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In which we discuss the 5 essential and simple steps to saving money! We also discuss how to budget, how to actually STICK to a budget, and (most importantly) what we learned from the classic piece of American cinema, BLANK CHECK.

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Hosted by:
Emma Mills

Written by:
Amanda McLouglin

Edited by:
Scott Faris

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Executive Producers:
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[Intro Music]

Hey! So budgeting may sound a little boring and old fashioned, but it's really one of the foundations of financial adulthood. No matter how much or how little you make, creating a budget is step one toward taking control of your finances and making smart choices  with your money.

But how do you make one of these budgets?


 Step 1: Choose Your Tools

Step one: Decide how you want to keep your budget. Pen and paper; basic spreadsheet tools like Excel or Google Spreadsheets; or free online tools like

The more basic tools are a good way started, whereas dedicated personal finance trackers like Mint allow you to enter all of your bank account data, credit card debt, and assets in order to see all of your money in one place.


 Step 2: Follow the Money

Step Two: Figure out where your money is actually going.

Think of this as field research. For one calendar month, track every dollar you pay out and every dollar you earn.

Purchases made with debit or credit cards are easier to track, but remembering where you spent all your cash is a little harder. And this is where there is usually biggest opportunity to save money. We'll talk a little bit more about that later.


 Step 3: Craft the Perfect Budget

Step Three: After the month is up, use all of that data you've collected to create your new budget.

Typically, budgets have categories like rent, utilities, car and loan payments, food, transportation, entertainment, etc.

The easiest ones to figure out are what we call fixed expenses: amounts that don't change, or change very little, from month to month. These include things such as rent, loan payments, tuition, and utilities.

Next are the harder categories to figure out: the variable expenses. Food, books, movies, shopping, and miscellaneous expenses vary month to month. But this is where your data comes in.

Use last month's spending to estimate your costs for each of these categories. The more specific you can be, the better.

Estimating how much you spend on food in a month is difficult, but you can total up all the money you spend on groceries, take out, and coffee for one week, and then multiply it by 4.5 to get the total cost spent per month.


 Step 4: Monitor Your Progress

Step Four: Total up all of your expenses. Subtract this money from your monthly income after taxes, and see what's left. Here's where you can make some decisions. 

If you have less money left over each month than you'd like, see if there are categories you can cut down on -- such as take-out food or shopping.

If you have a lot left over, can you save more each month? How much extra can you throw at loans? Can you start contributing to a retirement savings plan? In this case, add these categories to your budget and watch the dollars start to add up.


 Step 5: Get Smart

Step Five: Use your new budget to make smart financial choices. 

Aim to save up an emergency fund that can cover three months' worth of expenses. Keep your budget in mind as you shop each week, challenging yourself to come in under budget for the month.

I think too often we equate budgeting with saying "no" to yourself all the time and having fun never again. But that doesn't have to be the case.

You don't want to cut out all the fun things because if you deprive yourself, you're that much more likely to one day just go, "I'm sick of this!" and go on wild spree. Like that kid in Blank Check who went on a wild spree! And if we learned anything from Blank Check, well . . . We did not learn anything from Blank Check.

But as with many things in adulthood, budgeting is a perpetual and empowering act of deciding what truly matters to you, and then taking the initiative to make those things happen. 

If you always say "no" to getting dinner out with friends because you think you can't afford it, try bringing your lunch to work for a week and using the savings to treat yourself to a meal out. By knowing how much you can afford to spend, you'll enjoy the fun things that you do choose so much more.

And that's all that we've got for you today. If you've got any budgeting tips or tricks, we'd love to hear from you in the comments section below.

In the meantime, if you'd like to check out more on this topic, has a great series on budgeting. We will link you to that in the doobly-do.

In the meantime, I have been budgeting my catch phrases, and I have been saving them so as to cover three months' worth of catch phrases in a catch phrase emergency savings account. Taking my own advice!


Mike Martin: Is there anything in your adult life that was more expensive than you thought it would be?

Emma Mills: sigh College textbooks. Especially for music classes. They have these little tiny books of little, like, musicianship exercises, and it would be, like, $95. And I'm, like, "I don't understand how this is possible!"

Mike: What drove me crazy in college was I had some professors who made us get these textbooks for, like, $250. Never used them. Literally, never used them.

Emma: They're for "your own reading."

Mike: Yeah.

Emma: Reading outside of class!

Mike: Yeah. Not gonna happen.