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Get the big picture with a budget and savings plan

Many of us try to avoid looking at our spending habits. We leave monthly statements unopened, delete unfriendly emails and choose to withdraw cash ‘without transaction receipt’. The trouble is, you can’t manage your finances until you start to understand them – that’s why you need a budget.

A budget is a great way to keep your finances in order – it’s a detailed monthly plan that shows exactly where your money is coming from, how much is in your pocket and where you are spending it.

Creating a budget can help you quickly pinpoint common pitfalls such as overspending. Despite what you might think, a budget does not have to be restrictive or overly impact your lifestyle. It should incorporate realistic, short and long term financial goals and by incorporating your spending and saving into a budget, you can achieve them.

The basic steps of setting up a budget remain the same, whether you prefer to use a pen and paper, or a budgeting tool.

Getting started with a budget – a step by step guide

Gather all your financial information, such as bank and investment account statements, recent utility bills and any information about the money you have coming in and what you spend it on (NetBank is a great way to access this information). The more information you have, the better.

Record all sources of income, such as your salary (net income, or take home pay, is fine) and outside income (e.g., interest on investments), etc. Write down your total income as a monthly amount.

Now the challenging bit, list all of your expenses, such as rent or mortgage repayment, car repayment, mobile phone and data, insurance, groceries, petrol, travel, utilities, entertainment and education expenses. Make sure you don’t leave anything out - a common error is to exclude ‘one-off’ or infrequent payments.

Fixed expenses broadly stay the same each month (mortgage/rent, insurance, car loan, etc). Variable expenses change from month to month (groceries, petrol, entertainment, etc) – so you’ll have to average these.

Once you have totaled your income and expenses you can see the bigger picture. If your income exceeds your expenses, you’re off to a good start. If it’s the other way round, like many Australians, you are living beyond your means and it’s time to make some changes. The good news though, is that you’ve already taken the hardest step towards creating a budget –and we have lots of useful tips to help you balance the books.

Make adjustments, so you can balance your income and expense columns. This means all income is accounted for and budgeted to a specific expense, including contributions to a savings account. If your expenses exceed your income, look at your variable expenses to see what can be cut – or consider how you might be able to increase your income, by taking a second job or working to get a promotion.

Make your money work harder
Making your money go further isn’t as hard as you might think, it just requires a little planning and discipline.

Why do you need a savings account?
Watch your money grow and reach your savings goals sooner. Learn more about how savings accounts help you save.

Something to aim for
Whatever it is you’re saving for, creating a savings goal and having a plan to get there is a great way to keep you motivated and get there sooner.

Why we love to spend

Taking control of your spending is an important part of the getting your savings on track. Neuroscientist and Registered Psychologist Jason Gallate looks at why we love to spend – and how we can use this information to overcome our emotions and boost our savings.

What next?

Budgets often fail to stick because they do not take a person’s interests into account. Don’t be too ambitious as it may set you up to fail. Keep in the things you enjoy - the trick is to adjust overspending in one area with cutbacks or spending more smartly in another. 

Any money remaining after expenses can (and really should!) be allocated to saving. A good habit to foster is a Regular Savings Plan – a regular transfer from your transaction account to your savings account.

Make sure you boost your savings by following our tips to reduce your spend and our checklist to make sure you’re on track financially. 

Regularly review your progress each month. Compare your actual expenses with your budgeted ones. This will show you where you’re doing well and where you may need to improve. Seeing your balance grow is also a great motivator for further saving.

Savings basics, calculators and advice

Academy of saving

Become a better saver

Academy of Saving provides help and advice to get the basics of budgeting and saving right.

Learn more
Savings calculator

Savings calculator

Find out how long it would take and how much you'll need to save every month to reach your savings goal.

Learn more
Speak to a Specialist

Speak to a Specialist

Our Savings Specialists can provide valuable face-to-face support to help you achieve your goals.

Learn more

The advice on this website has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on the advice, please consider its appropriateness to your circumstances. 

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