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You don’t have to go down the budgeting path alone in today’s world. There are many different programs and apps that help you create a financial plan for your lifestyle. Mint is an ad-supported free app ⁠— while You Need A Budget and Goodbudget are paid financial planning options. Each of these options follows a different budgeting principle to help you reach your goals.

Even if you don’t want to rely on a third-party app for your planning, creating a spreadsheet is a good start. The 50/30/20 method is more accessible for beginners. 50% of income goes to necessities, 30% of discretionary spending, and 20% goes to savings and debt payments.

Divide Expenses

The expenses that you accrue each month are divided into two categories ⁠— necessary and discretionary expenses. Essential expenses are things like rent, utilities, insurance, health care, loan payments, and groceries. Discretionary expenses is money spent on things like restaurants, vacations, electronics, and entertainment. Reviewing the past year of your credit and debit cards will help you understand how much you spend per month on each category.

Cut Costs

Once you have a clearer picture of how much you need to spend each month, you can review cost-cutting measures. This review is especially important if you are currently spending more than you earn in a month. Discretionary expenses should be the first area you begin cutting. Fixed costs can be harder to cut, but it’s not impossible. You may be able to refinance student loans for a lower interest rate, depending on the type of loan you have. Credit cards, insurance, satellite, and cable are all negotiable if you talk with your provider. Don’t be afraid to ask for lower interest rates to help you meet your financial goals.

Build Emergency Savings

One mistake many people make is not building an emergency cushion while paying off debt. You should have an emergency savings plan that can support you for up to six months. You never know when you might have a medical emergency that could prevent you from working. Once you have that cushion, you can start looking at mid-term and long-term savings plans.

Adjusting Your Financial Outlook

Each month you should compare your budget to your actual spending. You may see shortfalls where your current financial plan needs to be expanded or adjusted. Don’t worry ⁠— that’s a natural part of maintaining a budget. As you pay off debt, you can move more of your money toward your savings goals. Student loans, credit cards, and mortgage payments don’t have to consume the bulk of your income if you financially prepare properly. Many people who set up a financial plan fail to stick to it once they see overages. Don’t let these failures stop you from achieving financial independence. A budget is a living document that goes up and down with your income and expenses.