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Budgeting has a bad reputation among a lot of America households who view it as a way to strip all the fun out of spending money. No more shopping. No more eating out at restaurants. No more golfing on weekends.

That is not the purpose of a purpose of a budget.

A budget simply shows how much money you have coming in and how those funds are spent. It’s one of the most important tools in building a successful financial future, because it helps you get the most out of your money.

Regardless of economic standing or which generation you fall into, every consumer can benefit from creating and managing a budget. A budget gives people a sense of control over their money. Think of a budget as a financial foundation. Each person’s foundation is going to be different, just as each financial situation is different.

Choosing a Budgeting System

There are four basic ways to create, track and monitor a budget. Each system uses different techniques, but they all center on organization and attention to detail.

  • The Notebook and Pen: This is the oldest method for budgeting, and it’s also the least expensive option. With this method, you simply write down all your sources of income and all your expenses. If they balance, you’re good to go.
  • The Spreadsheet: The most popular spreadsheet software for budgeting is Microsoft Excel. Many websites offer free samples of Excel budgeting worksheets that consumers can use, instead of trying to create their own. A spreadsheet lets you organize a lot of information easily and does the math for you.
  • Free Online Software: There are several free web-based software programs that can help with budgeting. Such programs like Manilla and Mint.com allow you to create and group your expenses into categories and track your spending, so you can see exactly where your money is going as soon as the transaction takes place.
  • Financial Software: There are also financial software programs, but you need to be computer-savvy to use them. Quicken is a leading product.

You can also check with your local credit union or bank for tips and tricks. Your saving institution may even have budgeting worksheets on hand to get you started. If you prefer, the U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission (FLEC) has numerous budgeting worksheets and resources to help you at any stage of life.