If you’re new to
budgeting, Quicken’s free budget calculator can help you get started.
This budget maker will walk you through the key budgeting categories you’ll need step by step.
See where your money is going and create a plan to pay down debt, grow your savings, and meet
your long-term financial goals.
When it comes to personal finance, it's best not to play the guessing game. Sometimes the easiest way to manage
your monthly budget is to visualize it. With Quicken's budget calculator, it's easier than ever to manage your
Getting Started: Put Together a Budget
Take the time to add up your total monthly income from all sources and list your regular monthly expenses to create
a monthly budget. Categorize expenses in groups to make the process simpler. For example, include mortgage payments
or rent as well as utilities when you list an amount for housing. Transportation includes not just your car payments
but gas, insurance, registration and repairs as well. Quicken's Free Budget Calculator gives you a boost toward
getting this done by doing all the math for you.
Review Where Your Money Goes
One benefit of building a budget is that it forces you to track your spending and see in black and white (or in
this case—color) where your money goes. This kind of expense-tracking exercise shows how even little costs add
Realize Your Goals
Creating a budget forces you to reevaluate your goals and priorities. If you aren't saving money for the things
you plan to do, you aren't likely to do them. For example, rather than fantasize about buying a home or going back
to school, include contributions to funding these goals in your monthly budget.
Emergency Planning: Prepare for the Unexpected
You can prepare for the unexpected by creating an emergency fund with sufficient cash to carry you through hard
times. Your emergency fund should contain enough money to pay your bills for three to six months. Make your
"emergency fund" a budget item and contribute small amounts monthly until the fund is large enough to serve as a
Build your budget in 3 easy steps
Step 1: How to determine and enter your income
The first step in the monthly budget calculator is to determine your monthly income. This will be the amount you can spend every month, so be sure to use your net income, not your gross income.
Gross income is what you make before anything is deducted from your paycheck. Net income is what you actually bring home after taking out taxes and any paycheck deductions for things like your retirement or your health insurance plan.
To determine what to enter under Salary/Wages in the budget calculator:
If you get paid a regular check once a month, simply enter the take-home amount of that check.
If you get paid twice a month, add the take-home amount of your two checks together and enter that amount.
If you get paid every other week, multiply your take-home amount by 26 for the number of checks you get each year, and then divide by 12 to get your monthly take-home pay. Enter that amount in the budget calculator.
If your income changes from month to month, add up your total monthly deposits for the last 3 months and divide that number by 3 to get a monthly estimate. Enter that amount in the budget calculator. If the last 3 months were unusually high or low, add up all your deposits for the past year instead and divide by 12 to get a better average.
If you have additional income such as a side job, child support, alimony, or other supplemental income, add the monthly amount you can spend in the monthly budget calculator under Other Income.
You can also use this section to add a second income if you’d like to create a joint budget.
Step 2: How to determine and enter monthly expenses
The rest of the budget maker is dedicated to capturing your monthly expenses. Some of these will be specific numbers. Others will be estimates.
This budget calculator guide will walk through each section, step by step.
Mortgage or Rent: Enter the amount of your monthly mortgage payment in the mortgage box, or the amount of your monthly rent in the rent box of the budget calculator.
If you’re a homeowner and your property taxes are not included in your mortgage payment, divide those taxes by 12 and add that amount to your mortgage to make sure your property taxes are covered in your monthly budget.
HOA Fees: HOA fees are homeowner’s association fees, but the budget calculator is flexible, so you can use this box however you need to.
You can leave the box blank if it doesn’t apply to you. However, you can also use it for things like storage rental fees, monthly pet fees or parking fees from your landlord, or any other home-related expenses that aren’t otherwise covered in this section of the budget maker.
Home insurance: Use this box for home insurance or renter’s insurance. If your home insurance is included in your mortgage payment, don’t enter it again here. Each expense should only be captured once in the budget calculator.
Repairs/Maintenance: Most renters don’t need to pay for repairs and maintenance on their rental property. If that applies to you, leave this section blank.
If you’re a homeowner, or a renter who’s responsible for your own maintenance and repairs, this can be a difficult amount to estimate. In many months, you won’t have any maintenance costs. In others, you might need to replace a major appliance.
If you’re not sure what to enter in the budget calculator, here are 3 ways to approach the problem:
Do the best you can to estimate a monthly cost
Choose an amount to set aside every month toward a maintenance “fund”
Use your “emergency fund” to cover maintenance and repairs
If you decide to use your emergency fund, leave the box blank. There will be a box later for your emergency fund contributions.
Water/Gas/Electricity: For many people, these bills change from month to month. If that applies to you, estimate an amount for each one based on the last 3 months of payments or the past year, whichever makes the most sense for your bills.
If you live in a hot or cold climate and these bills vary a lot between winter and summer, you can also add your most expensive month and your least expensive month together and divide that number by 2. That should give you a good average.
Water bills often include a sewage fee. If that fee is separate for you, include it in the budget calculator using this line item.
Cable/TV/Internet: For some people, this will be one bill. Simply enter the monthly amount in the budget calculator here. If you get TV and internet service from different providers, add those bills together and enter the amount here.
Phone/Cell: If you have both a home phone and a cell phone, remember to include them both. If you’re creating a joint budget and you each have separate cell service, remember to include both bills in the budget calculator by adding them together.
Car Payment: If you’re making payments on a car loan or lease, enter that monthly amount in the budget calculator here. If you have more than one payment, simply add them together.
Car Insurance: Enter your monthly car insurance payment here. If you pay your car insurance premium every 6 months instead of monthly, divide that payment by 6 to get the monthly amount. Enter that number in the budget calculator on this line.
Gas/Fuel: If you’re not sure what to enter here, think about the last time you filled your car’s gas tank. How much did you pay? Then, ask yourself how many times you fill your tank in an average month. Multiply the two numbers together and enter that amount on this line.
Remember, if you’re creating a joint or family budget and you pay for gas for more than one vehicle, add the amounts for each vehicle together to get the total for the monthly budget calculator.
Car Repairs: Even if your car is under warranty, most car owners still need to pay for routine maintenance like oil changes, brake pads, and new tires. This is another place where the amount can vary wildly from one month to the next.
Just like home repairs, you can choose from these 3 popular approaches:
Do the best you can to estimate your actual monthly cost
Choose an amount to set aside every month toward a maintenance “fund”
Use your “emergency fund” to cover maintenance and repairs
If you decide to go with your emergency fund for this, leave the box for Car Repairs blank.
School Supplies: This line can be used for anything from college books to pads and pencils for your elementary-school kids. If this doesn’t apply to you at all, simply leave it blank.
College Tuition: If you pay tuition fees by the quarter or semester, add up your total annual tuition and fees and divide by 12 to get a monthly amount. Just remember to set the funds aside each month until that bill comes due.
Student Loans: If you’re carrying student loans, use this line to enter the total amount you pay on those loans every month. You can also use this line to budget extra money toward those loans if you want to pay them down faster.
Deciding between paying down loans and building your savings can be tough. If you’re not sure which way to go, check out the FAQ below: Is it more important to pay off debt or build my savings?
Food and Personal Expenses
Groceries/Household: These 2 items are grouped together to cover groceries and supplies. That includes food, personal care items like soap and shampoo, and household supplies like grocery bags. Estimate your monthly grocery and supply expenses and enter that number on this line.
If you’re not sure how much to include, add up all your grocery store bills from the last 3 months and divide by 3. That should give you a solid estimate. Enter that number into the monthly budget calculator. If the last 3 months were higher or lower than usual, consider averaging your bills over the last 12 months instead.
Entertainment: Take a moment to consider all your regular entertainment expenses. That includes everything from dinners at your favorite restaurant to Netflix. Estimate the total amount and enter it here.
Pet Supplies: If you have household pets, remember to add a little extra to this monthly amount to save up for things like annual shots — and kennel fees when you go on vacation. Add that to whatever you pay for monthly supplies like dog food and cat litter, and enter it here.
Clothing: If you’re making a family budget, remember to include enough to cover the annual cost of new clothes for your growing kids.
Even if you don’t buy new clothes very often, you should still enter at least a modest amount to cover the occasional splurge. If you have clothes that you dry clean regularly, remember to include that expense here.
Medical: This includes the monthly cost of health insurance plus your out-of-pocket expenses for checkups, dental bills, payments on previous medical bills, and any other medical needs.
If you’re having trouble estimating this one, think about all your doctor and dentist visits, urgent care visits, and prescription costs in an average year and divide by 12 to get a monthly estimate.
However, if the cost of your medical insurance comes out of your paycheck before you take that paycheck home, don’t enter that cost again here.
Other Expenses: What kinds of things should you think about for your “other” expenses? Here are a few examples:
Step 3: How to determine and enter monthly savings
Emergency Fund: This is where you add your monthly contribution to your emergency fund. If you decided to include things like home or car maintenance here, remember to include enough to cover those.
Retirement: If you make separate contributions every month to a retirement fund out of your take-home pay, enter them here. However, if your retirement contributions come out of your paycheck before you take that check home, don’t enter them again.
Investments: Use this line for any other kinds of savings you might need. If you make contributions to an individual investment account, for example, you can enter those here.
You can also use this line to contribute to any special fund you’re investing in, like saving up for a wedding, for a car, or for a down payment on a new home.
Step 4: How to incorporate your budget into your daily life
If you’ve taken the time to think through your expenses, your daily life should fit your budget fairly well. Watch your budget and track your spending for a few months to see where you might be consistently over or under your budget.
If you’re consistently above or below your targeted amount, simply adjust your budget however you need to.
Once your budget fits your needs, stick with it by finding small ways to reward yourself for your achievements. Buy yourself a coffee every time you contribute to your savings, for example. Those little things can mean a lot when it comes to building habits.
Finally, if you want to keep closer tabs on your spending and make it easier to track, consider using a personal finance app to help you stay on top of your budget.
Why is a budget important?
By planning ahead for large (and even unexpected) expenses, you’ll have the money you need no matter what comes up in life, without resorting to expensive credit cards and personal loans.
As a result, you’ll pay a lot less when those things happen, and you’ll have a lot more peace of mind in your day-to-day life.
Budgets can also help you pay down debt and build your savings if you build those into your plan. By making a long-term plan for your finances, you’ll have what you need for the things you want to do today and the confidence of knowing that you have a solid plan for the future.
What’s the best way to stick to my budget?
The most important thing you can do to stick to your budget is to make sure it’s realistic. That means including all your expenses, saving for the unexpected, and making sure the amounts in your budget really meet your needs.
Including doing what you love!
People often think budgeting is about hoarding every dime, but it really isn’t. It’s more about long-term planning. A good budget sets aside some money for savings and paying down debt, includes enough to cover your bills, and still gives you some spending money left over.
If you keep running into unexpected bills, add more to your savings every month to cover them. If you’re spending more than you intended on entertainment, try to budget more for that.
Your budget is unique to you. Restructure it until it’s working for what you really need.
What is the 50-30-20 budget rule?
The 50-30-20 budget is a simple way to start budgeting without using so many categories. Instead of creating a budget based on categories like transportation costs and groceries, this budget uses just 2 categories: needs and wants.
The rule suggests using 20% of your pay on paying off debt or building your savings. Then, keep your needs to about 50% of your pay, giving you the last 30% to spend on the things you want (but don’t need).
It’s not a bad way to get started, but it isn’t very structured.
In saving for retirement, saving for emergencies, saving for maintenance funds, making sure you have enough for annual vacations, and paying down long-term debt, things can get complicated. A budget with specific categories can help you create a plan with more financial control.
Specific categories also help you see where your money is going, making it easier to adjust your spending when your life changes or when you want to start planning for something new.
Is it more important to pay off debt or build my savings?
The answer to this question is specific to you, but there are a few guidelines that can help in making this choice.
As a general rule, pay off expensive debt as quickly as you can — debt with a high interest rate. Credit card debt often falls into this category.
If you’re saving for bills you know are coming, such as property taxes or college tuition, those are clearly important and need to be prioritized.
If your employer has a retirement matching plan, try to contribute enough to your retirement each month to claim the full amount they’re offering.
Once those things are included in your budget, it’s a good idea to start building some short-term savings in an emergency fund.
What is an emergency fund?
Your emergency fund is the money you’ve saved up to handle life’s unexpected challenges.
Although you can use it for anything you need, it’s called an emergency fund because it can cover your monthly expenses if you end up between jobs for a time or if you need to take a medical leave that goes beyond your job’s allowance.
Your emergency fund is separate from your retirement fund, which usually comes with penalties if you need to withdraw funds from it early. You should be able to access the money in your emergency fund quickly and easily.
What’s a good target for my savings?
A good rule of thumb for your emergency fund is to save up enough to cover your expenses for 3–6 months. This might sound ambitious, but it’s a good goal to build into your plan.
How can I save more money?
The first step in saving more money is to pay off your high-interest debt. Once that debt is paid off, you can use the money you used to spend on monthly payments to build your savings.
But a budget is also a great way to save more money. Once you take control of your spending and track it in categories so you know where it’s going, you’ll start to see places where you can cut back.
You might find subscriptions you aren’t using anymore. Or you might decide you’d rather cook a bit more often instead of ordering takeout.
Budgeting isn’t about depriving yourself of the things you love. It’s about making sure you’re spending your money where you really want to spend it, so you can do more both today and tomorrow.