Feeling inspired to organize your finances once and for all? Our free budget planner printable can put you on the right path to less money stress in the new year and beyond.
January has a way of inspiring us to stop and evaluate where we are in life versus where we’d like to be. In reality, it’s something we should check in on regularly, but the passing time marked by a new year seems to be a good source of motivation to make some major changes—or try to, at least.
In my experience, the traditional idea of budgeting and New Year’s resolutions share a common theme: it’s something you want to do, it’s something you mean to do, it’s something you start to do—but that transition from an exciting new plan to a well-established habit is a hard hurdle to clear.
Here’s why: changing your life involves more than a new planner, a new app, or a new to-do list (and I say that as someone who is a big fan of all three of those things.) Making any significant change to your routine or mindset requires a multi-faceted approach that includes self-awareness, accountability, and a system.
The planner, app, or to-do list is simply a tool. You need a clear understanding of what you’re building, why, and how before that tool can be used effectively.
The following habit-building tips along with our free budget planner printable (keep reading to find it!) can help you organize your life, your finances, and your feelings about both.
5 Truths I’ve Learned About Budgeting
I’ve been budgeting for four years, with some less-than-successful starts and stops before then. Here’s what I’ve learned during my misadventures in money management:
Facing my messy financial situation was the hardest part.
Making any significant change can feel overwhelming at first, and facing your personal finances is no different. I think a lot of beginner budgeters sit down to make a budget plan and experience some unexpected feelings of dread after making a list of their monthly income, monthly bills, credit card balances, and regular expenses. Getting that big budget overview is important, but it can really take the wind out of your motivational sails! However, sticking your head in the sand doesn’t work either.
The thing that a lot of people fail to realize is how connected money and emotions are. Our spending is often influenced by our stress levels or mood, and our stress levels or mood are often impacted by our bank account balance—it’s quite a cycle. Exploring your spending habits and your experiences with money can help you change your relationship with it, which is why YNAB’s DIY Budget Planner printable workbook has a journaling section that addresses finances and feelings along with a budget planner template that helps organize and estimate your monthly expenses.
Putting it all down on paper and thinking about how you got where you are can offer clarity and context about where you’re going (and how to get there!)
Working on paying down loan balances? Learn how YNAB’s Loan Planner feature acts as a handy debt tracker.
No month is a “normal” month.
It’s tempting to wait for a “normal” month to start budgeting—a month without some sort of irregular expense like a weekend trip or renewing your car registration. Or to feel disheartened after you’ve built your ideal monthly budget only to have it all messed up by a large, unexpected bill payment at the end of the month, leading you to decide that this just isn’t the time to try to start a household budget.
I’ve got good news and bad news, depending on how you look at it: there’s no such thing as a “normal” month. Think of your budget as a work of art sculpted out of Play-doh instead of marble. You can—and should—change it as needed. That’s why Rule Three of the YNAB Method is to Roll With the Punches.
Budgets that don’t bend break, so build in some flexibility for long-term success.
Learn more about creating a budget template.
Starting small but staying consistent makes all the difference.
The reason a lot of New Year’s resolutions—or any major changes—fail to stick is that we get extra motivated and try to “fix” everything at once. Good intentions, but hard to achieve and maintain!
Start small instead. Here’s what’s helped me:
- Habit stacking: I learned about habit stacking from James Clear, and it’s made it so much easier to build new habits! The basic formula is: After [current habit], I will [new habit]. Putting on sunscreen every morning is a habit that I’ve already established, so I started checking and updating my budget right afterwards. Giving a new habit a designated spot in my already-existing schedule helps build consistency. I also use our free printable habit tracker to visualize my progress.
- YNAB widgets: I freshened up my phone screen to improve my focus in the new year and gave my YNAB widget prime real estate. Currently I have the 🥑 Groceries, 🍟Dining Out, and 💄Ash’s Fun Money categories stacked for easy access and to keep my spending on track. It’s a small step but it keeps my budget front and center.
- One word: Writer Susannah Conway doesn’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. Instead, she chooses a word that acts as her guiding light throughout the year. She offers her insight and many word-of-the-year ideas in this exercise. This concept is also helpful for loosely defining your financial goals. This is something new that I’m trying, but it makes sense!
Learn more helpful budgeting tips for establishing a habit.
I’m still a spender, but I’ve learned the power of aligning my spending with my priorities.
I like to shop! I’ve gone through phases of feeling guilt, shame, or regret about it, but I’ve found a way to embrace that reality. In the past, my budget worked as a glorified expense tracker—I wasn’t intentional about my spending decisions. Getting clear about what’s important to me (and budgeting accordingly) made it easier to align my spending with what actually matters instead of making random purchases for that temporary dopamine boost.
One of my big budgeting goals for this year is less impulse shopping, more quality purchases, so I’m recommitting to the wish list! If there are clothes, beauty products, or stationery items I want, they are going on the wish list for at least 48 hours before I click “complete order.” It’s amazing to see how often I lose interest in whatever is sitting in my Amazon cart by then!
All of this has made it easier to save money for things I’m actually excited about.
There is freedom in creating a plan for your money.
A lot of people (I was one of them!) think of budgeting as being restrictive. Who wants to commit to a new system that makes life less fun? No one.
But when I started priority-based budgeting and got realistic about my savings goals, I realized how much peace of mind there is in being organized about my finances. Sticking to a weekly budget amount for buying myself little treats is worth it to see the amount of money in my savings account grow.
Another unexpected benefit? Communicating about our household budget and financial goals has been so good for my relationship! Before YNAB, money talks filled me with dread. Not only would I have overspent the budget, I would forget it even existed at some point during the month. Now that I have a YNAB budget that’s built around things that matter to me, I love looking at the budget and seeing different categories fill up.
YNAB recently released a new “Money Night, Done Right!” worksheet. If you are looking for a way to structure your next family budget date with your partner, it’s fantastic. We’ve already used it once, and I’m looking forward to our next money night. Working towards financial freedom together is fun!
Learn more about how YNAB makes it easier to budget together! You can download the date night printable at the bottom of the page.
How YNAB Helped
As someone who loves systems, routines, and apps, I’ve tried a bunch of budgeting methods over the years. A budget spreadsheet on Excel, various budget apps, a bill tracker, a simple budget scribbled in a notebook, printable monthly budget planners, etc.—I’ve tried it all.
YNAB is a zero-based budget, where you assign every dollar to a specific job to be done, which makes it easy to make sure your spending is intentional and reflects your priorities. More importantly, the YNAB Method acts as a decision-making framework for spending and saving—the app is the tool, but the Method is the blueprint. This difference is what made it easy to turn this new habit into a way of life.
Learn more about the Four Rules of YNAB.
Free Printable Budget Planner
If you’re ready to start a personal budget of your own, you should give YNAB’s free 34-day trial a try—there’s no credit card required to sign up, so no sneaky payments if you fall off of the budgeting bandwagon and forget to cancel.
But if you want to get a big picture perspective of your current financial state, your relationship with money, and the goals you want to achieve, I highly recommend starting off by downloading YNAB’s free DIY Budget Planner printable workbook. It comes with a short, friendly five-part email series that helps you learn more about your finances and feelings.
I recommend printing out the DIY Budget Planner printable workbook and compiling a budget binder where you can keep track of your financial information in one place (or maybe that’s just an excuse to buy cute office supplies? Whatever it takes to help you get a good start!)
Follow me on TikTok at @TheOrganizedWallet for more tips and tricks to organize your home, finances, and life and good luck with whatever habits you’re building this year!