If you’ve read a bunch about budgeting but still feel lost, you’ve come to the right place. Not all budgeting methods are created equal. And certain strategies for creating and maintaining a budget can be intimidating for beginners or difficult for particular financial situations.
Before starting a spreadsheet or investing in a budgeting binder, take our quiz to set yourself up for success. This quiz asks a few basic questions to determine your preferences and current finances, then makes recommendations for budgeting methods based on your answers.
Which Budgeting Method Is Right for You?
Keep in mind that in some cases, multiple budgeting methods might be the right strategy to get your finances on track. You could start with a more structured strategy to closely track expenses, then gradually taper off to a flexible approach that maintains your budgeting priorities.
So if you see your score is spread evenly across several choices, try incorporating elements of different budgeting methods into your financial planning approach. As with most things in life, budgeting is not a one-size-fits-all situation.
Take the Budgeting Methods Quiz
Answer the questions to find which budgeting methods would work best given your preferences and financial situation. Try to choose just one option for each question but if you feel there are two (or more) that apply, jot it down to adjust your final results for a better fit.
Keep track of your answers by the number to figure out your score at the end.
What Is Your Current Financial Situation?
- I have a lot of debt and can’t pay my bills on time.
- I live paycheck to paycheck and can’t seem to get ahead.
- I spend more than I should and struggle to pay bills sometimes.
- I’m doing OK, but I’d like to save more.
- I honestly have no idea what my bank account balance is or which bills are due.
How Do You Feel About Spreadsheets and Tracking Expenses?
- I know some Excel formulas and I’m not afraid. Bring it on!
- If a spreadsheet works to keep my budget in check, I’ll learn to use it.
- I’m a little scared to see what I spend, but I’m willing to try.
- I don’t want or feel the need to track my expenses closely.
- If it involves a spreadsheet, I’m out.
Which of the Following Best Describes Your Monthly Income?
- I live on a fixed income.
- I get paid bimonthly.
- I barely make enough to cover my expenses.
- My monthly income covers the basics with a little extra.
- I’m not sure how much I make or my monthly income varies.
Describe Your Approach to Discretionary (Nonessential) Spending.
- I don’t have money for expenses that are nonessential.
- I only buy things if I have money left over at the end of the month or week.
- If I don’t have money in my account for what I want, I just charge it.
- I usually can afford to buy what I want each month.
- When I buy something, I feel guilty because I’m never sure if I can afford it.
What’s Your Approach to Saving Either for an Emergency or Retirement?
- What savings?
- Some months I add to my savings and other months I can’t afford to.
- I have to dip into my savings often to pay for unplanned expenses.
- I have some savings, but I’m finding it hard to reach my goals.
- I keep meaning to start saving more but never get around to it.
On a Monthly Basis, How Many of Your Expenses Are Variable?
- I know exactly what my monthly expenses will be most of the time.
- My monthly expenses depend on factors I can’t always control.
- My monthly expenses are fixed, but my spending fluctuates a lot.
- A small portion of my monthly expenses are variable.
- I don’t have a handle on what my monthly expenses are.
Which of the Following Best Describes Your Current Financial Priorities?
- I want to pay down my debt and get on solid financial footing.
- I’d like to stop living paycheck to paycheck.
- My spending feels out of control and I’d like to cut it down.
- My current priority is saving for college, retirement or owning a home.
- I am not sure what my financial priorities should be.
Your Best Budgeting Method
Congrats! You’re on the way to finding the right budgeting approach to fit your life. Take a look at which option you chose most often in the questions above. Then reference the guide below to find your best budgeting match.
Mostly 1s: Try Bare Bones Budgeting or Zero-Based Budgeting
If you’re in financial crisis or in desperate need of a reset to get back on track, both bare bones and zero-based budgeting methods can help. Accounting for every dollar and closely tracking expenses pinpoints where your money is going each month so you can triage and take action.
Mostly 2s: Try Paycheck Budgeting or Half Payment Budgeting
When you get paid bimonthly, budgeting can be a real hassle. You may start the month flush with cash only to find your checking account drained after paying down bills up front. Both paycheck and half payment budgeting methods are perfect for dividing up costs throughout the month or handling variable expenses.
Mostly 3s: Try Zero-Based Budgeting or Kakeibo
Curbing impulse spending is one of the biggest challenges budgeting addresses. Both zero-based budgeting and kakeibo help you see where each dollar is going so you can get a handle on discretionary spending and start saving. They’re also good methods for beginners who are still trying to get the lay of the land when it comes to their finances.
Mostly 4s: Try 50/30/20 Budgeting Plan or the 60% Solution
Prioritizing savings is something everyone says they want, but most of the time no one is setting aside the bare minimum. Both the 50/30/20 budgeting method and the 60% solution allow flexibility to accommodate living expenses while steadily chipping away at those savings goals.
Mostly 5s: Try Kakeibo or Calendar Budgeting
If the thought of Excel spreadsheets has you breaking out in a cold sweat, never fear. You can budget just fine with pen, paper, and a simple calculator. Methods like Kakeibo or a Calendar Budget are a great fit for list-makers and visual learners who like the satisfaction of budget planning in print.
Kaz Weida is a senior writer with The Penny Hoarder.