I remember my first big girl paycheck. I spent ALL of it. I’d never had more than a few hundred dollars in my bank account before, and while I knew the basics of budgeting, I didn’t understand how to divide my paychecks accordingly. For two years I tried self-help books, various mobile apps, and dedicated prayer to help me keep my financial life in order. I think I finally found something that works for me and my current lifestyle.

The Zero-Sum Budget

I wish I could say I was the mastermind behind this but the great Dave Ramsey is who taught me the importance of budgeting down to the final cent. I utilized this google doc template to take a look at my monthly income. It isn’t the cleanest spreadsheet, but the formulas work and I was able to input my bills and due dates. What I love about this spreadsheet is that it allows me break down my money by check. I pay different bills at varying times of the month so it was truly customizable to my needs and very intuitive to the system I was already using for myself. With all the numbers in place and everything totaling zero, I was able to see how much more money I had to work with. This allowed me to put more in savings, pay more towards my student loans, and even find extra cash to take a course on blogging!

Tracking Your Spending

I use two very important tools to help me see where my money is going. While I get a sense of that with the google doc spreadsheet, I don’t get the pretty graphics, reminders, or support from that tool that I can get with these.

1. Simple Bank

I’ve been banking with Simple for almost a full year, but recently decided to make them my primary account about 4 months ago. I have never been happier. The have these budget enveloped called Goals which essentially let you save up for, or save at once for anything you desire. I utilize Goals to budget my monthly expenses. I’m currently at zero because I’m at the end of my first paycheck for the month!Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 4.57.05 PM When I spend anything with my card, I make sure to utilize the Spend From feature which allows me to designate which fund to pull the money from. Any money that is left after I budget into my goals stays in the Safe-To-Spend area. This is usually my fun money that is designated towards anything without a spending limit attached to it which is usually shopping. I just can’t make a commitment to put myseScreen Shot 2015-03-11 at 5.02.22 PMlf on a leash in that category yet BUT I’m improving and my accounts are no longer in the red with this system. That being said, there are still a few draw backs to Simple, one being that I can’t always access my cash at an ATM without a 3 dollar fee. I would recommend keeping a percentage of money in another more prominent bank for easy access. You can always rectify your accounts by having Simple send money to that external account.

2. LearnVest

I love, love, LOVE this site. I utilize the app on my iPad as well as the online site. All of my accounts down to my student loans and PayPal credit account are synced to LearnVest which allow me to have a big picture view of my finances as soon as I log in. I have the same flexibility to create, track, and budget only the expenses that are important to me as I do with Simple. I can even split transactions into different categories if necessary. I don’t receive a ton of emails or notifications that clutter my already hectic inbox either. This may or may not be a deal breaker for some, but I was completely sold on LearnVest and its content after learning that it was started by a woman. I’m all about supporting women in business! The attention to detail, minimal appearance, and 24/7 support with real people make this a powerful tool.

These tools have proven to be essentials for managing my day to day budget. It is amazing to watch the stress fade when you know down to the cent where your money is going and how much is in your account at any time. My accounts are almost never overdrawn, I’m no longer reliant on my credit card, and my bills are always paid on time and in full. It isn’t always easy or full proof, but establishing a budget is the first step in controlling your money and not letting it control you. Stay dedicated to finding tools that serve your needs!

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