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How do you budget? And what digital tools do you use?

Reese sent this question in December:

Kristen, could we get a post about starting up some things for the new year, financially speaking?

I’m just trying to make it through the holidays, but I know I want to focus on paying down debt, working on saving more, and maybe introduce some fun apps and frugal wins into my everyday life. It might be a fun option to have readers write in to say what they use (Envelope system? Excel? Mint? Good ol’ paper and pen?), how they budget (What percentage for tithing, savings, how to figure out food $), any digital tools (ibotta, CashApp, GetUpside, etc).

I could really use some motivation. And need help to get back on track! I figured the new year would be a good time to start something I could stick to. 🙂


Reese did a Meet a Reader interview before. Remember the beautiful baked goods she makes??

Reese with a baguette

To address Reese’s questions:

Personally, I am in a super weird state of financial limbo. My finances are functionally separated, but until a divorce agreement is finalized, nothing I save or earn is completely mine.

It’s sort of a demoralizing place to be, but I know it’s temporary. A long temporary, yes, but that’s still not the same as something being permanent!

A glass jar of coins.

I’m obviously still working hard at saving money, but I will have a lot more excitement around my financial efforts once my money is entirely my own.

So, I’m not really budgeting at the moment; I’m just in spend-as-little-as-is-reasonably-possible mode.

Once my divorce is finalized, I will get back to setting up specific savings goals, and I’ll set up targeted savings accounts like I used to have.

Three glass jars filled with coins.

Right now, that’s too much complication to deal with. I have been trying to keep the financial picture as simple as possible in order to smooth the process of splitting everything.

In short, I am rather useless at answering these questions right now; next year, I’ll have better answers.

Readers, I’d love for you to answer Reese’s questions!

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Wednesday 25th of January 2023

Combo of systems over here. I have a monthly budget that I created and revise when major life changes happen- or when I get anxious- I might compare to reality 1-2/year just to make sure I'm on track(ish). I use a credit card associated with my bank so it's all in one app and review their budgeting/expenses tool every so often (and pay off the CC every month). I also track my various accounts- in a google spreadsheet- just plugging in account balances every month (and I have some calculations in there to see how things adjusted in categories over the last month, etc). This helps give me an overall perspective- especially with market fluctuations- it's easy to scroll to October 2020 and see how my accounts have (mostly) grown overtime. It's also all in one place so I don't forget about accounts and my partner will have some kind of notation if something should happen as I do all the finances in our house. This keeps me motivated to keep up my frugal-ish ways (which are also very in line with my priorities). Finally- I put as much on auto-pilot as I can- auto-pay for bills, $ into a designated savings accounts each month (for car, home repairs, animals, life insurance, emergency, travel, etc), ROTH IRA account, 401K plan at work before it hits my paycheck, etc. It's a "set it and forget it "(and adjust if needed) mantra.

Lauren S.

Wednesday 25th of January 2023

My budgeting methods have changed over the years but the one approach to remain constant has been a spreadsheet where the monthly and annual budget live. I have used Mint, have heard great things about YNAB, but would like to highlight Personal Capital - it's what I have been using for the past 5 years and I love that I can see all my accounts in one place to track our networth AND see our budget. It has the option to show monthly, last month, annual, and custom expenses AND income so when it comes to creating an accurate budget Personal Capital has been amazing! I will say the budget aspect tracks very accurately but I still manually enter month to date and year to date spending into my spreadsheet because it's been a constant for over 15 years.

@Kristen - Much peace and hugs sent your way! Thanks for continuing to write and engage with this community. I was 23 when I got married and 24 when the divorce was finalized; it was painful, hard, disorienting, but mostly I was so embarrassed. I hate that you are going through the loss of your marriage but thank you for being willing to share.


Wednesday 25th of January 2023

I use multiple savings accounts. I have one for vacation, one for home improvements (we bought a fixer upper 12 years ago and we are still working!), one for home maintenance, one for cars (either saving for a down payment on a new one or repairs, tires, etc.

I like this because I can see it all when I log onto my account and then I know what I have earmarked.

From there I have a grocery goal each week.


Tuesday 24th of January 2023

I've done budgets many times, but I gave them up. It seemed redundant to put everything into an Excel spreadsheet, then copy the same bills into the next month, just changing the amounts when required. I use Quicken exclusively and religiously. I record every single expenditure. We use 2 credit cards for everything (except utilities & mortgage) and those 2 credit cards are paid off every month. The utility bills are equal pay so only change twice a year. Instead of a budget, Quicken is set up so that all bills are on a "Bill & Income Reminders" page. All I do is post all expenditures a month ahead into the checking ledger. That way I know pretty close how much we need for the next month, give or take a changing balance on the credit cards. By the middle of the next month after reconciling the bank statements, I know exactly how much is left in the checking at the end of the month, which I then move all or most of any excess into the savings account. Since the credit card ledgers have a running balance, I can keep an eye on our spending just by looking in Quicken. And at the end of the year (if using categories), most everything transfers into Turbo Tax making tax time much easier.


Tuesday 24th of January 2023

I currently use a spreadsheet method and reconcile it monthly.

In the past and after a life event that left me in debt, I went to the envelope method. Housing and utility bills were all automated. For utilities, I used the highest month for my budget. Everything else was done with the envelope method. I also did the 52 week savings plan (save $1 week one, $2 week 2... $52 week 52). It was a very tangible way for me to feel in control of my money, which I very much needed at that time. I calculated to the penny weekly. Any "extras" (like having a low electricity bill in May or leftover gas money) went to paying off debt or into the savings envelope.

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