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Planning a monthly budget is the first step towards long-term financial responsibility. But what if you’ve never created one before? Where do you even begin? Here are just a few tips for figuring out your finances, curbing your spending and condensing it all into a workable plan.

1. Have a Goal

Maybe you want to get out of debt. Maybe you want to save up for something special. There’s a reason why you’re counting your coins, and it should be the front and center of your budget. For example, if you need an extra $100 a month, your budget should be focused on saving at least $25 a week.

2. Sit Down With Your Finances

There are two major things that you need to know to create an effective budget:

  • How much you earn each month
  • How much you spend each month

Without these numbers, you can only make guesses about your finances, so it’s important to figure them out. You’ll need to work with solid, actionable numbers if you’re serious about learning how to manage your money.

3. Get Digital

Most banks offer online banking for their customers, and this can be invaluable for tracking your expenses and moving your money. How much did you spend today? What pending transactions are on your account? What’s that overdraft going to cost you? Your online account will tell all. You might even enjoy special perks from having an online account.

4. Tally Up Your Totals

You might be shocked by how much money you’re throwing away on your daily dose of Starbucks. You might also be disturbed at the total amount that you’re spending on bars, movies, restaurants and streaming services when you put them all together under the “entertainment” umbrella. Is your monthly entertainment really worth that monthly price?

5. Give Yourself Limits

Once you’ve identified your problem areas, it’s time to start curbing your spending. A good way to accomplish this is by dividing your expenses into different categories. You can allocate specific percentages of your income to things like “rent,” “food” and “toiletries.”

6. Stop Using Plastic

Studies have shown that credit and debit cards can stimulate overspending. Since you aren’t seeing the money disappear, you’re more likely to be careless with it. Switch to cash if you want a physical deterrent from spending too much.

7. Eliminate Unnecessary Fees

What can you do to eliminate the fees of your various accounts and subscriptions? If it’s your bank charging you a maintenance fee, maybe you can get rid of it by signing up for direct deposits. If it’s your utility company charging you for paper statements, maybe you can switch to online statements instead.

8. Start Saving

Speaking of savings accounts, they’re a good idea for people trying to budget. In addition to earmarking your money for a long-term goal, banks usually have limitations on how often you can withdraw from a savings account before getting a penalty. This can be the motivation that you need to leave that money alone.

9. Use Budgeting Software

All that you really need to make a budget is a pencil and paper. If you require a little more assistance, however, there are a number of tools, apps, software programs and web calculators that can help you create and maintain a budget. They’re especially useful if you need access to your budget on a variety of devices.

These are just nine tips for getting your finances back on track with the use of a monthly budget. Whether you’re hoping to encourage big savings or just small adjustments to your spending habits, these guidelines can help you become a smarter and more financially responsible person.