Sick of Spreadsheets? Here’s How to Budget Using a Calendar

budget items are written on a calendar.
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Put the spreadsheets aside. Don’t worry about downloading an app. You can manage your money with a simple tool you probably already use on a regular basis — your calendar.

It doesn’t matter whether you use a wall calendar, a desk calendar or a notebook-style planner. A calendar white board, the calendar on your phone or one that syncs to your email will work too.

As long as you have space to jot down a few details regarding your cash inflow and outflow, you can use a budget calendar.

A good way to start is by marking your paydays and how much you’ll get paid. This system works best if you receive a consistent salary, but if your pay is irregular, you can use an average or conservative estimate — or just wait until you actually receive your paycheck.

Next, write down all your fixed expenses for the month. This includes regular bills as well as doctor’s appointments, salon visits, scheduled car maintenance and any other time you plan to spend a set amount of money.

Pro Tip

When recording your spending for the month, don’t forget to include bills set up on auto pay.

If you add a certain amount of money to an emergency fund or to various sinking funds to meet short-term savings goals, mark on your calendar when and how much money you plan to transfer out of your main account.

For variable spending (like groceries, gas and entertainment) or any unexpected expenses, record them as they arise rather than trying to estimate how much you’ll spend and which days you’ll grocery shop, fill up the tank or go out for drinks with coworkers. Take note of upcoming holidays, birthdays or events that’ll cause an uptick in spending.

Make sure you’ve established spending limits for each budget category at the beginning of the month. A good way to do this is to calculate your average spending for each category and balance that with your short- and long-term goals. For example, you might spend an average of $150 each month on entertainment, but you may set a spending limit less than that if you’re trying to save up for a wedding.

To know where your finances stand on any given day, keep a running total of your daily balance. If you have a positive balance left at the end of the month, you can use the money to pay down debt or bulk up savings. If you had to dip into savings, borrow money or use a credit card, take a look at all the spending laid out on your calendar to find where you can cut costs.

Pro Tip

If there’s room on your calendar, keep a running balance (perhaps on a weekly basis) for each budget category so you know how close you are to your spending limits.

Here are a few additional suggestions to help you manage your money using a budget calendar:

  1. Get in the habit of writing on your calendar every day. It only takes about five minutes to write down what you spent and tally up your balance. On days when you don’t spend anything, just take a minute to carry over your balance.

  2. Feel free to combine the calendar method with other budgeting methods you like. Kumiko Love, an accredited financial counselor and creator of The Budget Mom, combined the calendar method with the paycheck method and the cash envelope system to come up with her unique budget-by-paycheck method. If you’re a fan of percentage budgeting like the 50/30/20 plan, you could use that system to determine how much you should be spending in each budget category.

  3. Check the calendar daily to stay on top of when bills are due. If you’re using a digital calendar, you can set up alerts so that you never miss a payment and get stuck with a late fee.

  4. Use a color-coded system to visually differentiate various aspects of your budget. You could use a different color for each budget category or to distinguish purchases that are needs from those that are wants. Record expenses in one color if they were paid in cash and use another color for debit card purchases.

  5. Bring your budget calendar into the digital age with a mobile app. CalendarBudget, Dollarbird and PocketSmith are a few handy options.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.