Articles > Getting Through Tough Times

Creating a Budget

Sometimes a household’s income drops suddenly because of a job layoff, an illness or death, or a divorce. It’s natural to feel shocked or panicked or to want to ignore the situation.

Whatever the cause, the best thing you can do is to figure out if your new income covers all of your current expenses. Most households can’t continue to spend at the same rate and with same lifestyle that they had before their income dropped – even if the drop is just temporary. The sooner you look at your household budget, the more options you have and the better off you will be in the long run.

Budgeting and Planning Tools

The following tools provided by UW-Madison Division of Extension Financial Education programs will allow you to make future financial decisions based on accurate and complete information. Putting together and following a spending plan can be overwhelming, but following these steps will let you create a plan for your personal finances going forward.

Paper and Pencil Worksheets to Print and Fill In

Monthly Cash Flow Worksheet

  • Includes a blank worksheet and a worksheet with suggested common expenses to help you think about your personal spending
  • Good worksheet to start with if you have never written down or tracked expenses before

Detailed Spending Plan

  • Five pages, includes financial savings goals and more extensive monthly/annual spending categories
  • Includes tips for making a realistic spending plan and where to start if spending cuts are needed
  • Worksheet is very detailed for those who are more aware of their monthly expenses
  • Can be used as a self-study budgeting guide

Monthly Spending Plan

  • Detailed 4-pages of typical (and sometimes un-thought-of or un-reported) household expenses
  • Second column available to indicate how you plan to adjust your spending to cover bills or meet financial goals
  • Worksheet might be overwhelming if you have never looked at your spending before, but may help to identify “spending leaks” or the “hole in the pocket”

Four Week Money Management Plan

  • A spending plan that divides monthly income into up to four pay periods
  • Helpful if you trying to figure out how to spread your money out over a month or how to save up across a couple paychecks to make a car or rent payment
  • Includes a one-page description on how to use the worksheet

Excel Worksheets to Save to Your Computer and Fill In as You Track Spending

Monthly Budget

  • Use this to track your expected income and expenses against what you actually spend each month.

Personal Spending Plan

  • A spreadsheet that can be used to list fixed expenses (rent or mortgage, car payments, etc), variable monthly expenses (costs that change each month or are only due intermittently) and discretionary expenses (items that are not necessities) to determine if you can make ends meet.

Additional Resources

Financial Planning Tools


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