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At the end of the month, do you wonder where all your money went?
Are you worried that one unexpected repair bill would throw you into a state of emergency?
You need a budget that is both simple and thorough.
This free monthly budget sheet provides sections for categories that you must track if you want to reach your personal financial goals. A good worksheet should help you budget your monthly expenses and destroy debt, plan for emergencies, and invest your hard-earned dollars.
- Emergency Fund
- Lifestyle Expenses
- Wealth Contributions
I’ll clarify each section more below, but for now, you should know that lifestyle expenses include your “normal” monthly expenses like housing and transportation, and wealth contributions include your savings and investments.
The average American spends virtually 100% of their income.
Your income is a tool for you to live a life of wealth and freedom. You invest a lot of time to earn your dollars. Spend them wisely.
Know the value of your dollar. What is an hour of work worth to you in dollars? Knowing that makes it easier for you to save and invest your money. Put your dollars to work for you.
Your plan for creating wealth begins with your income — but your ability to build wealth is not limited by how much you earn. The amount you save is a much better indicator of your financial health now and into the future.
Reducing spending while increasing your income is a recipe for reaching financial freedom faster.
Adding a new source of income can be very helpful, though it will require part-time work or building skills that you can turn into a side gig. The effort is very likely worth it if you have the time.
If you want to earn more money, building skills is a smart way to build wealth.
If you don’t have an emergency fund, you aren’t debt-free, or you aren’t saving at least 15% of your take-home income, you need to minimize unnecessary spending.
This article by Mr. Money Mustache on the shockingly simple math behind early retirement changed my life.
Reducing spending while increasing your savings rate is the fastest way to build wealth.
Reducing your spending is a habit that you can create. Remember, the time it takes you to reach retirement depends on the percentage of your take-home pay that you save.
The monthly budget sheet provides a list of the main categories that the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides in their consumer expenditures report like housing, transportation, food (groceries and restaurants), insurance, healthcare, clothes, entertainment, and more.
There is space for you to add your own expenses, but the main ones are covered.
Emergency Fund First Budgeting
How would you pay for an unplanned emergency?
What if you have a surprise $800 car repair bill? What if you need to replace a major household appliance? What if your brother-in-law needs money for bail??
An emergency fund is going to cover you when bad things happen.
And bad things will happen.
An emergency fund with $1000 is a great start. A safer long-term goal is to have 3 months of your living expenses covered by an emergency fund. “Stuff” happens. Be prepared. Having some cash available in a high-yield savings account provides quick access to funds in case of an emergency.
Keeping at least some of your emergency fund in savings is important to avoid losses due to a drop in the stock market. You don’t want to borrow from your growing cash stash. And you don’t want to be penalized for withdrawing early from a retirement account.
Destroy Your Debt
Being debt-free is ideal before investing and saving past an emergency fund. Create a plan to destroy your debt. You’ll be able to move much faster without debt weighing you down.
Some debt is reasonable (like a low percentage mortgage), but other debt like a credit card at 15% needs to be put down. If you have any debt with an interest rate greater than the expected annual returns on investments (which is about 10% for the past century), it doesn’t make sense to invest for a lesser return when destroying your debt provides the greater benefit.
Until you’re debt-free, a very large part of your monthly budget should go to destroying your debt.
In some cases, reducing your debt payments by refinancing your student loans or refinancing your mortgage may be a great option.
Do whatever you legally and ethically can do to destroy your debt.
Take a part-time job. Sell the unused piles of stuff in your garage. Only eat food you buy at the grocery store.
Treat your debt like it’s an emergency situation that you have to escape as fast as possible if you want to live. If you’ve been looking for an outlet for your creativity, getting out of debt may be just the thing.
After you have an emergency fund built up and you’re out of debt, investing for long-term gains is the best way to appreciate your dollars.
You should aim for a balanced portfolio made up of savings, investments like stocks and bonds, and retirement accounts like an IRA and a 401(k). Diversification reduces your risk and improves your chances of retiring comfortably.
Investments are a long-term play. If you invest consistently every month, you offset your risk. Sometimes you’ll buy when stocks are high. Sometimes you’ll buy when they’re low. But over time, you’re buying the average, and, since stocks will very likely increase, you’ll profit.
Don’t panic sell. Don’t try to time the market. Just pick low-fee funds to invest in or use managed investment funds with low-fee accounts.
Based on expert advice, I recommend low-cost index funds. I use Vanguard.
If you’re interested in stock picking, I recommend only putting a small amount of your monthly budget into risky stocks. Invest the majority of your investment budget into funds that show consistent good performance over longer periods of time.
You can also offset some of your risks by holding bonds as well as stocks. Bonds have a lower return, but they are more stable than stocks. If you own bonds and the stock market drops, you can sell bonds and buy stocks at better prices. Having multiple types of investments gives you options.
Retirement accounts are for long-term planning and usually carry penalties for withdrawing your funds earlier than the retirement age.
Different retirement accounts offer different benefits, so it’s worth planning your retirement account strategy with a professional.
A Roth IRA, for example, allows you to contribute taxed dollars but make tax-free withdrawals later. A traditional IRA lets you contribute tax-free, but you are taxed on the withdrawals. A 401(k) is offered by many employers and provides a contribution match up to a certain percentage of your income — which means free money for you. Learn more in How Much Can I Contribute to My 401(k).
Free Monthly Budget Sheet Download
A quick word on the budget worksheet: it is meant to help you create a budget that is as simple or as goal-oriented as you want. If you just want to track income and expenses, you can do that. And if you want to set financial goals for building an emergency fund, savings, and investments, you can do that too.
You can view and download your free monthly budget sheet here.
If you find this worksheet helpful, please let me know in the comments. And please consider subscribing to my email list.
I’m working on creating more worksheets and other tools to help you reach your financial goals, and I’d love to let you know when I release the next ones.
Tracking your finances is the first and the most important step you can take to reach financial freedom.
Check out my Personal Capital review if you’re interested in a free app that tracks your income, expenses, spending habits, and retirement planning better than a printable monthly budget sheet.
I also created a list of the Best Personal Finance Software. Many of them (like Mint and Personal Capital) are completely free. The list covers budgeting, investment tracking, and filing taxes. Did you know 70% of tax-payers can file for free?
Best of luck budgeting and tracking your finances. Let me know if you have any questions.
For more insight into the steps to achieve financial freedom — building an emergency fund, destroying your debt, saving and investing — check out Early Retirement How-To in 5 Steps.