One of the best favors you can do for yourself starts with a pencil and a piece of paper. What is it? Preparing a household budget.

That way, you’re able to keep track of the money you have coming in, the money you have going out and you’re able to see where changes may be made. Please remember, to PAY YOURSELF FIRST. That’s easy to say, a little more difficult to do, but easily accomplished. At Hilltop, you’re able to set up FREE, recurring transactions between, say, your checking account and a savings account for a manageable amount of money. You’re in control of the frequency and the amount and can change it when needed.

But first, you have to know where you are. So, here are some tips and terms on helping you do that. We’ve also included a spreadsheet which you can fill in and it will automatically do the math, so you can more easily see just where you are.

If you open the spreadsheet you’ll see:

Fixed expenses – this is just a term for money you have going out each month that stays pretty much the same – rent, for example.

Variable expenses – these are dollars that may change, from month to month and over which you have a little bit more control. Food, is an example.

Savings – simply how much you’re able to set aside for yourself. Ten percent of your income is a typical goal. But, even if you can’t start there, please start with SOMETHING and work upwards.

The spreadsheet allows you to fill in these numbers on your own. The “monthly limit” column is the “upper limit” of what you can afford to spend on these categories. The “income” blank is one you enter yourself, based on what you’re currently earning.

After you’ve filled in the “template” or “monthly limit” column, be sure to keep track – on a monthly basis – to see how you’re doing. You can tab through (or, arrow through) the spreadsheet to the next fillable cell.