How To Budget Your Entire Year: A Step-by-Step Guide For 2017

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It may seem overwhelming to organize the entirety of 2017 when we’re only halfway through the first month, but in the long run, you’ll thank yourself. I am one of the worst people in the world when it comes to planning ahead, but this particular tool/DIY project has helped make planning where my paychecks go a lot easier. Let’s get started!

STEP ONE: Find a calendar layout that works for your specific needs.

To get started, you want to choose a monthly calendar layout you like! I was really aiming for a quarterly calendar with three months per page, but I didn’t find any that seemed suitable. There are tons of options out there, though, so pick one that works for you. This one-pager really works for those organized minds that don’t need to take a ton of notes (and honestly, this would work just fine for this project). If you like planning everything out, opt for this goal-setting calendar which provides plenty of room to write details for each payment/goal/task. Ultimately, I choose this calendar for it’s simplicity and the room to write notes in the column.

This calendar was not numbered, so that was task #1!

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STEP TWO: Any regular income you receive, write it down.

You can’t budget without knowing how much you have coming in each month! I jotted in all my paychecks (assuming I stay with my same job throughout the year and nothing crazy happens).

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If you have any irregular sources of income (birthday money, payments from PayPal, etc), it may be a good idea to jot those down as well, even if you don’t know the exact amount. If you’re married, go ahead and fill in your spouse’s income/paydays as well. You can write the amount if it helps you determine how much you have to spend. My paychecks vary based on the number of hours I work, so I chose not to fill in this information, even though I have a strong estimate of what each one would be.

STEP THREE: Choose a color and fill in all your regular payments.

If you already have a journal, this may seem slightly redundant. However, while I keep a planner, this broad yearly overview is very helpful for me. It enables me to visually see when everything is due, when I get paid, and how much of each paycheck should be dedicated to particular expenses.

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Much like the income situation, there are bills that are consistent and bills that are not. On the day-by-day overview I did not write the amount of the bill (more on that later). Certain bills are the same every month, such as cable, rent, and Netflix. The electricity bill changes each month and I can pay off my credit cards at virtually any rate I want to, so these expenses are varied.

STEP FOUR: Write down any activities that may require expenses.

Remember, this is not a true planner–you don’t need to jot down every doctor’s appointment, birthday, anniversary, wedding, holiday. Of course, if these events will require certain expenses, you should definitely include them.

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As you can see, March is a busy month for me! I have a vacation in store, a bridal shower to attend, and it’s also my anniversary. All of these events are on my expense calendar because, well, they’re not going to be free. I need to budget for my vacation activities (travel, food, hotel, shopping, etc); the bridal shower will require a gift (and probably a new dress!); and my anniversary will probably include purchasing a gift and a nice dinner. While some of these expenses may seem trivial, they will add up over the year. If you notice that one half of your month is loaded with extra activities, it’s smart to budget your first paycheck towards all your bills, so you have spending money when you need it.

STEP FIVE: Plan out the details.

Crunch some numbers. See where each paycheck and expense falls. There will be some months where you paychecks will barely make it in time to pay the appropriate bills. You will have months where everything falls perfectly into place and you have extra spending money to either treat yourself, pay off some higher credit card bills, fix your car, dump into savings, etc. It’s good to know when you’ll be strapped for cash and when you can have some fun!

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This is January’s calendar. My paychecks magically fell so that my rent was paid with December’s money. The first paycheck of January is divvied up for all my bills, while the second paycheck is mostly for fun things. I’m very bad at planning ahead–especially when it comes to things you need to purchase in advance (concert tickets, plane tickets, hotels, travel, etc). This gives me a quick overview of what times are right to spend for future expenses, instead of waiting until last minute and blowing my budget out of the water.

REMEMBER: These are not hard and fast numbers for what each thing needs to cost you! My electricity bill, for example, varies each month. I put an estimate of $50. If it’s more, that’s okay, because I know there will be months when it is less. Do your best to estimate for those unknown numbers. If things change, they change. The point here is to have a rough plan, not crunch perfect numbers.

STEP SIX: Coordinate with your planner.

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If you have a planner, it’s probably your best friend. Any big things you forgot about are probably written in your planner and you can transfer them onto your budget calendar–and visa versa. If you write down your paychecks in your planner, you should probably jot down a few quick notes about which payments need to be paid with that particular paycheck. Most of you probably already do something similar to this, but it never hurts to double check that all of your expenses are covered!

STEP SEVEN: Prepare for the unknown (or those expenses you have been avoiding).

Okay, I know it’s only a matter of time before my car needs some repairs. Instead of waiting until something breaks (which will, undoubtedly, be at the worst time possible), I can find some lulls in my payments to squeeze in repairs. For those months where it seems all my expenses fall under one paycheck, the second paycheck can be geared towards savings, car repairs, home repairs, planning for a future vacation, or something along those lines. Don’t let the unknowns in life completely derail your budgeting plan.

Things won’t always go according to plan–and that’s okay. Just do your best to be prepared for the worst when it strikes.

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Now, whip out those calendars and plan for your easiest year ever–budget-wise, at least!

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