Free Budget Planner: Tips For Getting Started

Add your income and expenses to this monthly budget planner, and we'll show how your spending aligns with the 50/30/20 rule.
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Written by Lauren Schwahn
Lead Writer
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Edited by Rick VanderKnyff
Senior Assigning Editor
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What is a budget planner?

A budget planner is a tool, such as a worksheet, that you can use to design your budget. A successful budget planner helps you decide how to best spend your money while avoiding or reducing debt. NerdWallet recommends the 50/30/20 budget, which suggests that 50% of your income goes toward needs, 30% toward wants and 20% toward savings and debt repayment.

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Create a budget plan that works for you

Before choosing a budget planner, you want to decide on a budgeting system. As mentioned, you could get started with the 50/30/20 budget, if it resonates with you. There are also other budgeting systems that organize your spending in different ways.

Here are three common types of budgeting systems.

  • Zero-based budget: People who overspend or are meticulous about tracking their cash flow can benefit from a zero-based budget. In this approach, you give every single dollar in your budget a purpose until you end up with zero dollars.  

  • Envelope budget: This system may be effective for impulse spenders who want to monitor how much they spend. With envelope budgeting, you allocate a set amount of money to each item in your budget. You then create envelopes for each category and stuff the set amount of cash in them.

  • Pay-yourself-first budget: Also known as reverse budgeting, pay-yourself-first budgeting involves tucking away money for things like savings and investing first. The rest of your money can then go to other priorities like bills or leisure. It can be an ideal system for people who aren’t interested in accounting for every penny. 

Once you’ve chosen your budgeting system, you can move on to picking a budget planner to help break down your budget and put the numbers into perspective. The best budget planner is one that’s easy to use and stick with. No matter which budget planner you decide to use, take some time to tweak your approach and adjust your spending as needed until you reach your ideal budget.

And if a hands-on monthly budget planner isn’t working for you, consider one of these budget apps. Most of them sync with your financial accounts, so they can track and categorize expenses for you. Keep in mind that some budgeting apps are free, while others charge a monthly or annual fee.

If you can’t make your ideal budget a reality, or if you’re struggling to get a handle on your finances, budgeting might not be enough for you. Explore other options, such as seeking expert financial advice or resources that can help you pay bills.


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Use a budget planner

Use the free printable budget worksheet below to see how your spending compares with the 50/30/20 budget guide.

If this budget sheet isn’t right for you, try another tool. Explore other budget spreadsheets and templates, or download a budget app. For a more simplified snapshot, try our budget calculator.

For other money matters, check out more financial calculators from NerdWallet.

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