The first step towards a successful financial future is creating a budget. Without a budget, there is no foundation for a financial plan. This article will discuss our 5-step budgeting process and highlight some of the common issues we see.


Step 1: Calculate Income

In order to plan how much money should and can be allocated, we must first know how much income we are budgeting. This can be done on either a monthly or an annual basis. We recommend focusing on monthly amounts for those with more severe budgeting issues.

We recommend looking at your after-tax income. If we are budgeting household expenses and goals, we want to see how much money hits the bank account every month. However, if we focus on tax planning, it would also be beneficial to focus on the before-tax amount. This is helpful because sometimes we can discover if an employer is withholding too much for state and federal taxes.


Step 2: Calculate Necessities

The first expenses we are going to look are the necessities. These are the day-to-day items we need to survive. This includes, but is not limited to groceries, rent, electricity, gas, car payments, diapers, medications, etc. Essentially, if you need the item to survive, it is a top concern and considered a necessity.

However, this does not mean that a single individual renting a 5-bedroom apartment is budgeting correctly. Even necessities should have limitations. Downsizing a home, leasing a cheaper car, buying a store brand rather than name brand, and reducing utility usage are all great places to minimize the number of necessary expenses.


Step 3: Calculate Priorities

The next set of expenses we will discuss is what we consider to be priorities. You do not necessarily need these priority items to survive, but you would like to have them. These are items such as cellphones, internet/tv, dining out, entertainment, new clothing, etc.

Once again, even with priorities, there are ways to decrease expenses. This part of the budgeting process leans more towards your personal preference. A lot of priority expenses are based on quantity. How many times to do you want to eat out each week? How many TV channels do you want to pay for? How often do you want to buy new clothes or buy a new phone? The best way to reduce priority expenses is to reduce their frequency.

Once your necessities are covered, you can decide if you want to allocate towards your priorities or if you want to raise the quality of your necessities. For example, maybe you choose to buy a nicer car, but you sacrifice new clothes and movie tickets every month. In budgeting, there is an opportunity cost to every decision. If you pursue one goal, you sacrifice another. However, these kinds of decisions are very opinion-based and vary from person to person.


Step 4: Calculate Wants

It is very common for someone to confuse a priority with a want. Overall, want is just a lower-ranked priority. If possible, you would like to fund these goals, but they do not matter as much as the priorities above. The most common wants include saving for retirement, charitable giving, debt repayment, college savings, travel, etc. Wants can also include protection for future expenses such as a new car, new home, wedding, etc. Finally, wants are more commonly long-term priorities that take much more time to achieve the desired goal.

Once again, this is also an opinion based and a priority to someone may be a want to someone else. Some people might really care about retirement savings and they will sacrifice entertainment in order to save more. Some people might be more charitably inclined and would instead donate their money than spend it on fast food.


Step 5: Review and Monitor

The first half of this step is performed as soon as the initial budget is completed. You will either have a cash flow surplus or a deficit. You will either have income remaining that can be allocated further, or your expenses will be too high, and you do not have enough income to cover all of your goals. At this point, it is time to reflect on your personal opinion and decide how to adjust your budget.

If you have a cash flow deficit, are there any unnecessary expenses that you can reduce or eliminate? For example, is your car payment too expensive, or do you eat out too much and not cook at home? If you have a surplus, should you save more for retirement? Should you donate more per month, or should you often go out with friends?

Lastly, the budget needs to be monitored and updated moving forward. For example, the income information should be updated every time a change occurs, such as a raise, job loss, job change, etc. Likewise, the recurring expenses should be updated whenever you notice a consistent difference in the amount paid. At the very least, we recommend reviewing your budget every three months to ensure that all of your numbers are still accurate.

If needed, we do have an excellent in-house document that can be used to help construct a budget. Please go to and request our budgeting template. Someone from our team will be happy to send it over and help you complete it.


Understanding the Basics of Budgeting


Have More Questions?

If you have any questions about how inflation may affect your investment portfolio, taxes, our 401(k)-recommendation service, or anything else, please call our office at (586) 226-2100. Please feel free to forward this commentary to a friend, family member, or co-worker. If you have had any changes to your income, job, family, health insurance, risk tolerance, or overall financial situation, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to discuss it.

We hope you learned something today. We would love to hear any feedback or suggestions if you have any.

Robert L. Wink
Kenneth R. Wink
James D. Wink
Zachary A. Bachner, CFP®

Summit Financial Consulting

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