It’s easy to overthink budgeting as a single person.

For example, I feel like I’m always trying to figure out if buying groceries for the week is actually saving me money. When most recipes I find feed four or more people, the ingredients add up and the idea of eating out seems like it’s more convenient and will waste less food.

That’s something most people probably have to think about, too, but without someone to help pay the bills, budgeting as a single person can feel a little stressful. Luckily, you don’t have to overthink it.

You can figure out how to set and maintain a budget in just five steps.

1. Take Inventory of Your Money

The first step to setting up a budget is knowing what you have to spend in the first place. Sure, you might have a decent salary, but that doesn’t mean you’re bringing all of it home each week.

Figure out how much money you bring home each month after taxes, insurance and (hopefully) retirement savings come out.

If your taxes, insurance and retirement contributions all come out of your total salary, your take home is what’s stated on your pay stub. If you pay for those things on your own, simply subtract them from the amount of money you make in a month.

Is your income variable? That does make it a little more difficult, but you can base your budget on least amount you brought home in a month last year.

2. Track Your Expenses

When you’re figuring out your budget, you might not know your exact fixed and variable expenses. You’ll need to track your spending over a month or two and figure out what your overall expenses are.

Fixed Expenses

Let’s start with your fixed expenses. These are bills you know you need to pay every month and that are always the same amount:

  • Student loan payments
  • Mortgage or rent payments
  • Insurance
  • Car payments
  • Gym memberships
  • Non-flexible utilities like your cable or internet bill

Variable Expenses

Your variable expenses are the items you need to pay for that you could possibly cut down on if you needed to save money:

  • Gas/transportation
  • Groceries/dining out
  • Classes
  • Utilities that are usage-based like gas, electricity and water
  • Entertainment/shopping

3. Allocate Every Dollar

Once you know how much you have to spend and what your expenses are, you can start to allocate the money you have.

Catherine Alford, a personal finance blogger, suggests allocating every dollar to something specific. “Allocate each dollar you earn to a category, even if that category is just a savings category. You want to make sure each dollar you have has a job every month.”

4. Track Your Spending

Keep track of what you’re actually spending each month. Using an app like Mint can help you with this.

If you notice you’re about to go over in a category, that’s okay. You can pull from another category to help keep it balanced. For example, if your “dining out” category is almost empty, but you want to go to dinner with a friend, take a look at which categories have a surplus. Didn’t need as much gas as you thought you would this month? Use that extra money to buy dinner.

Tracking your spending also helps you notice spending patterns and can help you adjust the amount you allocate to different categories moving forward.

5. Give Yourself Some Time

Don’t expect to be perfect right away. If you haven’t been budgeting, it can take a while to get the hang of it.

Even if you have been budgeting, if you occasionally have to dip into the savings, don’t sweat it. The more you keep at it, the stronger you’ll become at budgeting.

Do you have any tips on how to start and maintain your budget? Share them with us in the comment section.

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