It can be very difficult to start a new budget or your very first budget ever, when you do not have any savings that can help you get started on paying those bills right away.
You don’t want to fall behind, so you just pay what you can now and look for a good day/week/month to start your new budget. That time, of course, will never come unless you make it so.
When you live paycheck to paycheck this can be a real challenge. But despair not.
Below I have listed a 5-step guide on how to create a calendar budget that will help you not only get started on your new budget, but keep you organized and on top of your bill payments.
1. Make a List
To get an overview of how many bills you have to pay in a month and when they are all due, it is best to make a list.
Take a look at your previous bank statements, credit card bills, any mailed bills you may have gotten (for those establishments that still use paper bills, take a look at your utilities, cell phone, internet, car lease, property tax, credit card, insurance and all other kind of bills and mark them with the amount and due date for each month.
List even your monthly (and weekly) grocery spending to give you an idea of how much grocery money per week and per month you need to allocate for food.
Some bills will only be due a few times a year, while others are due every month, but the amount can vary.
It has occured to me while looking at my own bills that most of them are linked to my credit card and are set up for automatic payment.
This will eliminate some of the stress you may experience when taking care of your bills every month by lumping everything together into one credit card, but you still have to make sure you will have enough money to pay that credit card when it is due.
2. The Calendar Part
Once you have done your research and made your list it is time to decide what type of calendar you want to use.
For the tech savvy and fan of syncing multiple devices, use a digital one. Maybe you are very partial to the wall calendar with its designated spot in the kitchen. Or you work best with a student planner style calendar.
Whatever your preference may be, make it your tool to take charge of your budgeting needs.
Now it’s time to mark every bill that is due during the upcoming month.
If you are living paycheck to paycheck and get paid on a bi-weekly schedule, then it is not really necessary to wait until the first of the month to start your new budgeting system, because you will use both paycheck you receive during the month to pay those bills.
So, the idea that it is imperative to have the money to cover all the bills at the beginning of the month is one that doesn’t really apply to this method.
All you need to make sure of is that you have enough money during a one-month period to cover the cost of all your bills.
3. Start a Budget
While you are marking your calendar with every bill that needs to be paid, make sure you note down the amount that is due and the method of payment, such as automatic payment, online payment or through your credit card.
Sometimes a bill’s amount will vary from month to month. In that case allocate a little more money towards that particular bill than it has been for the last few months.
It is always better to budget a little more towards what is needed to pay a bill and be left with a few dollars to spare than to be short.
This step is also a great opportunity for you to take stock and decide if there are any services, subscriptions, memberships or other expenses you really don’t need or use anymore and cut them (I’m a big fan of suggesting canceling cable TV).
4. Use Colors
You have marked down every bill that is due in the coming month and now you get to color code it.
Use two different colors to identify which bills get paid with which paycheck, preferably colors that aren’t too similar so you don’t get confused.
I always designate the second paycheck of the month to cover rent, which is a fixed bill that is always due on the first of every month.
The rest of that paycheck goes toward paying my credit card balance, which basically reflects most of my bills.
I do this a day or two after receiving each paycheck: take a look at my bank account and credit card balance, remind myself which bills are still left open for the remainder of the month, how much money per week I need for groceries and pay the first portion of my bills with the first paycheck.
Also colour code any important expenditures during that month or important bills that cannot be late.
You can also use stickers or draw symbols to mark important bills or due dates.
Just don’t overdo it or your calendar will end up looking too cluttered, which would defeat its purpose.
5. Review, Adjust and Modify
Every new method and system needs a period of adjustment, so do not despair when at first you make mistakes or you realize you need to modify how you designate the money of your paychecks.
As I mentioned above in step number 4, I take the arrival of each paycheck as my cue to review my bank account and finances. That’s about twice a month, unless we have a lucky month with three paychecks (I love those).
Scrutinize carefully your progress and decide how you can best adjust and modify your organization and spending in order to get the most out of your money and your budget.
Budgeting and paying bills can be stressful on the best of day, but when you are living paycheck to paycheck it can add a whole other layer of panic-causing stress.
But there is a reason to breathe a little easier. The above steps to create a calendar budget are there to help you get organized and take control of your financial situation, even if savings are not possible at the moment.