As a personal finance writer, I write about budgeting daily.
That’s why it was a hard truth to face when I realized I really wasn’t great at maintaining my own budget. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to budget or where to start — it just seemed like I had tried every method out there, and none of them really worked for my family and me.
My husband and I downloaded every budgeting app available and tried other popular methods like the 50/30/20 budget. Nothing seemed to give us a realistic picture of where our money was going. It was easier to just give up every time.
Thankfully, we figured it out. And, simultaneously, we learned what the problem was: none of the “traditional” budget methods were built for families like ours, which consisted of two full-time freelancers.
We had no choice but to get creative.
Let’s dive into a few less common budgeting methods in the hopes that one can finally work for you, too.
1. Kakeibo method
As you may be able to guess from the name, Kakeibo is a Japanese budgeting method. Translated, Kakeibo means “household financial ledger,” and that’s exactly what the method focuses on: creating a physical financial journal to budget with.
Just like regular journaling, keeping a budget journal holds you accountable to your financial goals. Plus, using pen and paper can simply be more fun. Once you have the journal you want to use, start keeping track of the following:
- Your monthly income.
- Your savings goals.
- Your spending categories.
After you know these numbers and categories, subtract your expenses from your income and set aside some cash for each savings goal you have.
In order to keep yourself accountable, you’ll always want to evaluate your spending and saving each month by asking these four questions:
- How much money do you have?
- How much money would you like to save?
- How much money are you spending?
- How can you improve?
2. Reverse budgeting
If you’ve been trying to rethink your budget and prioritize your savings goals, the reverse budgeting method is the perfect place to start. Like any budget, you’ll start by totaling your income. However, rather than subtracting your recurring expenses, you set aside money for any savings goals and investments you have first.
After that, put money aside for your bills and debt. Anything left is what you can use for fun money.
3. Weekly budgets
For anyone who has an irregular income or has a hard time making a monthly budget work, a weekly budget can help you more realistically plan where your money goes.
As a freelancer, I’m a big fan of this budget method. Each one of my clients pays me on a different day of the month, and the amount varies from month to month. Divvying out my money each week helps break my expenses down into manageable amounts.
4. Expense-income approach
“Traditional” budgets focus on how much of your income is needed to pay your expenses. The expense-income approach flips this around and forces you to focus on making more money rather than reducing your expenses.
If you’re at the end of your rope and can no longer cut any more costs (or you simply don’t want to cut any more costs), the expense-income approach makes sense.
First things first, you’ll start by listing your expenses. Include items like:
- Car payments.
- Savings goals.
Add up how much each of these costs. The total is the base income you need to reach. Say all of these expenses cost you $3,000/month. If you’re only making $2,300/month, you need to find an extra $700 to afford your expenses.
5. No-budget budgeting
If you just can’t get yourself to stick to any budget, that doesn’t have to mean you’re reckless with your money. Having no budget is an option. Well, sort of.
The “no budget” method involves sitting down at the beginning of the month and paying all your bills at one time. You can even automate the process so you really don’t have to do anything.
Once you’ve done that, set aside money in a savings account for your goals and put some towards debt. Again, you can even automate this process (just make sure you have enough money coming in to cover these automatic withdrawals).
6. Envelope method
For those who are freaked out by involving tech in their budgeting, the classic envelope method might be the best way to manage your money.
With this budgeting method, you’re going to take out cold, hard cash and split it between different envelopes, each representing an expense or savings category in your budget.
The trick to being successful with this method? Not being tempted to skim off the top of another envelope, unless you are willing to sacrifice in discretionary areas of your budget. Once an envelope is empty, that’s it! You’ll need to wait until you get paid again, or budget out your money, to spend more in that category.
7. Paycheck method
The paycheck method operates somewhat similarly to the weekly budget method. You’ll create a basic budget each time you get a paycheck. If you get paid every two weeks, you’ll budget out all of your money every two weeks. This can help break your budget into manageable chunks, rather than having to figure out where everything is going at the beginning of the month.
The paycheck method is a form of zero-based budgeting, meaning you’ll give every dollar you make (after taxes) a job. This will include your recurring bills, debt, savings, and money for entertainment and going out.
8. Sinking funds
Sinking funds are chunks of money you set aside each month, typically in separate savings accounts, that will pay for irregular expenses. You can have sinking funds for your family’s yearly vacation, for your car registrations, for any unexpected medical costs, or any expense you anticipate needing money for in the future.
If you save small amounts each month, the money is there for you when you need it and you won’t have to disturb your regular monthly (or weekly) budget for an unexpected cost.
Read more: Sinking funds: budgeting’s best-kept secret
With so many budgeting apps on the market, it’s easy to overlook the humble spreadsheet when creating a budget. However, the reality is that spreadsheets can be powerful budgeting tools when used correctly.
The easiest way to get started budgeting with a spreadsheet is to download a budget template like MU30’s free monthly budget spreadsheet. From there, you can make adjustments based on your financial needs and priorities.
The biggest downside to using a spreadsheet to track your money is the lack of automation. At the same time, for those who need or want to participate in their budget as much as possible, manually keeping track of your budget can make you more familiar with your true financial picture.
10. Combination budget
There’s no rule that says you can’t combine multiple budgets into one that works for you. If you want to use the envelope method for certain expenses to ensure you don’t overspend, and the reverse budgeting method to force yourself to prioritize your savings goals, go for it.
Budgeting is surprisingly personal. How you do it doesn’t really matter so long as it helps you become more comfortable with your money. My budgeting method is a hybrid of the envelope method and a good ol’ spreadsheet, plus a few sinking funds thrown in.
If you’ve given up on trying new budgeting methods, take a moment to consider some of the options above. They take a unique approach to saving and budgeting and force you to look at your money differently.
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