What's Your Budget I.Q.?
1 of 9
You’re sitting down to figure out this whole budget thing. Good for you! First things first: Do you look at your gross or your net income?
My net income
My gross income
Uh … can I have a second to look this up?
2 of 9
Now to divide up your paycheck. How much goes into savings, how much goes towards necessary expenses, and how much do you let yourself spend on other stuff?
I heard you’re supposed to put 50 percent towards living expenses, 20 percent in savings, and use the remaining 30 for stuff you want.
I plan to put 5 percent in savings, 45 percent towards living expenses, and spend the rest.
I think I’ll take care of my fixed monthly expenses, put away $100 or so, and use the rest for the stuff that comes up along the way.
3 of 9
Have you ever kept a log of what you spend in a week?
Yes, and yikes: I should probably cut back on the takeout!
No, but I try to keep an eye on my bank and credit card statements.
No. I’d rather not know how much my caffeine habit is costing me.
4 of 9
You’re out of toilet paper. (Again.) What do you reach for when you get to the store?
I pick whatever's on sale.
Store-brand works just fine, in my opinion.
Only the cushiest tissue will touch this bottom. I grab the good stuff.
5 of 9
What’s your grocery store game plan?
I never leave home without a list.
I generally stick to a list, and know about how much things will cost me. But I might throw in some fun snacks, too.
I buy whatever looks interesting. I like to mix it up!
6 of 9
Are you putting any money into a retirement account?
Yes—I put money into an IRA or a 401(k) every month.
No, but I put a fair amount of money into a regular savings account every month.
No, I’ll figure that out later.
7 of 9
You’ve got your eye on a shiny new gaming system. What’s your next step?
I want it—badly—but I need to save for a vacation coming up later this year.
I’ll hold off until the end of the month. Maybe if I’m extra careful, I’ll have some spending money left over.
I’ve gotta snag one as soon as I can. So what if I save a little less money this month?
8 of 9
How many bank accounts do you have?
One checking account, one account for short-term savings, and another for long-term savings.
One checking account and one savings account.
One checking account and one savings account—although there isn’t much money in the latter.
9 of 9
You’re trying—so hard!—to be better with your money, but a friend calls you up last-minute to ask if you want to grab drinks. What do you do?
You go, of course. You’ll just stick to the happy hour specials. Being on a budget doesn’t have to mean missing out on all the fun.
You decline the invitation.
You go, and decide to pay for a couple of rounds. You deserve it!
YOU’VE MASTERED THE ART of money management. The key here will be keeping up your good habits as you work towards your future goals. One way to do so: Enlist a responsible friend to hold you accountable. Are you and your partner hoping to buy a house someday? Keep each other honest by committing to dining out just a couple of times a month, or limiting your coffee runs to just once a day. Planning a big vacation? Let your friends know what you’re working towards, and suggest lower-cost social activities. Instead of heading out to a fancy restaurant on a Saturday night, host a themed potluck; rather than forking over $30 for a movie ticket and popcorn, why not hit up a free museum?
YOU KNOW YOUR STUFF—but there’s always room for improvement. If you’re generally good about saving, but constantly feel as though you don’t know where your spending money goes, try tracking your expenses over the course of a week to see if you notice any patterns. Be sure you’re saving as much money as you can—you’ll want to establish an emergency fund just in case anything happens in the short term, and a retirement account for later on in life. Last, but certainly not least, remember that sticking to a budget doesn’t mean giving up on fun: as is the case with any big lifestyle change, depriving yourself of the things you enjoy will make it that much harder to stick with the plan you’ve made. So don’t feel guilty if you overspend one night—just think about where you can cut back elsewhere.
YOU’RE FIGURING IT OUT—and that’s OK. First, you’re going to want to track your spending for a week. Write down everything you buy during that seven-day period, plus your fixed monthly expenses (e.g. rent, car payments). Notice any patterns? If so—say, you get dinner delivered four nights a week—you know you have areas you can immediately focus on improving. Next, use the 50/30/20 rule as a general guideline (it’s OK if you don’t follow it exactly—everyone’s circumstances are different). Around 50 percent of your take home, or net, pay should go towards fixed living costs; 20 percent should be put away in savings; and 30 can be spent however you like. A word of caution? Don’t let yourself touch your savings account. In fact, keep a savings account separate from the one connected to your checking, so you aren’t tempted to transfer money from savings whenever you feel like it.