Personal Finance

Fortune 500 budgeting for our personal lives

January and February are traditionally busy months in the financial industry as many New Year’s resolutions typically include the goal of becoming debt free or saving for a major purchase. While many of our clients understand the importance of getting professional help when managing their business bookkeeping, only a few think to ask for our services in managing their personal finances.

In the business world, a budget is a financial framework that provides checks and balances to prevent overspending and ensures the availability of funds should the company run into unexpected trouble and requires capital. These same principles can be applied to our personal lives.

We are still close enough to the Christmas holidays to understand how easy it can be to overspend. Presents for the kids, dinners with family and friends, new clothes for the New Year’s Eve party all can add up to significant debt come January. I’m reminded of a Visa commercial that typically gets a lot of airplay in December: The postman comes bearing the monthly bills. The Visa statement is opened showing a large listing of purchases all with zero balances and the recipient can’t believe his luck and faints from the shock. The commercial advertises the Win What You Buy Contest. The more you buy, the more chances you have to win. A certain recipe for financial disaster!

While statistically speaking I don’t know the chances of winning the Visa promotion, I haven’t met or read about one person who has. We shouldn’t base our spending on the chances of winning our purchases or even the lottery. With a little common sense and a trusty calculator, you can manage your spending and save for the future and for unexpected expenses – and feel like you’ve won the lottery!

Fortune 500 companies rely on budgeting and financial reporting. CEOs of major corporations do not make a move without consulting their financial plan. Revenue and expenses are carefully tracked and estimates are created for variable expenses. Corporate debt is studied with the goal of reducing amounts owing without incurring additional debt. Money is diligently earmarked for future expenses and “rainy days.” Almost every financial expenditure is determined a year before incurred – a business cannot thrive without actively managing its cash flow. Most people understand that business success relies on creating a budget and sticking to it. I’m here to tell you that personal success does too.

Everyone talks about setting up a budget and sticking to it, but how do you really go about figuring out what your budget is, or should be?

There are a few simple steps to creating a personal budget. We’ll use the example of Steve, a computer technician.

1) Calculate your income

Calculate your monthly household income from all sources: salary, investment income, pension funds, lottery winnings – both yours and that of your spouse or partner.

For example, Steve earns $50,000 after taxes annually. He has no other income. Dividing by 12, Steve calculates his monthly income as $4,166.67.

2) Determine your ESSENTIAL expenses

Steve has certain fixed monthly expenses. He lists them as:

  • Mortgage payment
  • Groceries
  • Automobile lease payment
  • Automobile Insurance
  • Utilities
  • Fuel

3) Calculate a monthly cost for ESSENTIAL expenses.

The expenses that Steve has deemed essential are a mix of fixed and variable costs. He notes the fixed payments first, assigning their values as:

  • Mortgage payment $1,300
  • Automobile lease payment $ 385
  • Automobile insurance $ 130

To better gauge his variable expenses, Steve creates an expense log and records all his purchases for the two-month priors to setting up his budget. He also examines his old utility statements to determine his average expenses and is able to assign the following values:

  • Groceries $ 200
  • Utilities $ 400
  • Telephone (incl. Long distance) $ 50
  • Fuel $ 250

Knowing that his variable expenses are based on an average of prior expenses, Steve sets aside $200 per month to cover periods when expenses may be higher than his estimate.

Steve calculates his monthly ESSENTIALS cost as $2,915.00

4) Determine and calculate your non-essentials

Steve examines the spreadsheet he created for step 3 and identifies some other common expenses.

  • Entertainment $ 50
  • Meals (incl. Daily coffee) $ 100
  • Gifts (weddings, birthdays, etc.) $ 100
  • Books and magazines $ 50
  • Miscellaneous $ 25

Steve’s monthly non-essential expenses total $325

Steve creates a new spreadsheet with the information he has calculated thus far. He calculates his disposable income as:

  • Monthly income: $4,166.67
  • Less: ESSENTIALS $2,915.00
  • Less: Non-essentials $ 325.00
  • Disposable income $ 926.67

5) Establish monthly contributions towards debt elimination and savings:

Steve amassed some debt while in school and owes $5,000 on his credit line. He would also like to purchase a vehicle rather than lease and plans to take a trip to Europe in two years to visit family.

He decides on the following monthly contributions:

  • Debt $ 450.00
  • Savings $ 300.00

Steve deducts his monthly contributions from his disposable income and is left with $176.67, which he decides to leave in his checking account to cover other incidentals and miscellaneous expenses he may have overlooked. He makes a plan, however, to transfer $500 to his savings account when the balance in his checking account exceeds $1,000.

It’s easy to see that you can write out a plan yourself or use a software package to set up a budget – no need to hire a professional accountant. It’s important to know where your money is coming from and where it is going so that you won’t have any unpleasant surprises – and maybe just enough money left over at the end of the day to buy that lottery ticket you’ve been hoping for!

© 2005 Deborah Carraro

About the author
Deborah Carraro is a Virtual Assistant offering bookkeeping, web design, desktop publishing and business consulting services. She publishes a monthly newsletter Vascorp VA Advantage. To subscribe or find out more, please visit visit