What I wish I learned in high school: When should I start using a budget?

Right now.

Maybe you have one source of income, and it’s an allowance from your parents. Perhaps you just started your first job, whether it’s in a retail store or you’re cutting lawns during the summer. Maybe you don’t even have any expenses yet. Regardless, you should consider using a budgeting tool now.

budgetOne reason to start now is so that you have time to practice and learn the basics really well before you get to the point where you have multiple sources of income and more expenses than you can list on your fingers. You may want to start now, before it becomes overwhelming.

Here’s how:

Decide what type of budget you want to use. You can buy a graph paper notebook to keep track of money coming in and money going out, open an Excel® or Google® spreadsheet, use an online tool like www.mint.com (Mint® also has a free app) or find another app by searching “budget.” Remember that you can pick one of these and try it out for a while. If you don’t like it, do something else.

The key is to find something you’ll use. If you aren’t using the tool you chose, try another one.

Learn to use it. The tools mentioned all work differently. Whichever you use, make sure you find out how to do basic budgeting functions like enter your income and track your expenses. If you use a paper or manual spreadsheet budget, ask a parent, banker or look up how to set up your page on eHow. If you use an app or other online tool, use the tutorials they have available and poke around when you have a few minutes (instead of checking Facebook again).

Be consistent. This might be the most important step. Budgeting works best if you use it often and regularly. When you do, you’re less likely to run out of money without realizing it. I like to set a specific time each week to thoroughly look through my budget, and I don’t miss my date. Along with that, I check my accounts and budget a few times a week as I have a moment to spare. That has helped me to be in the habit of keeping track of my money instead of just circling through Facebook®, Instagram and Pinterest.

Make changes. As you track where your money is going, make changes. If you notice that you’re spending $5 every week at the vending machine buying chips, consider buying your chips in bulk from the grocery store. You can usually buy a box of individually bagged chips for less money per bag than buying from the vending machine, and you could save a couple of dollars a week. It might not seem like you’re saving very much, but remember, that’s your money that you could be spending on something you want even more. Or, it might seem like a lot of money to spend at once when you buy a whole box of chips, but try adding up the amount it would cost to buy it from the vending machine versus as a whole box. You might have to skip the chips for a couple of weeks to save up for the bigger box, but once you get past that first hump, you’ll save money in the long run.

budget_titleRemember, even if budgeting is pretty easy now, getting into the habit while it’s easy will mean you’ll have practice as your budget gets more and more complicated. Try to always keep up on budgeting and you will definitely thank yourself later.

Excel is a registered trademark of Microsoft. Google is a registered trademark of Google Inc. Mint is a trademark of Intuit Inc., registered in the United States and other countries. The trademark eHow is owned by eHow. Facebook is a registered trademark of Facebook, Inc. Instagram is a trademark of Instagram. Pinterest is a trademark of Pinterest, Inc.

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