coupon how you’d like to.

4. Stack Your Coupons

If your store’s couponing policy allows it, try using two coupons together to significantly increase your savings. While it’s usually not permitted to use two store coupons or two manufacturer coupons on the same item, many stores allow you to stack a manufacturer coupon on top of a store coupon.

Another way to stack your savings is to use coupons on already discounted items. If you stumble upon a BOGO deal or a 50% off deal, adding a coupon (or maybe even two) to your savings may allow you to walk away with an item for next to nothing!

5. Don’t Buy What You Don’t Need

Saving money can often feel like a game, especially since couponing can be really exciting. However, this mindset can cause couponers to purchase huge quantities of unneeded items just so that they can use more coupons.

In the long-run, this defeats the purpose of using coupons to save money and only results in collecting junk you likely won’t end up using. Before you get too excited, remember why you started couponing to begin with and try not to get distracted!

The Bottom Line

Budgeting is an essential part of a healthy financial life, but you can’t always save as much as you’d like to through budgeting alone. Couponing can be a fun and exciting supplement to your financial strategy to cut down your costs and help you achieve your savings goals.

Remember, extreme couponing will take some practice to master. Even those who do it every day are always learning. Stay focused, keep hunting, and get saving!

If you enjoyed the couponing advice above, check out Capital One Shopping’s visual below, which offers even more couponing tips to help you save big.


7 Methods to Eliminate Debt Quickly

Are you in a debt crunch?

If so, you probably know the stress and anxiety it can bring you and your family.

Debt is an extremely common financial situation to have. With over 95% of adults issued a credit card it can be easy to over-utilize this piece of plastic and put your financial future in jeopardy..

In this post, I’ll explore several methods you can use to eliminate debt quickly and much more. Let’s get started.

Use Side Hustles to Crush Debt

Side hustles are one of my favorite methods to reduce your debt because of how easy they can be to start.

Start by finding a side hustle that’s right for you. There are hundreds – if not thousands of potential side hustles that almost anyone can start. Finding one that you enjoy can be just a few searches away.

Once you’ve found a side hustle you’re happy with, you can use the additional income to lower your debts.

Depending on how much debt you have – this could take a few years (or more), but don’t give up.

Some of my favorite ways to flip money include driving for delivery apps, selling candles from home, flipping furniture, or working as a freelancer.

Find Other Ways to Increase Your Income

Starting a side hustle or business isn’t the only method to increase your income. Take advantage of your 9-to-5 by asking for a raise or finding another higher-paying opportunity at a different company.

If you choose to ask for a raiser – be sure to have some numbers or accomplishments to back it up. This will increase your chances of landing a higher pay.

If this is not an option for you, switching companies or industries can be an easy way to increase your income. By finding a similar job at a different company it’s possible to increase your pay anywhere from 10% to 20%.

Reduce Debts with the Highest Interest Rates First

While there are two main methods of paying off debt – the debt avalanche method and the debt snowball method – I prefer the avalanche method.

This method of paying off debt will reduce the total amount of interest you will end up paying.

If you want to become independently wealthy – you’re going to need to save as much money on interest as possible. To organize your debts, create a spreadsheet that includes the type of debt, the total amount owed, the interest rate, and the minimum payment each month. This will help you to better track which debts are getting paid off and which debts are accruing the most interest.

Take Your Budget Seriously

There’s no doubt that budgeting your money correctly can help you to pay off debt much more aggressively than those without a strict (or any!) budget.

By budgeting your money you can make better decisions with your money to help you reduce debt at a quicker rate.

How do you budget effectively?

Creating a balanced budget will require you to understand both your monthly income and expenses. To start your budget, write down all of your monthly income. Next, write down all of your monthly expenses – like your mortgage or rent payment, minimum debt payments, and other expenses like your utilities or groceries. Subtract your expenses from your income to gauge where your finances stand. If you are at a net loss, you’ll need to either find ways to cut expenses or increase your income.

Build an Emergency Fund

If there’s one thing we all know about emergencies it’s that they will happen. It isn’t a matter of “if” – it’s a matter of when they will happen.

When trying to pay off debt, an emergency can cripple any progress you’ve made on reducing your debt.

If you want to decrease the likelihood of this happening – try to establish an emergency fund if you don’t already have one. It’s a good idea to start small – maybe $500 or $1,000 then build it up over time.

This money should be used for one thing and one thing only – true emergencies. But what is considered an emergency?

In simplest terms, think of items that are unexpected – like a major hospital bill, a car repair, or dental procedure. Items like car maintenance however – should not be considered. Any repairs or expenses you can expect should instead be budgeted for.

Start a Business

Similar to starting a side hustle, starting a business can be another great way to build your income and rescue debt.

But there’s one main caveat – don’t go into more debt to start your business.

There are many small businesses you can start for less than a few hundred dollars. For example, investing in digital real estate like a website or blog can be done for less than $20.

Small businesses can require a significant amount of work to get started – but once they develop, scaling them can become easier and easier.

Stop Using Debt Altogether

This one might seem obvious – but sometimes can get overlooked. If you’re already drowning in debt a credit card can be the worst thing for your finances. By avoiding these obvious traps it can not only help you pay off your debt quicker but also avoid it later down the road.


By using a few of the methods above, you’re sure to start reducing your debts one month at a time.

Whether you choose to pick up a side hustle, start a business, or revisit that pesky budget – reducing your debt is going to take some sacrifices and hard work but it’s certainly possible. Stick to it and watch your debt start dwindling away. Good luck!

Why Do I Need a Budget?

What is your vision of a perfect life? Most people would look at the influential and wealthy people in the world and wish they could be in their positions. Assuming that is the life you wish to have in the future, what are you doing towards that goal, other than wishing? It might sound harsh, but wishful thinking with no plan will rarely get you to the point you want. Forget about these wealthy folks for a minute, and try to be realistic depending on your situation, i.e., job, education, and projected career progress.

Ideally, many would want to be free of debt, have enough money to travel around the world, and not have to work hard every day. The definition of financial freedom is subjective since we all have varying interests, and we won’t dwell on that. The blueprint of achieving financial freedom is what is common, regardless of the end goal. A big part of it is understanding where your money comes from and how it is spent and controlling this flow.

Budgeting is the process of creating a plan to spend your money. Most of us live from paycheck to paycheck and do not understand how our seemingly large salaries run out before the next payday. Living this way won’t get you any closer to your life goals, a reason why you should be in control of your money.

In this piece, we will break down the importance of a budget in your life and highlight some useful information that will help you live by yours successfully.

Read on;

Importance of a budget

A budget is vital for anyone, even though people associate it with restrictions. Others feel that they do not have enough money to budget. These are myths as budgeting can help you save money rather than overspending because you lack a plan to guide where every dollar goes.

Some of the benefits of one include;

1. It keeps you from overspending

It’s always funny how we try to justify overspending money, with the statement that we work hard for it and no one should restrict how we spend it. Well, spending money without thinking carefully is not right regardless of how you try to justify it. This is the main reason why people seek debt and plunge deep into it until their lives hang on credit cards and short-term loans. Overspending limits your financial muscle in the future since more of your income will be used to pay the debt. You cannot notice your life slowly creeping deep into debt, and it is extremely hard to get out of it without discipline and diminishing financial power. A budget will tell you when you need to stop spending.

2. It helps you to achieve your goals

It isn’t easy to achieve short, mid, and long-term goals without a plan. A budget is a low-level measure you can take to achieve all these goals. With one, you will stop hoping to buy the car you want and set a blueprint that will get you the money to buy it within a couple of months. With a proper budget, you can calculate how much money you need to achieve some of these goals and move things around to ensure you achieve them in a timely fashion. A good way of budgeting is setting goals with respect to the budget in a way that they speak to each other. This will keep you focused and instill the discipline required to live within a budget, as your eyes will always on the prize.

3. Good for saving money

Saving money is not easy since people tend to get itchy fingers once they have some significant amount in their accounts. This is mostly seen with savings that have no structure or goal to accompany them. A budget will help you save money in multiple ways. First, it will identify some of the categories you waste money on and free up some amounts you can save. In addition, it will be aligned to your goals which are the rewards that motivate you to save religiously. Once you work out how much money you need to survive between paydays, you can automate your savings by getting a standing order that automatically redirects the amount you have settled on into a savings account.

4. It helps you live within your means

Many people spend money they don’t have, thanks to credit cards. They add the available credit card balance as part of their income. This is a dangerous way of living since you plan for the money you do not have and pay a lot in interests. A budget will help you live within your means and adjust your lifestyle to fit the amount of money you earn. Once you draw out your expenses, you will know what is spent on food, entertainment, and other things without digging into credit cards. It will also keep you safe from peer pressure from your spend happy friends, and by the time they realize they are in debt, you will be steps closer to your goals.

5. You spend and enjoy your money better

It is easy to assume that a budget will restrict your life and how you spend money. On the contrary, it will stop you from worrying and allow you to enjoy your money better. With a budget, you allocate a certain amount to each category, and this lets you enjoy it since you are still taking care of all the other categories. If you set an amount for leisure, you won’t engage in the activities here worried about anything since you are sure that this money is fully dedicated to leisure. Budgeting opens up opportunities to have fun and helps you worry less about expenses and your future.

6. Gives you control

The ultimate benefit of having a budget is that it gives you control of your finances. A proper one will give you a clear picture of how much money gets into your accounts and what every penny is spent on. This control helps you make informed decisions such as lifestyle changes since you can back this up with the numbers. You can always tweak the amounts allocated to each category based on changing priorities, which is the beauty of having financial control.

How to Create and Use a Budget

To enjoy all the benefits listed above, you will need to create and implement a budget. This is the first major hurdle you will encounter in this process, as doing it is not easy. Think of it as a plan that assumes everything will go the way you anticipate, something that never happens. In this section, we will highlight the important steps required to create and use one.

1. Identify your goals

Your goals dictate how your budget will look like. Identify them, and group them into short, medium, and long term depending on the period you intend to achieve them. Be realistic based on your current situation, and do not set goals based on the hope that you will land a windfall somewhere or get a job promotion. If these things happen, you will review the goals and budget, but do not do it from the start as they will give you a false sense of comfort. It also helps to assign some priority to the goals to help you know which ones to spend the most money on.

2. Break down your expenses and income

Unless you receive money from multiple sources, your income should be straightforward. Identifying expenses is the hard part since some miscellaneous and irregular ones can easily fall through the cracks. Expenses typically fall into three categories, namely;

  • Fixed expenses are those that are constant month on month. They include rent, mortgage, homeowner’s insurance, and debt payments. If you are saving towards a goal, include it here.
  • Variable expenses change from month to month and include utilities, groceries, and periodic maintenance fees.
  • Discretionary expenses are those that are specific to you, such as entertainment, clothing, and travel.

Try to list all the expenses you incur on a typical day and label them into the categories above.

3. Select a process and tools

Budgeting is done differently, and you have to find a method that works for you. It is an everyday thing, and a proper method will make it effortless and keep you at it. One common method of tracking a budget is old school paper and pen method. This is as simple as it gets, and you write all your income and expenses on a notepad. You might have to carry a small notebook to record all your expenses or find a way of updating them regularly. While this old-school method is hands-on and inexpensive, it is prone to mistakes and time-intensive. It is, however, ideal for novices in budgeting and people who are not well versed in technology.

A spreadsheet is the foundation of the other method, and you can use Excel or Google Docs. These sheets do the arithmetic for you and allow you to organize your information easily. Spreadsheets are easily customizable, and you can find free templates online that have the work done for you. They can be easily shared and accessed on multiple devices as well. The downside is that the formulas can be hard to learn, and they are time-intensive. Spreadsheets are perfect for beginners who are familiar with computers.

A cash-only budget is a policy that aims to hard-restrict you to the money you have. It is implemented using an envelope and cash where hard money is allocated to each category and enveloped. It involves no arithmetic, easy to track, and automatically restricts your expenditure. The downside is that it might not work for all budget categories, and people are moving away from using cash. This method is ideal for the technologically averse and those that need hard restrictions to keep them within budget.

A finance software/app is the modern way to enforce a budget. You will find multiple options today, and some can even synchronize to your financial accounts. Updates are automated, and all transactions are categorized. This is the easiest to track and accessible from anywhere.

You are not required to pick a budgeting method exclusively as you can find a combination that works for you.

4. Instill changes to reflect the budget

Your attitude and ability to adjust will determine the changes you implement here. There is no global solution, and various budgeting theories have their good and bad. You can opt for a zero-based budgeting method to allocate every single cent earned and remain with nothing. Alternatively, you could choose a 50/20/30 budgeting approach where half of the income goes to essentials, 20 per cent on debt and savings, and 30 per cent on entertainment. Regardless of the theory you pick, it is likely that you will have to reduce your spending to try and achieve your goals.

Fixed expenses are hard to reduce since they involve major lifestyle changes like moving to a smaller home or getting a cheaper car. Variable expenses can be reduced by seeing how to get more with less such as eating at home, taking advantage of coupons, and buying home supplies in bulk.

Discretionary expenses are where you can easily adjust since most of them are luxuries you can do without. Do not get me wrong, and scrap off the entire allocation for this category as you need to have fun and buy good clothes from time to time.

Do not view these changes as restrictions, rather view them as a short-term sacrifice required to achieve a long-term gain. By skipping the regular out-of-home meals, you can clear your debts faster and get a step closer to buying your dream home.

5. Don’t have a fixed mindset

A budget is a plan, and they do not always come to pass. However, do not take this as an excuse to abandon a budget at the slightest anomaly. Your willpower and motivation to step towards your goals will be greatly tested. Managing one is harder if you lose a job or earn an irregular income. However, a budget is a living document that you should feel free to adjust if things become tough. If you lose a job, focus on the essentials and reduce most luxuries as they can easily drive you into financial disaster. If you land a windfall, resist the temptation to increase your expenditure significantly and channel more towards savings and debt payments.

Popular Budgeting Principles

If you find it hard to create a budget, you can leverage some of the existing principles that provide the basis of any budget. They include;

1. The Balanced Money Budget

This method is also referred to as the 50-20-30 method. It has been mentioned here, and the idea is to spend 50% of your income on essentials, 20% on savings, and the remaining 30% on wants. It is a simple principle, and you can break it down by defining what these categories consist of. Usually, the needs are made up of mortgages, utilities, clothing, gas, transport, and healthcare. They are the things you cannot live without. Savings consist of an emergency fund, retirement goals, and debt repayment. The wants are everything else. The main point of this principle is to have three main categories rather than having too many to worry about. However, it can lead to overspending within categories which compromises some individual things that fall under it. The best way to handle this is to overbudget for each so that you have some money to buffer you from overspending.

2. Zero-based budget

This method is defined by the tagline “give every dollar a job.” It is where you assign your income to different categories from the moment it lands into your accounts and have no cent left. Note that this does not mean that you spend the entire amount. The money might still be in your accounts, but the plan is clear on where every dollar should go. It is perfect for anyone who wants to micromanage their money as you won’t spend any money unless it is planned for. However, it can be time-consuming since you will have to go into the details of how you spend money, leave alone the planning and tracking process. Besides, you never know when an unexpected need might arise, and this plan lacks the flexibility to allow you to handle such needs.

3. The 60% solution

This method is similar to the balanced money budget, with the main differences being the percentages allocated to different categories. It proposes that you allocate 60% of your income to committed expenses, including all your bills. It differs from the essential category of the balanced money budget since it includes bills that are not essential such as digital subscription services. The remaining 40% of the budget is divided into retirement, long-term savings, short-term savings, and fun money. In this method, you only get to see 70% of your money, i.e. the 60% and 10% fun money, as the rest is automatically deposited into the respective accounts. This method works for those willing to impose a pay cut on their lives and forget about tracking their expenses.

4. The No Budget method

This is a funny method since it negates everything we’ve said here. However, it is still a method that works for some people. It is as simple as it sounds and the only thing you have to pay attention to is your bank account balance. It can overlap with the 60% budget if you automate your savings and leave enough in your checking account to take care of the bills and everything else. This method is perfect for those who do not like saving as it requires very little work. It is ideal for those who earn a lot to cater to their needs and have some surplus without making any lifestyle changes of living frugally.

5. The cash-only budget

This budgeting method is becoming harder with each passing day due to the rise of electronic payments. Here, there is no room for plastic and withdraw the entire amount and budget for it. You then put the cash in envelopes and label the categories. Luckily, some budgeting apps can allow you to implement this budget electronically, but it loses the whole point if you chose this way. This method is perfect if you struggle with overspending. It can also help to box you into the categories and amounts allocated to it if you have to do it. The downside is that cash can easily be lost or misplaced, and you might encounter some emergencies and have no money to pay since you carried what you need and left everything else at home.

Tips to succeed with a budget

Budgeting is not easy, and many people give up just after a few months of trying it. The path to achieving your dreams will never be easy as you need to make hard decisions to get there. Creating and living with a budget is just one of those changes you will have to adapt.

Here, we have prepared some tips that will help you live with your budget;

It’s all a mindset thing

If you look at the grand scheme of things, budgeting starts and ends with the mindset. This will make or break the process, and it does not matter what budgeting style you use or how much money you make. It is within your powers to follow or ignore the budget, a reason why you should get this right. Ideally, start by understanding what it means to you and what you hope to gain from it. These are some things that will determine whether you view the budget from a positive or negative mindset. For instance, if you view your budget as something that denies you the freedom to enjoy your life, the chances are high that you won’t succeed with it. On the contrary, if you view it as something that gives you control over your finances, then you will be encouraged to follow it to the latter.

If you have struggled with budgeting, get the mindset obstacle out of the way first before you get into the details of creating one. Find out how it makes you feel and what you dislike about it. What fears do I have about budgeting, and might you have overlooked the benefits of budgeting subconsciously? Some of these questions will clarify your relationship with a budget and identify any possible improvement areas that will help you live with one.

Be ready to change your money habits

We all have money habits that can get in the way of living within budgets. Some of these are subconscious, and we do not even know about them. To succeed with a budget, you will need to point them out as they can be sabotaging your efforts without even realizing it. They take different forms, and mostly, the smaller ones are those that wreck our plans. They include making small frequent impulse purchases, shopping for your feelings, paying bills late and recurring charges on your financial accounts.

Once you’ve identified these spending habits, work on adopting new ones. A good way is setting up an automated bill payment, where you won’t have to worry about late payments and fees that come with it. Create a fund that will take care of expenses that you do not take care of that often. In a nutshell, changing money habits can take a huge toll on your life, but you should cope comfortably if you have the right mindset.

Fine-tune your budget regularly

Your budget reflects your life, and do not be fixated on the first draft you made. Life changes, and you can get a family, get a job promotion or develop new interests. Understand that the budget should work for you and not the other way round. As a result, be open to evolve your budget and tweak it to reflect your current life situation. As some expenses go away, such as student loans and mortgages, feel free to change the budget to reflect these changes, even if it means allocating some freed amounts to entertainment. If you have a family budget, schedule a regular budget check-in meeting with your spouse to see how it is going and improve it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we need to budget the income of the family?

Budgeting is critical in a family setup since the dependents are many and, in most cases, only the parents provide for the rest. A financial tragedy will have worse consequences for a family compared to someone who lives alone. A family budget allows you to spend money wisely on the things you must have and set aside some for unforeseen expenses. It would be best if you also planned for some expenses such as education for the kids, which span over an extended period.

Do I need a budget if I have a high income?

Budgeting is necessary for high-income earners as it can make a good situation better. Even the top professional athletes need the services of a personal trainer to keep them at the highest levels and even improve their performance to ward off competition. With a high-income budget, you can move to achieve your goals very fast and find more meaningful ways to invest and spend your money.

How fast should I pay off my debts?

There is no fixed way to approach your debts, but always be analytical about them. The first thing to look at is the interest rates of the debts you hold. Credit cards usually have high-interest rates and pay these first to avoid paying too much as interests. In some cases, it makes sense to pay off these debts before you think about investing in things such as stocks, bonds or funds. Some debts do not allow for overpayment, and be sure on this as channeling more to these will negate any savings you get on interest costs. Mortgages are often the cheapest loans you have, and they are often tax-deductible, meaning you can save money year on year, making it attractive to overpay.


A budget is a necessary evil required to achieve your financial goals, for lack of better terms. We all have different relationships with money, depending on our backgrounds, how much we have earned over the years and our definitions of “good money.” Regardless, we should strive to control our finances and know where every cent goes if we are to achieve our financial goals. Creating and living a budget is hard, but we should comfortably plan and actualize it in our lives with the right mindset and will. The positive effects come to life after a few months when you start seeing your savings account burgeoning, your debt reducing and having less stress over your finances.

What Should I Include in My Budget?

Financial literacy is often overlooked yet very important for anyone. Very few people get the opportunity to learn about personal finances, which leaves them making bad decisions once they start earning money and have to make the most out of it. In 2020, the lack of financial literacy cost Americans a staggering $415 Billion. In addition, about 40% of Americans have less than $300 in savings, and around 30% have a long-term financial plan.

It is easy to assume that everything is going on well until a disaster hits you. If you got involved in a personal injury suit and have to battle out in court for more than a year, can you afford the legal fees? Suppose a close family member was diagnosed with a serious medical condition, and your medical cover is not enough to cater to the costs. Will you sustain their medication until they recover? If you lost your job and have to support your family, will you do it comfortably? These are the questions that should get you back to the drawing line and get you to rethink your financial situation.

At the heart of personal finance is a budget, something most of us dread to hear. Budgets bring to life certain truths that people do not want to know about their financial status. Budgeting is not easy and tends to starve you of the financial freedom to spend as you wish. However, it is a necessary evil if you are to get your financial status right and set your path to a better life.

What is a budget, and what does it do?

A budget estimates revenue and expenses over a specified period and is often compiled and re-evaluated periodically. In simple terms, it is a plan outlining how you will spend your money. It gives you a clear picture of how money flows into your accounts, from work, side gigs, and profits, and illustrates how it flows out.

Budgets can do many things to you, but the main one is keeping your finances in control. It gives you a sense of direction and the foundation needed to have short, medium- and long-term financial plans. Think of it as the tactical measures you put in place to achieve a strategic goal. It zeroes down to every cent you spend and ensures you have some discipline on how you spend your money.

Many people live from paycheck to paycheck and seem to have nothing left to save, despite earning healthy amounts. You can not know how your money is spent without having a budget. Here, you can take steps to cut some of these unnecessary expenses and focus on the important ones and then save the rest. Some of these unnecessary expenses drive people into debt, most commonly through credit cards. Bad finances are like a disease, and if you plunge too deep into debt, it will take a lot of time to salvage the situation. The best way is to be proactive from the word go and take charge of your finances by having a budget.

Things to Consider before making a budget

Living with a budget will change your life, and it is important to make the right one. Do not be very harsh on yourself, as this will only push you to abandon it after a few months. This is why you need to do some due diligence and get a few things right before making a budget. These will go a long way to ensure that you make the right budget for your lifestyle.

1. Why do you want to budget?

The first thing to establish before you start budgeting is the reasons behind it. Do some soul searching and see why it is important to you. Reasons could vary from the need to get your financial status in order or to help achieve a long-term goal, but it should always be clear from the word go. It is not enough to budget because people are doing it, and it is the responsible thing to do. Such generic and weak reasons will not motivate you to stick to your budget for the tough implementation part. Commonly, people decide to budget to pay off big debts and then proceed to make a huge purchase such as a home or car. Knowing why you are making spending sacrifices is vital as it drives you to success. It also gives you the focus needed to stay on course and follow the budget to the latter.

2. Set goals and prioritize them

Once you get the reasons behind your move to live by a budget, break them down into goals and prioritize them. If wishes were horses, we could all achieve what we wanted financially, but this is not possible, and that’s why prioritizing is key. Priorities are not cast in stone, and they depend on what you want to achieve and your current financial situation. For instance, you can get out of debt faster if you make paying it off a top priority and spend a lot of money on monthly payments. One rule of thumb is that you should always save for retirement as you work on all the other goals. This way, your retirement goal should be a top priority.

3. Give your goals a time limit

Timelines on budgeting goals help you understand how much you need to contribute monthly to achieve them. It helps break them down into the long, medium- and short-term goals before going into the specifics. Time limits also help change priorities as you can put more money in the short-term ones and less in the long-term ones. You will be required to make some trade-offs and sacrifices to achieve some of these goals, and timelines will help you put the right ones.

4. Don’t forget about fun

Fun money is an important category, and have it on your list as well. This is money left for activities that you enjoy doing, and all work without play will make you unmotivated. With the right allocation, this amount and the activities it will allow you to engage in will help you stay on course and achieve your goals. Fun activities can infer many things, and you will have to make some trade-off here. Work around how you can have fun and get your mind off work and other responsibilities.

5. Look for ways to cut expenses

It is hard to run a budget successfully without cutting costs. This will help you free some funds that will be used to build towards the goals you defined earlier. The more funds you can free, the shorter it will take to achieve the goals. The first place to start is by assessing your lifestyle and how your typical day looks like. Narrow down to all the instances you spend money, such as lunch, coffee, or fuel. These costs might seem small, but they add up to significant amounts in the long run if you do the math. Have the expenses you can forgo on standby, and the process will be easier.

6. Be ready to fail

Besides the numbers and goals, you need to have the right mindset to set and succeed with a budget. Do not expect to get everything right from the word go, as change is always uncomfortable. You will get it wrong the first few months and end up spending more than anticipated, but do not give up. Learn from your mistakes and work towards improving areas you failed in. Make it a process of constant improvement as you adjust and make lifestyle changes before you eventually settle in and work towards your goal. The budget you set during the first instance should not be final, and improve it as well. As you start living within the budget, you will realize ways you can save more or areas you need to increase your allocation.

Things to include in a budget

Personal budgets vary individually, but they circle back towards the same things. All our needs are related. We have compiled a few budget categories that will help you track expenses and save more.

1. Rent/Mortgage

The first expense in your budget is that of the roof you live under. This is a basic need, and have it settled first. If you are lucky to inherit or own a house, you won’t need this budget item. However, seek to take care of this as it is a constant expense.

2. Utilities

Utilities are tied to your house expenses, and they represent the costs required to run the place you live in. There is an opportunity to save money here as utility bills are not always constant. For instance, your water and power bills will not always be the same, depending on the season. However, it helps to list them and indicate the upper limit so that you are not forced to find money elsewhere to pay for them when they are high.

A special category of utilities is the phone and internet, which is essential today. Here, you can go for bundled cable packages to get value for money.

3. Transport

The details of this category depend on how you commute to and from work. If you own a car and drive, include the amount spent on gas and additional funds for regular fixes such as oil change, new tires, among others. Some people have auto insurance here, while others prefer to bundle all their insurance costs in one.

4. Food

This is a basic need, and it is hard to establish the amount of money required for this category. If you eat out frequently, have this as a sub-category here. You will most likely get this wrong the first time, but see how you work with different amounts to develop a definitive figure. Some people include household supplies such as toothpaste, tissue, soap, and water here, and it depends on you.

5. Savings

Once you have allocated enough for your basic needs, decide how much you want to save. This money will help you take care of crises such as job loss and legal fees and aim to have at least 6-months of your salary in savings. This will give you a soft landing if something affecting your income happens. It helps break down your savings structure, especially if you are looking to achieve multiple goals with the money from this category. Have an emergency fund to take care of unexpected expenses and have a different savings fund that will help you to make big purchases in the long run. Always be clear about what you are saving for.

6. Insurance

If you have multiple insurance policies, it helps to create a category for that. Common covers include medical insurance, auto insurance, and life insurance, among others. A rule of thumb is to try and get all these covers from one service provider and ask them to bundle them up as it allows you to get a discount and save some money.

7. Education

This category applies to those who plan to pursue further studies or have children who are in school. Education costs are high, and you need to plan for them. A tip to get this right is to set aside some money for your kids’ education before they start using it up. This will help you to get ahead of their tuition payments and have uninterrupted school time. Be sure to include associated costs such as school trip fees, school supplies, tutor fees, and extracurricular fees.

8. Clothing

This category will depend on how many dependents you have and how old they are. It is a category that can be adjusted easily since people do not buy clothes that often, and you can go for cheaper options. While many people do not leave an allocation for this category, times will come when you have to buy your kids’ clothes as they will outgrow them. You can have it in place and contribute monthly before withdrawing the entire sum for a one-off shopping after a couple of months.

9. Debt

This is a critical budget category and if you have debt, plan to pay for it as quickly as possible. The longer you drag debt payments, the more interest you pay, making it expensive for you. Look at possible debt payment strategies and strive a lot into these payments as it will free up some money that you can save or channel into other categories.

10. Entertainment and self-care

At the end of it all, you need to give thanks to your body and mind for working hard to get the money you are creating this budget for. Have some amount to cater to entertainment, which includes concerts, movies, dates, trips, and games. This is a category that most people tend to blow a lot of money on, and allocating a healthy amount will help you stay within the budget. Self-care is different from entertainment as it includes things you need to do to improve your body and mind health. It includes items like a gym membership, salon, SPA, makeup, and babysitting fees.

11. Miscellaneous

Miscellaneous is not a vital category, but it acts as a buffer from eating into what other categories have. It also gives you the room to stretch the amounts you allocate depending on the need. Did your car run down, and you need to spend a little more than the allocation to fix it? Do you need a little more on food and home supplies?

Commonly forgotten things in a budget

It is impossible to budget for everything, and the things you miss out on can make the whole budget crumble. This class of things can be categorized as “incidentals,” which refers to items that you cannot foresee. Others might also be overlooked, only for you to realize that there is no allocation for them when they come up.

They include;

Irregular house maintenance

The systems in your home will not run smoothly forever, and you have to repair them from time to time. The hard thing is that you cannot anticipate when these systems break down and when they do, you are often required to fix them immediately. Take an example of your HVAC system, which is very important during winter. Imagine the heater breaking down in the middle of the night, making the place uncomfortable for your family. You won’t have any other option than to call an HVAC repair contractor to fix it immediately. Think about those irregular things you replace in your home from time to time. It is easy to exclude these in your budget, and they can eat into the other categories and affect your plan.

Monthly Subscriptions

We use digital services a lot and can forget to include the amounts we use to pay for these subscriptions. Common ones include Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Spotify, Apple Music, and Fab Fit Fun. These subscriptions cost small amounts, but if you sum them up, the cost of having them becomes significant. Find a way of including these subscriptions in your budget by either creating a separate category for them or including them in your utilities section.

Taxes and Annual Payments

Annual payments can easily be forgotten due to the length of time between the payments. Once you make one payment, you have peace of mind for 12 months, and it is easy to miss out on them top of mind. They include taxes and payments for your car registration, among others. Taxes are particularly sensitive since you cannot avoid paying them, and it is vital to have a category for them. If you are making a monthly budget, create a category for taxes, as you would rather have a surplus than a deficit.

Gifts and Event Money

It is easy to avoid setting aside money for the events you will attend. First, look at the events you have to host, for instance, your children’s birthday parties, your marriage anniversary, or a house warming party. These events take a lot of money, and do not forget to include them in your budget to accumulate the funds before the actual date. Second, look at the events you will be attending. How many weddings have you been invited to? Other people’s events might seem negligible to your budget, but you might be required to buy gifts and probably a formal outfit, especially if you are heavily involved. These are items that cost a significant amount and have them in your budget as well.

Home maintenance supplies

Do you own a pet? How much does it take to maintain your green lawn? Do you have to buy a tool or organic fertilizer from time to time? These are the kinds of things that fall under this category. When budgeting, it is easy to focus on what happens between your four walls and forget what is outside. Landscaping is costly as you have to buy a few supplies and occasionally contact an expert for help. If you are keen on landscaping and spend a lot of resources on your garden, have a category for the associated costs.

Even with these additional categories, you won’t cover everything in your budget, and do not be extremely disappointed if you find something you did not plan for later. Learn from this and purpose to include it in your next budget. If you have a hunch that your budget has not captured a lot of things, bump up your miscellaneous and emergency funds section so that they can cushion you against these unforeseen expenses.

Personal Budgeting Best Practices

The journey to successful budgeting is not definite, and you will encounter many unexpected challenges along the way. In addition, you can also make use of a few lessons from various budgeting techniques to improve your journey and be successful.

  • If you earn money monthly and struggle with cash flow, divide the income into weekly amounts and break this into your budget. Some people struggle with holding money for a whole month, and splitting this into weekly items will help. You can also come up with weekly mini-budgets within your larger monthly one to sort this out.
  • Consider moving to a cash-only budget if you tend to overspend on certain categories. Today, the use of electronic cash gives you access to money wherever you are, and this can tempt you to overspend on certain categories. Identify the problem categories such as entertainment and clothing and spend here using cash only. This way, when the cash runs out, you won’t have any money left to spend, which will keep you in check.
  • Get budgeting software to help you stay in line. You will find multiple budgeting apps today and find one that suits your budgeting style. These apps will save you the trouble of calculating how much has been spent on each category as they will automatically deduct and show you how everything is going. Most of these apps can be synced with your bank accounts, making things easier.
  • If you have a family that is part of your budget, have regular review meetings and make the whole process open to them. It does not help to impose lifestyle changes on your family members, and they do not have an idea of why you are doing it. They will probably think you are mean and want to make their life harder. Engage them in making the budget and explain why you are doing it, let them own it, and be open to changing their lifestyles.
  • Try and find a passive source of income. The aim of a budget is not to live frugally for the rest of your lives. It is the foundation of better personal finance, and the goal is to improve the quality of your life with time. If you drive an old car, a budget should help you have the funds to buy the car of your dreams within a couple of years. If you live in a small apartment, the budget should help you raise enough money required as deposit for a mortgage. Invest your savings in CDs, high-yield treasury bonds, and any other venture that will generate you more money. A budget is not a silver bullet to financial success, as it depends on how you use the money you save to improve your life.
  • Once your expenses are lower than your income, boost your savings as opposed to increasing your spending. Recurrent expenditure won’t go away in your budget, and try to reduce them as much as possible. If you have debt and clear it, redirect most of the money you used to pay the debt into savings, as this will help you achieve your goals much faster than anticipated.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the five basic elements of a budget?

All the budget categories can be clustered into five essential things: income, fixed expenses, variable expenses, discretionary expenses, and personal financial goals. Fixed expenses are ones you cannot do without, like rent, food, and insurance. Variable expenses change from time to time, like home maintenance costs, clothing, and transport. Discretionary expenses are specific to your life scenario, and personal financial goals are savings and pension schemes. These five basic elements are the foundation of a simple budget and can help you to break down all the categories you want to have in yours.

How much should I set aside for food every month?

Food is a special budget item since it is hard to know the exact amount you spend every month. It becomes harder if a family is involved, and you cannot estimate what everyone eats every day. However, try and work with a minimum of $250 for every adult and $150 for every child per month. This should be enough to cover in-house food and occasional dining out. However, it is not cast on stone and always revise these figures if they do not work for you.

How do I feed my family on a budget?

You can follow a few tips to reduce your monthly spending on food while still keeping your family healthy. Some of them include planning for meals every week, ditching junk food, and making use of leftovers. You can also opt for pulse cooking, where one meal stretches across two days to avoid cooking very often. Get a balanced diet and switch between animal and meat protein.


Budgeting is not hard, and once you make the bold step, you will live to remember that moment. Living a carefree life without managing your finances will have you wasting years of your life without making any meaningful progress. Some of the key items you need to include in your budget have been listed here. Find a top budgeting app today and create one to manage your finances.

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