When I was in my first term of AmeriCorps I quickly realized I would have to stick to a pretty strict budget. I tried out a few different apps but the good ones cost money and the free ones were not user friendly and weren’t very trustworthy. About five months into my service, I had to borrow some money from a friend to be able to pay for rent due to me going over budget. I realized two things;

1)      I was extremely fortunate to have such incredible friends supporting me and my work

2)       I needed to make a sustainable change to my spending habits and figure out a sustainable way to hold myself accountable to these changes.

After struggling with finding the right solution for me, I decided to start keeping track of my daily spending to see what I averaged and where I could make cuts. I think that just being aware of when and how you spend money is the first step of figuring out what a sustainable budget looks like for you. After a few weeks of doing this I was much better but still had no idea how much money I should actually be spending in order to still make rent and pay all of my bills. This is when I really got into Excel and developed an auto populating budget tracker. I programed it to take into consideration my fixed costs (rent, certain utilities, insurance payments, Netflix subscription, etc.) as well as accounting for my variable costs (gas for my car, electric bill, etc.). After creating this, I was able to get a tangible daily amount I could get away with spending. I used google drive to store this document and was able to pull out my phone before and after every purchase to see where I was on my daily spending but also see how I was doing on the week/month as a whole. I was able to recognize when there was a big weekend coming up I needed to “save” disposable income during the week so I could go out and have fun with my friends on the weekend and not stress about breaking the bank. At first, it was a little difficult to remember to track my spending every time but I found it was easy to fill in whatever purchases I missed by tracking my card’s activity with mobile/online banking resources provided by my bank. Eventually though, it became second nature to track my spending and helped out a ton! I was able to actually save $400 in the 6 months I used this tool, a night and day difference between where I was prior to using this tool.

              If you’re interested in utilizing this tool feel free to make a copy of my budget tracker (linked below) and follow along in this video tutorial I made explaining how to set up and utilize this tool. After watching the video and you still have some questions about how to use the budget tracker I made, feel free to email me at zsimmons@arizonaserve.org and I’ll be more than happy to answer any questions you have.

Tracker: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1CNz0m7BBPddUr2TFj8W68kEUwXQQMHL6ktmuzzmCvjE/edit?usp=sharing

Tutorial video: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1TkYEcEdndxn_ubmu8guRO_2iR6-8kqle/view?usp=sharing