Financial Planning for Generation X & Y Women
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Expert Q&A Archive

What types of budgeting tools are best for beginners?
Do you recommend any specific budgeting tools that those of us who are beginning to plan can use to capture the fixed and variable expenses? I know there is Quicken, and many other tools out there, but which ones would you highly recommend for beginners to start using?
Michael A. Masiello:
expert info »
Yes, the best method is to record every expense on a 3x5 card for a couple of months, then categorize them. Use cash, check, and charge columns and then group them by category and then total.

Pen and paper can work just as well as Quicken, I think also offers a budgeting package, but can't speak to its details. Good luck, Mike
Gary Silverman, CFP®:
expert info »
Though I highly recommend either Quicken or [Microsoft] Money, you can't go wrong with a pad of paper and a pencil. Get a notebook, and set up a page per expense category. If you want to add a category, just add paper. Staple an envelope to the back of the paper, and you can also save receipts. There are systems like this on sale online, but $10 at Office Depot would buy you all you need. –Gary
Kris Freeberg:
expert info »
Quicken is the most popular accounting application and includes a budgeting feature, however, it's necessary to have worked out the budget elsewhere before it can be tracked in Quicken. I recommend a spreadsheet program like Excel, and be sure to work out your budget month-by-month; do not adopt the mythical "average month" because it doesn't exist in reality.
Jody Rorick, CPA:
expert info »
I believe there's a lot of power in budgeting, and you don't need a computer or a Quicken program to start, although having access to a computer and a budgeting program would make it easier. If you don't have this capability, you can figure out your annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily expenditures by keeping track of the checks you write, the credit charges you incur, and the cash withdrawals and debit purchases you make. You can write it all down manually. The secret is to include absolutely everything. Once you know what you've actually been spending, you can form a budget based on your actual expenditures, taking into consideration your income. Most people know how much money they make, but don't really know how much they spend. A little here and a little there add up to quite a lot sometimes, so you have to keep track of all of it, even if it means taking paper and pen with you wherever you go. That's really the important part- recording all of it so you have an accurate picture. Don't wait for a computer or a Quicken program; just start right now. No excuses!
Dorothea Bernique:
expert info »
Many of the programs used such as Quicken, are no more than check registers and we know that keeping a check register does not mean you stay within the boundaries you have established for a budget. I recommend a program by the name of Money Matters 2005 (you can find it at Money Matters uses the concept of the envelope system to help you stay on target with your budget. In other words, if there is no money in a particular budget category or envelope, then you can't input that transaction (without making some adjustments). I think this is an excellent tool for beginners.
Connie K. Marmet:
expert info »
It's not really necessary to pay for a budgeting program. If you have Excel you can do a spreadsheet or just do your budget by hand. I estimate expenses that happen every month in one section. In another, I list expenses that happen periodically, like a semi-annual tax or insurance payment. You can either insert the periodic payment where it falls (say March and September) or set aside an amount each month that will fund the payment when due (1/6 monthly for a semi-annual payment or 1/3 for a quarterly payment for example). I also keep a separate sheet listing assets and liabilities.
Gail Rosen, CPA:
expert info »
I think you should ask a financial planner this question. They are always doing budgeting with their clients. I personally use Excel for businesses that I work with, but I think you are asking this on the personal budgeting side, and there might be specific ones that a financial planner might know about.
Rebecca Schreiber CFP®:
expert info »
I'm a big fan of Excel. It's not over-complicated; I can easily create a history of my expenses, and use the formulas to automatically add everything up. I can also put my budget on my PDA (password-protected!) so when I'm about to make a big purchase I can check to see if there's enough money left in my budget for the month. It's really handy, easy to use and easy to keep with me.
Editor's Note:
Editor’s Note: Chapter 3 "Money Basics" of the Wi$eUp Curriculum offers valuable tools for keeping track of your money, how to prepare a budget, and a downloadable budget form.

Please click on the links below to download these three tools:

“My Spending Notebook”

“Building a Realistic Budget”$ingUp-Step3-1.pdf

“Sample Budget”