How to make a personal budget

Cathy Duval |

How to make a personal budget

Making a personal budget allows you to better understand your spending habits and make adjustments as needed. Beyond structuring your finances, a good budget will help you prepare for the unexpected and save money for the goals that are important to you. Here’s how to make a budget in six simple steps:



1. Getting started with making a budget


The first thing to do is to find the budgeting tool that's right for you. Online budget calculators are available, like the ones provided by the federal government and National Bank.


Federal Government Tool (External link)


National Bank Tool (External link) 


These will make the work easier, since nearly all categories of expenses are already included and the calculations are performed automatically. Otherwise, you can use a spreadsheet to create your annual budget.


Some mobile apps allow you to monitor your budget very closely by syncing up automatically with your bank account. They make it possible to create a personalized budget based on your transaction history.


The important thing is to adopt the tool you're most comfortable with.


Preparing your budget starts with your financial statement in order to get a clear overview of your personal finances.


National Bank Financial Statement Tool (External link)


Of course, your advisor is always available to guide you through this process. They can also help explain certain concepts you’re having trouble with or provide you with documentation.


2. Entering your income in your budget


Write down your net monthly income, meaning your salary after source deductions. This is the actual amount deposited in your bank account. Usually, this amount shouldn’t vary. To calculate it precisely, consult your pay stub and your last income tax statement.


You may have other sources of income, such as: 


  • Tips
  • Commissions
  • Investment income
  • Support payments
  • Child benefits
  • A pension
  • Bonuses


These amounts appear under "deposits" on your bank account statement, except for cash tips. If you receive such income, set up an entry for it.


3. Entering your expenses in your budget


Enter all of your expenses. A good personal budget includes three distinct spending categories.


Fixed expenses recur monthly and don't vary much.


They include:


  • Rent or mortgage payments
  • Power bill
  • Internet bill
  • Mobile phone bill
  • Transportation (car payment, gas, monthly public transit passes)
  • Debt repayment
  • Medication
  • Life and critical illness insurance
  • Disability insurance and general fees


Variable expenses are those that change from month to month, such as:


  • Groceries
  • Outings and restaurants
  • Entertainment and subscriptions
  • Shopping
  • Vacations
  • Health and beauty (pharmacy, hairdresser, optometrist, dentist and other medical fees)


Infrequent or annual expenses are often underestimated, but they should still be planned for in your budget. To estimate the total, look at your receipts from the previous year. For example, think about:


  • Vehicle registration fees
  • Annual public transit passes
  • Annual fees for a professional association
  • Car or household repairs


Pro tips:


  • To calculate your expenses, a credit card statement can be a valuable source of information. You'll get a better idea of where your money is going.
  • For even more detailed information, keep your receipts. You'll be able to see how much you spend on groceries, school supplies and medication purchased from one or several stores.
  • Don't forget about small cash purchases. These recurring expenses can have a big impact on your budget over time. Your $5 daily latte adds up to hundreds of dollars less in your pocket at the end of the year.
  • There's no harm in overestimating your expenses; this creates a cushion. Be as realistic as possible with the amounts you spend. But there's no need to account for every penny—feel free to round a few numbers.


4. Allocating funds for savings and an emergency fund


You should put 10% to 20% of your budget toward savings. It all depends on your financial situation and objectives.


To make a sound personal budget: pay yourself first. This means that before you start putting money towards other expenses, you should dedicate an adequate amount to your savings. This will help give you peace of mind and make it possible to meet your goals, whether you want to buy a second home or install an inground pool.


An unexpected event, such as losing your job, could drastically affect your income and your budget. That's why it's so important to build an emergency fund. You should set aside the equivalent of three to six months' worth of expenses rather than income.


5. Analyzing your budget


Subtract your total expenses (fixed and variable) from your total income. You'll come up with your discretionary income.


If the result is negative, look for some areas where you can reduce your expenses.


Are you consistent when it comes to financial management? Do you tend to come up short in certain periods of the year, such as during the holidays?


This exercise will help you understand your spending habits and make adjustments as needed.


To draw relevant conclusions, you should analyze your budget over a one-year period.


6. Following up on your budget


Make it a habit to update your personal budget as regularly as possible, whether you're using an app or a spreadsheet.


Enter your expenses as they come up to avoid seeing it as a chore at the end of the month. Compare your initial budget to your actual expenses.


If a major event in your life requires you to rethink your financial situation and budget, schedule an appointment with a personal financial advisor as soon as possible.


Remember that the goal of a budget is to help you ensure your total income is greater than your expenses.


Here are some tips that can help in specific situations:


Renovating your home


Making a renovation budget could help you save thousands of dollars.


First, figure out which renovations could bring you a better return on your investment. Example: the kitchen. Next, try to save money on everything you can control. Choose less expensive materials or do some of the work yourself.


Planning a wedding


A wedding can quickly turn into a debt that you'll end up dealing with for years.


To avoid nasty surprises, start planning 9 to 12 months before the big day and make smart choices, especially when it comes to the following aspects:


  • Bar service
  • Music
  • Hairdresser
  • Dress
  • Flowers
  • Food
  • Photographer


Because there are always unexpected surprises, plan for a cushion equal to about 5% to 10% of your total budget.


Having a baby


Having a baby can take up 20% of your family budget. Needless to say, you can plan for this. Don't forget about:


  • Furniture
  • Decorations
  • Maternity clothes


Think about opening a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) to save for your child's future studies. This plan gives you access to a number of tax benefits and subsidies.


Planning a vacation


Ready to jet off for your dream vacation? Even though you've saved up for this long-awaited break, you may have forgotten to budget for non-essential expenses once you reach your destination.


Be sure to add some room in your budget for restaurants and souvenirs.


Completing your education


If you're in school, you probably have limited financial resources. You'll need to stick to your student budget to cover all your school-related expenses.


If your income is insufficient, you could get help from private or government loans and bursary programs or take out a student line of credit from your financial institution.


A personal budget is a highly effective tool that will help you save money, prepare for the unexpected and achieve your goals. It will also help you correct your course if you see you're spending more than you should. If you have any questions or need personalized support, feel free to contact us.