There are several budgeting tools and methods out there for you to manage how to stick to a budget. There are special apps that give you cash back later, or cards that save you money at the cash register, or certain habits to maintain to manage your budget. Here are a few budgeting tools and methods that I have tried over the years, pros and cons for each, and my Budgeting Method. There are also freebies down at the bottom!
Use Apps for a Budgeting Tool!
I keep my bank and credit card apps on my phone so that I can keep track of our activity… and monitor any unauthorized charges.
I hate sending and spending money on paper checks, so I have my HOA bill charged using online banking. Plus I have set up other expenses to be automatically charged to our accounts so that we don’t forget it and have to pay late fees.
Target App and RedCard
I got my RedCard when I was 18 and just moved to Montana State University. I save 5% every time I use the card, and I also use the app to add other discounts to my phone. You can also use your phone to pay at Target so that it combines the Circle coupons and the RedCard (or whatever other payment method you have on the app) to make the charge. (not an affiliate)
Retail Me Not and similar apps-
These apps can save you money, yes. But the wonky thing is that it’s like a retroactive sale sometimes (like Ibotta or Checkout 51) and when it comes to budgeting and utilizing my budgeting tools, I prefer to maintain the mindset of What is affecting my accounts right now? (not an affiliate)
Credit cards with worthwhile benefits–
Please note that I say worthwhile benefits. Not just that there are benefits to having a credit card. Worthwhile benefits in my mind are earning points that you can utilize in your budget. Like my Amazon Chase card (not an affiliate) gets me varying % back on my purchases and I turn around and use it to save on our Credit Card Statements. I have an Alaska Card because we plan to incorporate travel into our lifestyle and the best use for miles is for using it for hotels. I have been doing some “experimenting” and comparing using miles for hotels versus using them for flights. Using them for hotel stays make the miles last longer. Store credit cards are only worth it if you plan to shop there frequently.
Using a cash only, or an envelope system can really help you control where your money is going. When I was new to “adulting” I saw a tip somewhere that using cash helps you spend less money because you’re watching it ‘go away’ as opposed to swiping a card or clicking “Buy Now”!
When using this budgeting method, you place cash from your income into different envelopes designated for different budgets (groceries, gas, rent, misc, fun, insurance bills, etc). And when you’re out of money, you’re out of money until next payday. My problem with this system is that there are so man digital budgeting tools to help you save money in the long run. Like using apps, online banking systems, and special cards like the RedCard. I can’t save as much at Target if I’m not taking advantage of the 5% discount. And sometimes there are credit card special offers where you get double or 5x times points for grocery shopping. If you use the credit card, then you are saving 2-5% on groceries that month.
Online Banking System
I do basically everything online or digitally! I don’t forget about paying the bill- or rather, the bill doesn’t not get paid. And all I need to do it prepare for a grocery run or do a weekly check-in to see where we are at for the month. Plus I like being able to look at our accounts and see online what our balances are.
Sometimes I forget about a bill- if it’s new or I’m not the one who made the payment. We’re trying to get fit this year, so Kyler has a membership to the gym and for the first few months, I would forget about the payment but Ky had set it to auto-pay.
Weekly Check-ins on Budget and Monthly Overviews/Previews
Checking in on your budget once a week helps remind yourself when your bills are do and which bills you have! Write all your bills down on a sheet of paper or type them up, add when they are due and the amount and keep track as you go. Try this my free budget template!
Sometimes I forget about something- even if I have written it down. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by doing it once a week. Other times we go over budgets because we see a surplus and go to the movies. (Stupid, I know). If I don’t do a check-in and monthly overlooks, I can’t prepare myself for the kind of month we’re about to have.
Mint.com (not an affiliate)
Once you connect your accounts to Mint.com and set up budgets for different categories, Mint tracks those transactions. It also shows your net worth and a whole slew of other stats taht should help keep you and your budget on track.
Sometimes I don’t like using this budgeting method because it doesn’t quite seem to understand the difference between transferring money from our regular checking account to our Home Expenses Checking account for mortgage and so it ‘double counts’ it. Or it categorizes certain expenses into the wrong category and says we went over budget. But at least it tells you if you’re spending too much in certain areas like fast food.
Meal Planning & a Rotation
Keeping a meal plan and/or a rotation is a great way to keep the grocery budget down. It is my favorite budgeting tool and method! I have found that gas and groceries are the most variable budget, but it doesn’t have to be out of control. Here is my Summer Meal Plan Rotation
$5 Dinner Freebie
Follow my personal Instagram for up to date inspirations!
You can get bored (as my husband says) which is why I keep a rotation on hand. Sometimes it’s like a guessing game and you’re asking yourself “What do I want?” but sometimes randomly assigning dinner helps. Sometimes just making a list of the meals you will have and not assigning them to the day of the week helps.
Final Thoughts on Budgeting Tools and Methods
My Budgeting System
My budgeting tools and methods are somewhat strict- with some minor exceptions because you can’t make a million restrictions on a budget when you’re in a relationship. I use a combination of most of everything above- I keep several checking/savings accounts, sometimes use a cash system (like Ky’s spending for misc. fun stuff and fast food comes from his tip money); I also use several apps, and choose my credit cards wisely. In fact, certain expenses are regularly charged to my Chase card so that I can earn points and use the points to pay off part of my statement balance.
The reason I keep several checking accounts is because I want to make sure our vital expenses like our mortgage doesn’t get accidentally absorbed by other expenses. We also regularly transfer money into a separate checking account for Ky to use on whatever fast food or Yugio stuff. All other expenses are withdrawn form our regular checking account. My goal is to come to the point where we can keep almost all our money in our savings account and have transactions withdrawn from that account- then we would be earning interest.