10-Day Budget Challenge

Bobbi Olson Articles

Our tagline is “Budgeting Made Easy.” But, is it really true?
Can budgeting be easy?

Day One

a hand counting 1 with one finger extended

I remember being trained for an audio production job 20+ years ago, and the guy who trained me (thank you, Eric Bird!) said, “Audio production is never hard, just time-consuming.” That has stayed with me over the years and is so true! The same goes for budgeting! It’s not hard! If you can do simple math, you can do it! BUT, it can be time-consuming, overwhelming and create anxiety – in the beginning! So, break it down into tiny steps that are easy to accomplish! I promise you, it will be worth it in the long run!

The Challenge

Simply make a list of all your regular sources of income – salary, child support, alimony, etc.

  • How much you get (after taxes)
  • How often (once a month, twice a month, etc.)
  • On what dates (15th and 31st, or every other Friday)?

Keep this info! We’ll add to it tomorrow.

Day 2

Make a list of all your monthly bills.

a todo list that says 'let's do this!' on the top

Rent/mortgage, electricity, cable, telephone, credit cards, student loans – anything billed monthly. Write the due date for each bill, as well as the amount you pay for each.

Some amounts will vary month-to-month. Use the highest amount you’ve paid for each bill over the past year.

In other words – BUDGET HIGH!

Why? First, this will greatly diminish the possibility of paying
more than you planned. Second, when your payment comes in under budget, you can use the difference to pay off debt or add to your savings goals!

If you’re unfamiliar with what you’re paying, this exercise could take an hour or two. Remember, not hard, just time consuming! But this is an important step, and once it’s done, it’s done! Then you can move on to the next step, which we’ll talk about tomorrow!

Day 3

Make a list of all monthly expenses, besides bills.

This includes groceries/toiletries, gasoline, quarters for laundry, any necessary expenses you incur monthly. Set an amount for each expense. This is going to be a bit tougher, if you haven’t paid attention before, be- cause all of these probably vary. Go back through your credit card or bank statements to get an idea and, again, BUDGET HIGH for each! This exercise will probably also take you a couple hours, so give yourself the time, but DON’T GIVE UP!

Each step leads to better control over your money. At the end of this challenge, you’ll have a budget you can work with, that will help you reach your financial goals!

Day 4

If you haven’t already, add up all your monthly income. Then add up all your monthly bills and expenses. Next, subtract the total of your monthly bills and expenses from your income. If you come up with a positive number – great! You’re ready for the next step. If you come up with a negative number, cuts to bills and expenses must be made.

a written budget on a sheet tracking income and expenses

Expenses (like groceries) are easier to cut than bills, but some can be reduced by modifying services (cable tv, using less electricity, some phone services, etc.) Also, if you have subscriptions (gym, online services, etc.) you’re not using, put those on the chopping block! If you come up with a positive number, but adding in what you spend on eating out/entertainment, etc., would put you way over the top, further cuts must be made. For now, we just want to focus on making sure your monthly essentials are covered.

Take some time to let this sink in, find some cuts if needed, and we’ll begin structuring your budget tomorrow!

Day 5

Now that you’ve got a list of all your bills and expenses, and they equal less than the total of your monthly income, it’s time to start structuring your budget.

Assuming you are paid twice a month, start by making two separate lists of bills and expenses – one for each paycheck. On one sheet of paper, list all bills due between your first and second paycheck (for example, between the 1st and 15th), in “due date” order, and the amount you’re budgeting for each. Now list all expenses for that time period (groceries, gasoline, etc.) and the amount you’re budgeting for each .

On another sheet of paper, do the same thing for all bills and expenses for the time period between your second and first paycheck (for example, between the 16th and 31st). If you find you don’t have enough on one paycheck, but have extra on another, try changing the due dates of some bills. If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to save some money from the paycheck with extra money and put it toward the one that’s coming up short.

If you’ve got money left over on both paychecks, even pennies, you’re ready for the next step!

Day 6

Now that all your essential monthly bills and expenses are covered, you can decide what to do with the extra money left from your paychecks.

You certainly want to carve out at least a little for discretionary spending (entertainment, eating out, etc.), but don’t forget the savings! And this savings could be split into many categories – it all depends on what works best for you. Establish a specific amount, per paycheck, for discretionary spending and commit to it! Make it an amount you can live with, so you’re not tempted to take money from any savings categories you may create. Start with a review of your discretionary spending for the past 6 months to establish a reasonable amount. This is just a starting point, as you may have to adjust for needed savings (we’re going to get into irregular expenses next, such as car registration, etc., which you may have to save for.) At this point, think about what would be ideal, given what you have to work with, and what you would spend it on.

When you’ve set your ideal amount, you’re ready for the next step, which we’ll tackle tomorrow!

Day 7

Congratulations! You’ve covered all your monthly expenses and even carved out a little “fun” money!

But wait, don’t forget those pesky irregular expenses that trip up so many of us during the year! I’m talking about oil changes, car registration, car insurance, annual subscriptions, things we’re not billed for monthly and thus don’t make it into our monthly budget! So how do we deal with them?

a simple drawing of a car

Start by making a list of every irregular expense you can think of that comes up throughout the year. For each, list the date they’re due and the amount you spend. Can you pay for them in full, in one month? If not, you’ll need to add savings to your monthly budget for them. For example, if your car registration is due in 6 months and will cost $150.00, you’ll need to save $25.00 per month.

Do the math for each irregular expense, and determine if you can save enough per month for each. If not, consider using some of your discretionary money to cover it, or use your tax refund to cover as many irregular expenses in full as possible. This can get confusing and a bit overwhelming in the short term, but it will save you a lot of stress in the long term!

Day 8

Give yourself a huge hand! You’ve created a budget that covers your monthly and irregular expenses!

With this in place, you can sleep better, knowing you’re prepared for today and throughout the year, without going in to debt! If this has taken every dollar you make, stop here for a while and enjoy the win! Get used to living on your budget and rolling with the changes that will come (forgotten expenses, bills or expenses that are more than you planned for, etc.)

If you have some spare change and are carrying a balance on a credit card, let’s make a plan to destroy that DEBT! Always pay more than the minimum payment to each debt – even if it’s only pennies! Remember, you’re paying interest for the “privilege” of that debt, so the sooner it’s gone, the more money you’ll have to put toward your other goals. Determine how much additional money you have to put toward your debt, then determine one debt to focus on and add the additional money to the amount already budgeted for that debt.

a cartoon bomb with the word "debt" on it

When that debt is paid off, you’ll move on to the next – with a beefier payment, since you’ll have the money from the debt you just paid off! Keep the cycle going until all of your credit card debt is gone! But this could take a while! What about savings? We’ll talk about that tomorrow!

Personally, I started with the debt that had the lowest total amount due, because I needed the win as soon as possible to keep me focused.
But some suggest starting with the highest interest rate debt – which makes a lot of sense, too. Do whatever is best for you!

Day 9

Here’s where prioritizing becomes important.

Your top priorities (what you need to live on a daily basis) are already Covered. But prioritizing debt and savings can be more tricky. We covered debt yesterday, so let’s dive into savings.

Even though we’ve all experienced the need for car/ home repairs, medical care, etc., they tend to hit us out of nowhere, because we’re not prepared. Save for them! Even if it’s a couple of cents per month, it will add up – and the more you can cover in cash, rather than credit, the better!

Spread your savings between many categories, or choose one to focus on, until it’s fully funded. The goal is to think ahead, so you can plan for what you really want – and consider how important it is, next to everything else.

Make a list of what you’d like to save for, then play with the order of importance and amount to give each category per month (or paycheck). Also, think about where debt payoff fits in your priority list. Personally, I would make it number one, but some find that a little savings first, or a combination of both helps them sleep better at night. Remember, the goal is less stress!

How do you keep track of all these categories? How do you track what you’ve spent? How do you put the budget you’ve now created into action? We’ll cover all of that tomorrow, as we wrap up the budget challenge!

a road sign that says "financial freedom just ahead"

Other Things to Save For

  • Next Car
  • Furniture
  • New Cell Phone

All inevitable, but hard to find the cash for, all at once. Don’t forget holidays, birthdays, special occasions, school clothes for the kids, vacations, special outings. The list is endless, so it’s time to decide what’s most important.

Day 10

Now that you’ve got a budget, how do you put it into action?

On the day of your paycheck, allocate the money according to your plan. Put it into the different categories you’ve created and pay all bills due before your next paycheck.

You can keep track of your categories and spending for each on an excel spreadsheet, word document or by writing them on a piece of paper.

In my experience, a budgeting app like YNAB will make this process much easier and way less time-consuming! It allows you to keep your check register and spending categories current with one entry, and does the math for you!

I suggest updating your spreadsheet, budgeting app or whatever you choose to use at least every paycheck, when you pay the bills. This will ensure your budget is truly covering everything you need from one paycheck to the next, and provide you the opportunity to make any needed changes. And if you choose a specific day (for me, it’s the Saturday after every paycheck) you can get everything done at once and not have to worry about it until the next paycheck!

Now that you have a budget, I challenge you to use it for cutting financial stress and moving toward the financial life you dream of!

Save and spend without stress and Happy Budgeting!

If you have questions, email me through the contact form.

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