How to Budget for the First Time

Budgeting can be stressful for a lot of people. So stressful in fact that many people just don’t do it. Creating a budget for the first time can be daunting, especially when you don’t really know where to start. However, if you’re like most of us, you’ve probably felt stressed about your finances at some point, and a lot of that stress can stem from not feeling in-control of it, and a budget is where you need to begin to start to get in control of your finances and on the right track. 

There are a lot of things to keep in mind when creating a budget for the first time, but one of the most important things to remember is to make sure that your monthly expenses are less than your income. This is how people start going down the dark hole of debt. If you spend more than you make, you’ll most definitely run into serious financial issues. So this is where your budget comes in handy, so you actually can keep track of where your money is coming and going from, and to stay on top of your cash flow.

When creating your budget for the first time, here are some other things you should keep in mind…

It’s not too late! 

You’re never too young or too old to start budgeting. Whether it’s your first part-time job, or you’re years into your career, once you start spending money, you should know where it’s going and have some form of budget tracking in place. At the same time, if you’re getting closer to that retirement age, it’s not too late to start planning out your retirement spending and savings. 

Know your cash flow

Creating your budget is all about what money you have coming and going. This is not only a starting point for your expenses but also your savings. As a salaried employee, this is much easier to do because you know what your paycheck every month. Create a list of your monthly expenses to lay out all your costs and make it easy to see where your money is going. Also remember that your budget will always be changing; you can add in, adjust or change expenses as needed. Once you have your costs organized you will feel more financially prepared financially by having a budget in place that will help you with the ins and outs of your money.

How much are you saving? 

Once you lay out all your costs, you can now see where your money is going, and coming from. This is when you can analyze how much you can be saving. Commonly you’ll feel like you don’t have enough money to save after you’ve paid all your bills and covered the other expenses for the month; but by creating a budget and making your savings a financial priority, this helps to force you to start putting money away. Having savings is so important, as you don’t want to be stressed out if something arises that you didn’t plan for financially. Savings, and an emergency fund can help save your sanity and prepare you if things like this happen. 

Stick to it 

If you’re putting the work into your budget, actually following it is important. Sticking to your budget you’ve created is what will help you stay in control of your finances. When starting to make your budget, you need to find out what works for you, for some people, it’s using technology or an app to stay on top of it.

Here are some of the best free apps and tools out there to help you stick to your budget:


Wally is like walking around with an expense sheet. Whether it’s for a business trip or your personal day to day spending, Wally lets you log your expenses by manually entering or by take a photo of your receipt. You can also turn on the location services so Wally can see where you are spending and to help log an expense. If you’re looking to monitor your spending habits Wally is the app for you.


Spendee is a great app to give you a visual as to where you are spending your money. By tracking all your finances, this app gives you the options to create different wallets for different expenses and create budgets within those wallets to track spending. Creating this visual of where your money is going helps to see where you can cut back and start saving.

Pocket Guard

Pocket Guard helps you track and lower your bills. Anything from a vacation, a new gadget or paying down debt, Pocket Guard lets you see your spending categorically, uncover opportunities to save and get notifications about what you have available to spend.  This is a fun and motivating way to start saving and get in the habit for the future.


One of the most popular and reputable budget apps is Mint. Mint works by gathering all your financial information, everything from regular bank accounts to investments and bills. It takes what your income and your spending patterns and automatically updates in real time. 

Don’t forget to have fun

Sometimes we can become so obsessed with creating and tracking our budget that we’re constantly worried about the next payment and if you’re staying on track financially. It’s still important to make time for fun, and include that within your budget as well. Even if you have a tight budget or savings plan, you’ll need a bit of wiggle room for treating yourself. Be creative on what you are doing for fun. For example, maybe opt for having a potluck with friends, versus going out for a fancy dinner. Plan for a staycation, versus a big fancy vacation. 

Managing your budget

A big part of budgeting is managing your budget as we’ve mentioned several times in this guide already. At GoDay we’re big on budgeting, but we also know that everyone has different priorities when it comes to their finances, and sticking to a budget can be hard. Spending money is obviously easier than saving, but here are some tips that will help you manage your budget so it is effective. 

Keep it simple                                              

When it comes to your budget, it’s okay to re-evaluate your financial plan. Keep track of what money is coming in and what money is going out can be overwhelming, and make you feel like saving is impossible. However, as mentioned above, finding the right tool and way to keep track of your finances is what will help you manage your budget easily. For some people they prefer the old school way of keeping every single receipt, and balancing their budget at the end of the month, however, with all the apps and software out there, there are definitely way more automated ways to manage your budget. 

Set goals for your savings 

When you are starting to save money, make sure you are setting goals for what you want that savings to go towards, and how much you’ll need to contribute to get yourself there. Treat your savings account like a bill, and you’ll learn to live with less money in your spending account pretty quickly. Also figure out what you’re saving for and how. Is it your retirement? Does an RRSP or TFSA account make more sense? Will you need to take the money out easily for a short-term purchase like your dream vacay or should you have an account that’s hard to access for long-term savings like a house, or your retirement? Do your research, set your goals, and figure out what your regular contributions will look like to get yourself there. Remember, if you switch jobs, or start making more money, you’ll want to reevaluate your contributions. 

Stop worrying about it later 

We often put off things we don’t want to do. It’s natural. However, postponing when you’re going to tackle your budget is one of the worst things you can do financially. Do you know when your bills are due each month? Do you know how much you’re putting on credit? What about your line of credit? The longer you postpone these things, the more money you’ll actually owe because of interest rates, and late fees. Stop putting off the things you need to pay off, or save for, and start tackling it now. 

Stay committed

It’s one thing to put all this effort into budgeting, but it’s another to actually follow through on your financial goals. By sticking to the budget you’ve created, you are working on creating financial stability that will only help you in the future. Throw away that financial stress, and stay committed to your end goals. And most importantly, never lose sight of the fact that you need to not be spending more than you have coming in. Simple right? 

What happens when I go over budget?

Okay, we know not everyone is perfect, and you’ll have times or months that you’ll go over budget. It’s normal. You just want to make sure you don’t make a habit of it. So what happens when you do accidentally go over budget? What should you do?

First off, it’s normal to reevaluate your budget on a regular basis. If you realize that every month you are going over budget in a specific category, you may want to take a look at if you should adjust it, or if it’s something you can legitimately cut back on. For example, you can always cut back on eating out, your morning Starbucks, shopping, etc. those things aren’t necessities in your life. However, if you are going over on your cell phone bill, or other monthly mandatory bills, then you may want to readjust your budget to better suit your needs. The key is really asking yourself if what you’re spending your money on is a need versus a want. 

If you have gone over budget, try adjusting your next month budget to make up for the lost cash. Where can you cut costs next month to make up for it? 

Don’t be too hard on yourself when it comes to your budget, but make sure you are also being reasonable. If you’re not saving, you’re in debt, and you’re spending more than what’s coming in, it’s time to kick your plan and budget into action and work towards being more financially independent.