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3 Budgets That May Help Save Beaucoup Bucks Every Month 

We took boring and bland and turned it into three very different — dare we say, fun — money plans.

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For general help with budgeting, please do check out the AARP Money Map™ Budget Builder, a free solution that helps anyone 18+ create a clear plan of action for unplanned expenses and debts — helping you save time and interest on outstanding bills.

If you’re like most women, you probably need to keep an eye on what you save and spend each month, especially if you’re trying to save for something special — say, a daughter’s wedding or just putting more toward retirement. But “budgeting” seems so boring, doesn’t it?

For anyone who conjures negative connotations when the word budget comes up, we’ve got you covered. The Girlfriend took boring and bland and turned it into three very different — dare we say, fun — budgets that can inspire you to save, make better money choices and put beaucoup bucks into your account. 

Budget 1: Envelope method 

What is it? Based on dividing your budget into spending buckets (groceries, entertainment, bills, etc.), the envelope method was a cash-based strategy. If you spend $200 on groceries each week, your $200 cash goes in the grocery envelope. When it’s gone, your grocery budget is busted.

How does it work? Just because it was a cash-based plan doesn’t mean you have to use cash. Instead, grab a bunch of business envelopes and fill out your budget envelopes as if you were going to put cash inside them — only instead, write your budget total on the outside of the envelope and inside place the corresponding receipts. As you add a receipt, keep a running tally of your total on the back of the envelope. For example, if your grocery budget is $200, write $200 across the outside of the grocery envelope and inside slip all grocery receipts (like the $30 one you just spent on milk and bread). If your bills total $1,500, write that on the outside of your bills envelope and inside slip receipts or even scraps of paper with the amount you paid electric, water, mortgage and others. “These expenses can be budgeted weekly or monthly, but once the cash runs out [or the receipts total your budget in each category], the spending stops until the next budget cycle,” says Sabrina Hamilton, creator of FinanceOverFifty.

Recap: Create your budget by setting amounts in each category (look over your bank and credit card statements to see how much you’re spending in each area). Designate each envelope with a limit and keep a tally on it every time you pay for something. Most people will have at least 10 envelopes. Fill your envelopes with receipts or slips of paper that say “mortgage, $900,” “electric bill $65,” “movie night $45.” At the end of the month, you’ll know in which envelopes (spending categories) you have a surplus or deficit.

Who could benefit from this? “For the woman who is always tempted to spend too much at Target, this method will help keep you on track with your financial goals,” says Hamilton. You could even have an envelope just for your favorite store. If you’re visually motivated, you may like the reminder of seeing exactly where your money goes. With the envelope budget, you’ll get an idea of everything you spend, and whether you have a surplus or deficit in each category. Only then can you tighten up a category by cutting back on it. What’s left goes into your bank account or retirement fund. Cha-ching. 

Budget 2: Kakeibo

What is it? The word Kakeibo (pronounced kah-keh-boh) means household finance ledger, and this Japanese money philosophy was created to help people run their homes. It can help with spending, saving and the reasons you make the money choices you do.

How does it work? Users ask and answer a series of financial questions and set savings targets, then keep track of expenses and categorize them (similar to the envelope method), and assess them at the end of the month. The goal? To reflect on your relationship with money and understand why you make each purchase, explains Steve Wilson, founder of Bankdash, a banking and credit union news site.

Recap: Using a notebook, make a handwritten ledger noting your monthly income and subtracting fixed expenses, like housing and car payment. From this amount, set a savings goal you want to achieve, say $500 every month. Next, include categories for essential needs (groceries, electric), wants (take-out, hobbies), culture (books, concerts, museums), and unexpected expenses (car repair, medical bills). Record all purchases in your ledger. At month’s end, reflect on the numbers in all four categories by asking yourself how much you spent on each and where you can improve.

Who could benefit from this? It’s for women who want more mindfulness surrounding their saving and spending habits. “The Kakeibo category system helps you take a second look at every purchase,” says Wilson. If you just use an app, you simply enter amounts and forget what you’ve spent. With Kakeibo, you have the opportunity to consider how each expenditure mirrors your values and spending priorities. Kakeibo is designed to help you think about your relationship with money and understand why you’re making each purchase. In a world where we spend mindlessly by clicking a few buttons, this method is a reminder to slow down and think mindfully about your money while slipping the extra into savings or debt repayment.

Budget 3: Modified zero-based budget 

What is it? Zero-based budgets (ZBB) have been used by governments and huge corporations since the mid-1970s. But it’s a straightforward pre-plan for households too. Hanna Morrell, a holistic financial coach at Pacific Stoa in Salem, Oregon, says ZBB can be customized to your needs and gets easier to use over time.

How does it work? With ZBB, every single dollar you have gets categorized and accounted for, so you know where every dime goes. First, you’ll track where your money is going by combing through bills and statements. Then you’ll total the income you have coming in that month. Like with the envelope method, you’ll bucket your money into categories. You must have at least three buckets and no miscellaneous ones because nothing should be a miscellaneous spending category — every dollar has a place. You can use a notebook, a spreadsheet or index cards to list each bucket.

Recap: As you spend throughout the month, you remove money from each bucket, keeping track of what’s left. You allotted $100 for the water bill, but it came in at $107? That means you need to pull $7 from another bucket, maybe entertainment or clothing. Leave a note that you subtracted $7 on the clothing bucket and added it to the bills bucket. Using ZBB, you can see month to month how much of your income is going to each bucket, and how much is left to put into savings or retirement accounts.

Who could benefit from this? It’s good for women who like to track where every dollar goes, who may have flexible incomes, and who recognize that a fluid budget is necessary to stay on top of their finances.

“Regardless of which budgeting strategy you choose, make a game out of regularly thinking up and then thinking through all sorts of [money] scenarios,” says Morrell. What would I do if my car needed $600 of work this month? How would I spend the money if I got a $300 bonus?  How could I pivot if the trip of a lifetime came up this month? This kind of practice, even if you’re only devoting a few moments to it, stretches your brain so that when different financial circumstances crop up, you’re prepared.