“Done beats perfect” – Ray Edwards
When my wife and I sat down to create our household budget in 1999, there weren’t many options. Use a spreadsheet like Excel or go manual. We used a yellow pad and wrote out everything by hand.
Today the old school option of pencil and paper is still available, as is Excel. But the internet and developer apps have made dozens of new options available too. Below are some popular options with a brief review of how they work (in no particular order).
Mint.com: This is owned by Intuit, who also produced TurboTax and Quicken. Intuit bought mint.com in 2009. It is free and can be used on a PC or mobile device. It has the capability to access financial data from most financial institutions in the USA so you can have live numbers! It has charts and graphs that you can use. Some reviewers love the live data feature while others were afraid that someone could potentially hack their passwords and have access to their bank accounts.
Goodbudget.com: This is based upon the envelope spending system, where you set up an envelope for each of your spending categories, determine how much money you budget for each category, then take your paycheck in cash and divide the cash into each envelope. When you go grocery shopping, you bring your Grocery envelope with you and use that cash for your purchase. When the envelope is empty, you can’t spend any more that month for that category, unless you move cash from another envelope, which means you have to tighten up spending from that category.
The mobile app allows you to sync your envelopes with other family members so when one of you spends, everyone else is able to see an updated envelope. It is also available for PC.
Gnucash.org: Available for free but only as a software download, though it appears they are working on an Android app. The highlights make me think of Quicken so if you like Quicken, this free program may work well for you. It also imports Quicken data.
Consumercredit.com: If you prefer pencil and paper, then this website for American Consumer Credit Counseling has a Household Budgeting Worksheet that I believe you will enjoy. It has a detailed list of income and expense categories, all on one sheet. The Summary of Budget at the end shows you exactly how much income you have leftover, or the deficit that you need to overcome.
Which is the best for you? They are all free so try as many as you want and see which is the best for you. Most importantly, do not worry about being perfect right off the bat. I can almost guarantee that you will miss a bill or use too low of a value for a category the first month. Keep revising your budget and by the third month of use, you will be pretty much spot on! Having an imperfect budget is still infinitely better than having none at all.