Category: Starting From Scratch

Starting From Scratch: How to Budget on a Variable (and Varied) Income (With FREE Budget Template!)


Alright, so you’ve done all your homework, read all the blogs, tracked all of your expenses, and now you’re ready to make a budget!

So. Where do you start?

If you have a regular paycheck, all you have to do in plug in your monthly income and assign a certain amount of money to each of your expenses until there is no more income. Easy.

But if you don’t have a regular paycheck, this becomes a little harder. During my first year of financial independence, I worked as a temp. I was a good temp and had a bunch of clients who regularly asked for me, but I only got work when someone was sick or on vacation. Some weeks I made hundreds of dollars, other weeks I would make less than $50. I very quickly learned that I would have to build my budget in such a way that balanced everything out.  After a year or two of struggling to find the right way to do this.  I’ve come up with a system that has been working so far.

Pay Yourself!

Put all of your income somewhere else and pay yourself a salary based on the total expenses in your budget.  Rags to Reasonable recommends having a whole other chequing account for all of your work expenses, but I just use a savings account, since I don’t really have a ton of work expenses.

Figure out your Base Number

This is the absolute minimum amount of money that you need to survive. It includes your housing expenses and any necessary living expenses (food, medication, personal care, insurance) and anything else that you can’t avoid like fees or debt payments. When money is especially tight, this is the only amount that you’re going to spend this month.

Add Fun Things

Now that you’ve budgeted for the necessities, add in the things that you like to treat yourself with every now and then.  Clothing, Eating Out, Coffee and Snacks, Movie Tickets, whatever you want.  To figure out how much you should be spending on this stuff, look at the money that you’ve been spending on it when you were tracking it and decide if that is a reasonable monthly amount. Be realistic though, if you see 10 movies a month don’t limit yourself to two, try starting with five or six and see if that is enough to make you happy.  During Months when things are a little more comfortable financially, you can make these a part of your budget.

Give Yourself Room to Splurge, but Only with Money You Actually Have

Every now and again, you might find yourself wanting to buy something on impulse.  This is ok, as long as you factor it in to your budget.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t buy it if it costs more than your budget category, but that means that you’ll have to take the money from somewhere else.

Don’t Forget Your Savings

Make sure that you include savings and debt repayment in your budget.  This should be part of your base number. Because no matter how tight things are, you should still save for emergencies and pay off any debt that you have

Record and Re-evaluate

Put everything into the budget manager of your choice. This can be Mint (I’m not a fan, but if it works for you, go for it), You Need a Budget (something that I tried but didn’t quite get the hang of), or a good old-fashioned spreadsheet.  You can make your own, use one of the ones I mentioned here, or use the wonderful Starving Soubrette Budget Template! This template is adapted from Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s Student Cashflow Worksheet, but reworked to fit a non-student lifestyle. My favourite part of this worksheet is that it gives you a space to plan out your budget and keep track of how much you actually spend. This is important because you should be re-evaluating your budget all the time to figure out what works and what doesn’t.  A budget isn’t a static thing. Plus, my spreadsheet has three separate pages for the next three years so you can work to your heart’s delight.

Download it Here!

Starving Soubrette’s Budget Template

The next few Starting From Scratch Posts will be a little more non-linear. I’m going to do one on using excel and focus on some of the finer points of budgeting and saving money, as well as using credit and investing.  Do you have a burning Personal Finance Question? Let me know in the comments and I will be sure to include a post about it!

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Starting From Scratch: Preparing to Budget, or Why Excel is your Best Friend

wpid-wp-1434998908027.jpegWhen you are suddenly thrust into the world of financial independence, the most important thing to do is take stock yourself, your spending habits, and your expenses.

The first step, is to figure out how much money you have and how much money you spend. This means that you have to spend a month or two writing down everything you spend money on. This was the hardest step for me (because I kept forgetting to do it!) but also the most important because it’s important to have an idea of where you’re coming from when you’re making a budget.  If you are able, start doing this before you are “cut off” from whatever financial support you’re receiving. It will make everything else SO much easier.

There are a few services and apps out there that will help you with this, the most popular one is Mint, but I found it finicky and I hate how it categorized my purchases for me. Just because I bought something from Shopper’s Drugmart doesn’t mean that it’s a medical expense! The other downside to Mint is that it might cause trouble for you later on.  Here’s a post from one of my favourite finance blogs that explains why using Mint may not be the safest idea.

What that worked for me was using my plain old bank statements, my phone, and a spreadsheet. I make most of my purchases on my debit card, so the bank already did all of the work for me, down to the cent. I just log onto my online banking account and look at my electronic statement. When I have cash, I make a note of how much I spend on my phone and reconcile everything onto a spreadsheet.  The categories change around each month, but usually it’s something like

  • Food
  • Eating out
  • Starbucks (Yes, I know, I’ll explain)
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment
  • Video Games
  • Sheet Music
  • Lessons and Coachings

Then I let the spreadsheet do all of my math! for those interested it’s the function is (=X+y+z).

Now, at this point, most of the books and blogs out there will tell you to start making your budget, but if you’re like me, you want to make sure that you have ALL the information before you start. Thankfully there are so many blogs and books out there that have great information.  Here are some of my favourites:

It’s your Money by Gail Vaz-Oxlade– This woman is like, the Queen of Canadian Personal Finance.  This book is geared to women and is about taking charge of your money if you are used to having someone else handle it (usually a husband). However, the information is useful for any financial newbie, so don’t let gender get in the way of all of this sweet, sweet knowledge.

Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s website- For more no-nonsense goodness and the most amazing tools and spreadsheets. 

From Rags to Reasonable- I wish this blog existed when I was starting to figure this stuff out! It’s written by a fellow opera singer and is full of all the information you need when dealing with money as an artist, from budgeting to tax deductions. This blog helped answer the #1 question I had after I started my financial research “How on earth do you save for retirement as an artist?”

Banking Websites!!! Seriously, you may overlook them at first, but the website for your bank probably has tons of articles and calculators that you’ve never used before, but are so great.

My Alternate Life- This is written by a fellow Haligonian who paid off almost $40,000 of debt in two years by making some fairly simple lifestyle changes.  I’m a big fan of her advice and also her spreadsheets. 

Microsoft Excel– Ok, so this obviously isn’t a book or a blog, but it is my favourite resource for tracking expenses.  It can seem super daunting, but for budgeting purposes, you really only need a few functions (=X+Y) (=A1 – A2) and you’re set. If you’re nervous about making your own from scratch, any of the other spreadsheets mentioned above are Soubrette Approved!

After you’ve done all your homework, you’re ready to start Budgeting! Come back on Saturday to see how I build a budget.

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Starting From Scratch: An Introduction

wpid-wp-1434998908027.jpegLike most young artists, I have a complicated relationship with money. During my Undergraduate degree, I was fortunate enough to be able to rely on my parents for financial support.  But since then I’ve been relying on my own income or student loans to cover my costs.  It was pretty daunting at first, because I had I had very little financial knowledge, no credit history, no savings, no investments, and now a pretty considerable amount of debt to pay off soon.

I decided to start this series because although there is a lot of information about personal finance out there, it’s mostly geared towards people who are more financially established, and teaches them how to get better at it. But when I started my personal finance journey, I found that a lot of the information out there just didn’t apply to me. I needed something that told me how to start from scratch (hey! That’s the title!).

First, I tried to gather as much information as possible.  The first thing I did was read It’s Your Money by Gail Vaz-Oxlade.  My Mum gave it to me a while ago, and it sat gathering dust for a while, but it became a lifesaver! It’s a great book geared towards women who want to take control of their finances.

Armed with this knowledge, I came up with a plan for what I thought I needed and then I went into the bank and spoke to a financial advisor.  This made everything so much easier and way faster.

The advisor broke down everything into four financial needs

1: Money Management Need

2: Credit Need

3: Savings Need

4: Investment Need

Throughout this series, I’m going to tackle them more or less chronologically.  Next time, I’m going to look at the different resources out there for money management and how to figure out which is right for you.

This is adapted from a previous Starving Soubrette post

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