Let me start off by saying this:

Most people who advertise any kind of product or service online are part of an affiliate program.  Affiliate programs pay the advertiser every time someone clicks on a link, makes a purchase through them, etc.  Also, it’s my understanding that, in most cases, these advertisers are legally obligated to tell you they’re making money off of it.

I can’t lie, I tried seeing if there were any available affiliate programs for the tools I’m about to present to you – can’t blame me for trying to make an extra buck, can you?  Unfortunately for me, either these products/services were no longer accepting affiliates or they expressed certain qualifications I didn’t possess (such as ensuring that you can bring in a certain amount of traffic to their product – currently, I can do no such thing).

With that said, I want you to feel confident that my stamp of approval on these tools is not based on any personal gain of mine – just yours.  I have either used/tested these products myself, or have taken it on good faith of expert advice.  Also, the most intriguing aspect really, is that I only intend to share with you products that are FREE or have opportunities (without purchase of any kind) to obtain them at NO COST.

*Disclaimer: Because I’m not an affiliate of any of these products/services and not totally aware of laws concerning this type of thing, I’ve limited my “advertising” to the names and links to their main websites only (sorry, no fancy graphics or testimonials outside of mine).

Paper & Pen

In a way, this isn’t free.  You have to purchase (preferably) a notebook and writing utensils.  However, I’m sure you have some kind of paper and writing utensil lying around.  Even if it’s the back of some flyer from your mailbox, it’ll work.  Just be sure to keep it with you so that you can track and record everything.  I explain how to use the paper and pen method here.

Envelopes

Again, you may have to purchase envelopes to use this method, but I assume you have some of those lying around as well.  If you don’t have envelopes laying around and can’t afford to purchase them but happen to have a good bit of paper handy, you can learn how to make envelopes here.

The envelope method is used to help you keep track of your expenses that aren’t bills.  Usually with bills you pay a certain amount and send off a check, automatically have it deducted from your account, pay over the phone or online.  The envelopes are more for expenses such as groceries, gasoline, entertainment, etc. – the ones you might have budgeted for but don’t really keep track of, which eventually leads to overspending.  The envelope method can be a really easy way to ensure you’re sticking to your budget without the hassle of entering information into a program/app or having to check your account balance all the time.

Once you’ve figured out what those expenses are and how much you’re going to budget for them:

  1. Label each envelope with the name of each expense
  2. Fill each envelope with the amount of money budgeted for that expense
  3. Don’t tamper with the money once the budget has been finalized and the money has been put into the envelopes (no moving money between envelopes)
  4. Only spend what is in the envelope on the expense it’s for (again, don’t move money between envelopes, but also remember, if it’s not in the envelope you’re done spending money on that expense, period!)

Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are a paperless way to budget.  Excel is the most popular and widely used spreadsheet program and Microsoft has a bunch of free budget templates.  If you don’t already have Excel installed on your device, try Google Sheets and their templates.

This method does require a few things:

  • Knowledge of spreadsheets.  If you don’t have such knowledge but want to learn, check out Home and Learn for free computer tutorials for Excel 2007-2013 or GFC for Google Sheets.  There are tons of other resources just a Google search away to find other free tutorials if these don’t float your boat.
  • Entering data manually and regularly

Spreadsheets can be time consuming.  However, using them and spending the time and effort it takes to use them helps you gain a better understanding of your money and budget.  Also, learning your way around spreadsheets is a great job skill to hone.

Budgeting Software

There is all sorts of software out there to help you with your budget.  Budgeting software is probably the most convenient budgeting tool.  Typically, you just enter your information into spreadsheets already created for you.  Most software will also have features that allow you to easily track and record your budget.  All you really have to manually enter are categories, if the ones they’ve provided for you don’t cut it, and the numbers (the budget amount and your spending amount).  The formulas you’d have to mess with creating your own spreadsheet are already built-in, so all the hard work is done for you, including the math.

I highly suggest YNAB.  It stands for You Need A Budget.  My father-in-law was the one who initially introduced me to this most wonderful nugget.  It is, by far, my absolute favorite thing in the world of budgeting.

First of all, I like the fact that it doesn’t tap into my accounts.  Although most people prefer that type of feature, I’m a little bit of a conspiracy theorist in this sense.  I love technology a lot of times (and sometimes outright despise it), but I am very picky about what kind of information I allow technology to float around about me.  So if you’re wary about privacy, hackers getting the better of you, or that Skynet will one day take over the world – YNAB is a good choice.

YNAB has a bunch of other wonderful things going for it:

  • My rules in Life Skill: Budgeting – The Baby Step Budget were incorporated from some of their Rules/Methods, plus YNAB has more to further your budgeting success
  • It’s more than just a program to make balancing your budget easier – it has resources to teach you more about how to use the program, budgeting and getting ahead
  • It has Cloud sync capabilities making it easy to keep track and record everything from any of your devices

You should definitely check out their website for more information.  Now it’s time to learn how to get YNAB for FREE.

Technically, YNAB is not free budgeting software.  I think it’s going for $60 on their site.  However, they offer free live classes and a chance to win their software for free!  This is how I got it.  Maybe 10 people attend the live classes, so you have a 1 in 10 chance of winning.  I won after attending my 2nd class.  Actually, because there was someone with the same first name and last initial as me, we both won!  That’s how awesome YNAB is.  So this is what you should do:

  1. Download their 34 Day full-featured version (free trial) so that when you take the classes you can follow along and see what it’s all about
  2. Attend as many of the classes as you can until you win it for free within the 34 days

That’s it.  My father-in-law loved the program so much that he purchased it and didn’t even wait for his trial version to end or wait to win it in a class.  I really wasn’t trying to spend $60 and I lucked out on my 2nd class.  This program is certainly worth more than $60 in my opinion and urge you to try getting it for free.

For the rest, I’m going to send you to Forbes.  They cover 11 other budgeting software options, all FREE.  I figured you probably wanted some options and a professional resource that could provide an actual user experience review.

Making a Decision

Ultimately, when choosing which budgeting tool is right for you it’s all about preference and resources.  If you don’t have regular access to a computer or phone that can handle the apps, obviously spreadsheets and software aren’t the way to go.  You want to choose whatever is going to be most convenient for you so that you will actually use it.  Because there are several options, don’t be afraid to change it up if the one you start with isn’t working out for you.  When in doubt – paper and pen is the way to go!

I would love to hear your experiences, suggestions, questions,  or anything concerning the tools you use or would like to use to help you budget.  Please leave any thoughts you have in my comments!

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