Most of us rely on calendars to keep track of everything in our lives, from doctor appointments to vacations. Why not use one to keep track of your finances as well? For example, you may have that doctor visit marked, but have you also written down the amount of your copay? And do you have other important financial dates on your calendar, like “pay electric bill,” “buy groceries for the week” and “purchase a toy for my nephew’s birthday”?
Maybe you should.
That’s what budget calendars are all about — forcing us to examine our spending visually so we can look at what bills we need to pay now, what’s on the horizon and what purchases we need to plan for in the months ahead.
[Read: Best Budget Apps.]
What Is a Budget Calendar?
A budget calendar is a financial tool designed to help you remember all of the important dates in your life, from the days when you can expect paychecks to arrive to the days that bills are due. The key benefits of creating a monthly budget calendar, planner or spreadsheet are:
— Improved cash flow. By tracking your fixed expenses and bills, you can develop a better sense of your cash flow. By looking at past account statements and expenses and taking stock of monthly bills, you can easily pinpoint when significant expenses are due and set reminders to avoid late fees.
— Fewer missed bills. With a well-laid-out tracking system, you’ll be less likely to forget important bill due dates. As a result, you can avoid hefty late fees and even help boost your credit score if you’re no longer missing key payment due dates.
— Added savings. If you highlight key dates on a monthly calendar and set reminders, you’re more likely to put cash aside for your retirement savings or to gradually fund your child’s college education. Another option to ensure you’re saving enough each month is setting up your bank account to automatically deposit money in designated savings accounts.
“Budgeting allows you to allocate enough money to pay your bills so you aren’t struggling paycheck to paycheck,” says Leslie Tayne, debt resolution attorney and managing director of Tayne Law Group P.C. in New York City. “No one wants to live paycheck to paycheck as it can be frustrating and emotionally draining, so simply sticking to a budget can help relieve this problem.”
You probably already knew budgeting is smart. But if you’re new to the idea of a budget calendar, read on to learn more about how one can help you manage your cash flow, bookmark important payment due dates and achieve your financial goals.
Best Budget Calendars
There are a decent amount of budget calendars online, but they’re not all well reviewed. If you’re looking for a good, comprehensive budget calendar, you can’t go wrong with any of these three.
1. Calendar Budget. CalendarBudget.com has a lot of the features that most calendar budgets have, and it offers an easy way to categorize and divvy up your budget. It also offers an easy way to track how much you’re spending every day, not just with fixed bills, like a rent payment or utility bills, but also for, say, dog grooming services. When a bill needs to be paid, you’ll get an email reminder that it’s due. Price: $3.99 a month or $40 a year, after a 30-day free trial period.
2. Money Calendar. Money-calendar.com comes with auto-generated charts to help you track your spending from month to month, which, as the website says, should help you analyze your financial past and then plan your future revenue and expenses. Price: $29.99 flat rate (no subscription). At the time of this writing, however, it was on sale, marked down to $24.99.
3. Moneydance. This budget calendar has numerous features, from online banking and bill payment to investment tracking. If you spend money in different currencies, Moneydance.com can convert the expenses. In other words, it’s a very comprehensive personal finance tool. Price: $49.99 flat rate.
How to Make a Budget Calendar
You don’t necessarily have to pay for a budget calendar. You could make your own; plenty of people track some bills on a paper calendar, or you could use a digital calendar, like Google Calendar. Tracking your finances probably won’t be as easy and automated as the budget calendars that you pay for, but if money is an issue or you’re not sure you’ll use a budget calendar, you could always start off this way — and then later pay for a service to help you manage your money.
What a Budget Calendar Should Include
Regardless of how you create a budget calendar, you’ll want to make sure you include several types of incoming and outgoing expenses.
— Revenue. As you build out your calendar, make sure to include which days you receive paychecks. If you’re self-employed, and you’re not sure which day your future checks will arrive, a budget calendar can come in particularly handy, although it may be difficult to know exactly what days to mark down as revenue days. Still, if your income is sporadic, make sure to monitor the rest of your portfolio carefully to understand precisely when bills are due and get a sense of your overall financial well-being. Over time, you can always compare months from one year to the next, so you can get a better idea of when you spend the most and the least.
— Bills. Jot down any day a bill is due on the calendar. If you’re constantly tracking your money, you’ll be more inclined to halt impulse purchases and unnecessary spending days before a bill is due. By understanding when bills are due, you can hopefully avoid common financial mistakes, such as neglecting to pay bills on time or spending too much and then realizing you don’t have money left over for fixed expenses.
— Savings. If you have days that you’re automatically withdrawing money from your bank account to go into savings, such as for retirement, a college fund or an emergency fund, make sure to note those days on your budget calendar. If you don’t put money away regularly, it’s also a smart idea to earmark certain days to save money.
Do I Need a Budget Calendar?
Of course not. You need to budget, but nobody needs a budget calendar. If somehow you can manage your money in your head and still put away funds for a rainy day, a vacation, your retirement, an emergency fund and have money left over for fun purchases, more power to you.
But it’s important to find a way to manage your money that works for you. A budget calendar is just one useful tool that you might want to consider. It’s crucial to have some sort of budget, whether you keep track of the numbers in your brain or on a budget calendar, and maintain it if you want to live comfortably. That applies whether you’re rich or poor.
“I have seen clients from all walks of life and have helped many low-income individuals who have had financial goals that were just not as grand as those living comfortably,” Tayne says.
The main thing a budget calendar can do is to help you think ahead, which is especially important if you don’t have a lot of money.
“Savings and emergency funds are not prevalent among low-income individuals due to lack of cash flow,” Tayne says. “Living on a low income often means focusing on the short term, which is why I believe there is no focus on long-term financial goals. Always living in the short term will keep you running in place and unprepared.”
With a budget calendar, you can better prepare yourself financially for what’s ahead — and start taking steps to achieve your long-term savings goals.
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Update 05/19/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.