Prefer the Pen-and-Paper Approach? Organize Your Money With a Budget Binder

The photo shows a three-ring binder with the title: Budget Binder.
Photo illustration by Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

You’ve got receipts bursting out of your wallet. You’ve scribbled down financial goals on a random sheet on paper you can no longer find. You’ve forgotten the limit you gave yourself for grocery shopping this month.

If any of that sounds familiar, your financial life could probably use a little organization.

A budget binder can help you corral all the important documents regarding your spending, debt, savings and more. It’s the old-fashioned, pen-and-paper way to stay on track of your money.

What Exactly Is a Budget Binder?

A budget binder is precisely what it sounds like. It’s a binder where you store your budget and other relevant financial information, like your loan payoff strategy or your sinking funds tracker.

Having all the goods in one place means you don’t have to scramble to find, say, a record of last month’s spending to make adjustments to next month’s budget.

You can customize your budget binder to include whatever money management tools you’d like. Some suggestions are:

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When you log into your bank account, how do your savings look? Probably not as good as you’d like.

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  1. Monthly budget

    Estimate spending limits and total up how much you actually spend.

  2. Monthly or weekly calendar

    Keep track of bill due dates and planned expenses, like the copay for your upcoming doctor’s appointment.

  3. Income tracker

    Record when (and how much) you get paid, including money earned from side gigs.

  4. Expense tracker

    Log each time money leaves your wallet or bank account.

  5. Debt tracker

    Lay out who you owe, how much you owe, your next minimum payment amount and due date. You may want to include how long it’ll take to pay off your debt and your repayment strategy.

  6. Savings tracker

    Take note of the money you’ve set aside for future expenses and goals, whether that’s short-term (like holiday shopping) or long-term (like buying your next car with cash years from now).

  7. Net worth tracker

    Look at your assets minus your liabilities. This includes how much you have in your retirement and investment accounts, which is something you might not check on a regular basis.

  8. Financial goals

    What do you want to achieve financially, and what actionable steps do you need to take to get there?

Creating Your Own Budget Binder

You can buy premade personal finance planners, or you could get creative and make your own.

Supplies you’ll need (or that may come in handy) are:

  • A three-ring binder
  • A three-hole punch
  • Paper
  • Binder dividers
  • Three hole binder pockets or folders
  • Colorful pens or markers
  • Stickers

After gathering your supplies, you can get started on making whichever budget sheets are crucial to your money management system. You’ll want to have enough so you can use your budget binder to keep track of your money for the entire year. Using dividers for each month will keep you organized.

There’s an entire subgenre of personal finance bloggers who create printable budget sheets, either as templates you purchase or as free downloads.

If you’re creating your own budget sheets from scratch, it doesn’t have to be Pinterest perfect. You don’t need graphics skills or access to a color printer. As long as your budget sheets are clear and work for you, that’s what’s important.

Keep your budget binder in a place where you’ll see it frequently, like on your dresser where you dump your purse or wallet at the end of the day. It’s not enough to just create a budget binder. Writing in it regularly and reflecting on your financial decisions are what will transform your money situation from chaotic to under control.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Freelancer Matt Mastasci contributed to this report. 

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