Are you having trouble staying on top of your finances? When you’ve got a lot going on, it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks. And unfortunately, financial progress is often one of the first things to go. Sometimes having a plan in place can make all the difference. Americans report feeling more financially stable when they have a written financial plan. And let’s be honest, things are just more likely to get done when you put them on the calendar.
That’s where a budget calendar comes in. This one tool can help you to get back on track with your bills, break the paycheck to paycheck cycle, and reach your financial goals. Let’s start by talking about what a budget calendar actually is.
What is a budget calendar?
Just like a regular calendar is a tool to help you keep track of upcoming events and appointments, a budget calendar (also known as a calendar budget) can help you keep track of financial tasks. In other words, it’s like creating a budget in calendar form. A budget calendar can be a useful tool for remembering due dates for each of your bills and avoiding budget challenges. It can also be a great way to set and reach financial goals. You can schedule each and every transfer to your savings account until you’ve saved up enough to meet your goal.
Why should you use a budget calendar?
A budget calendar might not be for everyone, but there are plenty of good reasons to give it a shot. Here 3 key reasons:
1. A budget calendar is a visual reminder of when your bills are due
When you’ve got a lot on your plate, it can be difficult to keep track of every bill that’s due each month. Unfortunately, missed payments come with all sorts of negative ramifications, including late fees and negative marks on your credit report. In fact, just one past-due bill can drop your credit score by 150 points!
And while strategies such as automating your payments can be effective to avoid missed payments, it’s still valuable to know when money is leaving your account. A budget calendar acts as a visual reminder of your bills. You can quickly look at the month ahead and see how much money you’re paying out and when. It is an ideal tool to leverage if you want to budget by paycheck.
2. A budget calendar helps you plan ahead
Most people think about what they’re going to do with their money this week or this month but rarely plan further in advance. But the key to making big progress on your finances is planning ahead.
First, a budget calendar can help you plan for big annual expenses. Have you ever been surprised by an annual or a biannual bill, such as car insurance or property taxes? You know they’re coming — They come every year. But somehow, they slipped your mind.
When we don’t plan ahead for them, these expenses can really throw off our budget. But when we look at the year as a whole, we can start planning and saving for them early.
A budget calendar can also help to save for big financial goals. You and your friends have been talking about taking a girls trip next year. But unless you start planning for it early, it may not be financially feasible when the time rolls around. If you put it on the calendar now, then you can start setting aside money each month.
3. A budget calendar helps you break the paycheck to paycheck cycle
Many of us have been at a point in our lives where we’re living paycheck to paycheck. In fact, about 59% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2019 survey by Charles Schwab. And anyone who’s been there knows it can be a tough cycle to break.
A budget calendar can be surprisingly effective for helping you to break that cycle. First, it forces you to be extremely aware of when money is entering and leaving your bank account. Knowing where your money is going is the first step to getting ahead.
A budget calendar can also help to start and stick to a savings habit. Let’s say you’ve been telling yourself for years that whatever money you have left at the end of the month, you’ll transfer to savings. But when the end of the month rolls around, there’s never anything left.
A budget calendar helps you to proactively schedule your savings instead of relying on good spending habits. Put a recurring event on your calendar to transfer some money, even a small amount, to your savings account as soon as you get paid each month. Once you see that savings account growing, you’ll have the motivation to stick with it and make even bigger financial goals.
How to create a budget calendar
So you’ve decided you want to set up a budget calendar. How do you actually get started? There are plenty of decisions to be made, such as whether you’ll go paper or digital, and what goals you’ll include on your calendar. Let's get into it.
Budget calendar options
There’s no one right way to set up a budget calendar. And thanks to technology, we have tons of options at our fingertips. Let’s talk about a few of the calendar formats available to you:
- Paper planner: A good old fashioned paper planner is a great option for setting up your budget.
- Printables & Templates: There are plenty of free and paid budget templates and printables available online, many of which are specifically designed for budget calendars.
- Digital calendar: If you prefer digital tools, then a digital calendar like Google Calendar can be an effective tool for your budget.
- Budget calendar app: Budget calendars have become such a popular concept that companies are now making apps to help you manage yours.
What to include in your budget calendar
Once you’ve decided on a format for your calendar, it’s time to figure out what to include. The list may look slightly different for everyone, depending on your financial situation and goals. Here are a few things your calendar might include:
- Income: Make sure your budget calendar includes each of your paychecks throughout the month.
- Bills: Add each of your bills — this includes monthly bills like rent and utilities, as well as less frequent bills annual subscriptions.
- Debt payments: If you’re working on aggressively paying down debt and are making extra debt payments, include those on your calendar.
- Savings goals: Having money set aside for emergencies is essential. If you’re still building up your emergency fund, be sure to schedule your transfers. You can also use your calendar to schedule transfers to savings for financial goals such as a vacation or the downpayment on a home.
Put it all together
Once you’ve decided on the right budget calendar format and know what you want to include, it’s time to put it all together! Setting up your calendar for the first time can be a time-consuming process. It’ll include going through each of your monthly, biannual, and annual bills. You can also include any events coming up throughout the year that you’ll want to save money for. Once you get your calendar set up, it’s a lot easier to maintain it.
Design elements for a great budget calendar
Including the right design elements in your calendar can be surprisingly effective in making sure you actually stick to it. Not only can you use visuals to make your calendar more visually appealing, but visual elements can also be tools to help make your calendar even more successful.
Select a good size
Choose a size for your budget calendar that makes it easy to stick with. The right answer will be different for everyone! Let’s say you’re someone who is always on the go. A huge budgeting binder might not be right for you. It’ll be a pain to carry around, and you may end up abandoning it altogether.
Use color coding
Adding some color to your budget calendar can be a great strategy for sticking with it. There are a few different ways you can use color-coding to visually organize your calendar:
- For different paychecks. If you get paid multiple times per month, you can use a different color for each paycheck to designate which bills will be covered by each check.
- To categorize different types of expenses. For example, you might use one color to highlight monthly bills and another to highlight when you’ll transfer money to savings.
- To assign bills. If you share expenses with a partner or a roommate, you can create a joint budget calendar and use color-coding to remind everyone who is responsible for each bill.
Reviewing your budget calendar
A budget calendar isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it tool. Just like other aspects of your finances, it’s something you’ll want to revisit and review regularly. so, let’s talk about how often you should be reviewing your budget calendar.
How often should you review it?
A good rule of thumb is to revisit your calendar at least as often as you get paid. This strategy allows you to make a plan for your money as soon as it comes in. Reviewing your calendar with each paycheck also allows you to make adjustments and adapt.
Let’s say you decided to make an extra debt payment on your student loans. You had the extra payment on your budget calendar, but then your car broke down. Instead of making that extra debt payment, you ended up putting that money toward car repairs.
When you sit down to plan out your financial moves for your next paycheck, you can adjust your plans to account for the money spent on car repairs. Maybe you’ll decide to make those extra debt payments with this new paycheck, or even beef up your emergency fund so car repairs don’t throw off your budget in future months.
Use calendar reminders
We have the best of intentions when it comes to sticking to a new habit, whether it’s maintaining your budget calendar or sticking to a new workout routine. But let’s be honest, sometimes things slip through the cracks. One of the best ways to ensure you’re sticking with your budget calendar is to set calendar reminders for yourself. And there are a couple of different ways you can use them.
First, you can set calendar reminders to remind yourself to review your budget calendar. Set a recurring calendar reminder for payday so you never forget to check in with it. You can also use calendar reminders to keep you on track with sticking to your budget calendar. Any plan is only as good as your follow-through. Once you’ve put each of your financial tasks on the calendar, calendar reminders can help you get each task done. Is rent due on the first of the month? Set a calendar reminder to ensure you actually pay it.
Leveraging a calendar approach can be a great way for you to budget, stay on top of your finances, and achieve your goals. Remember, when it comes to successful budgeting, it's all about leveraging the approach that works best for you!