Many financial planning experts advise that the first step to creating a personal budget is to keep a "spending diary" for a week or month to carefully track "where" your money is going. Relying on a weekly or monthly budget will allow you to gain control of your spending, and hopefully prepare you to save a portion of your assets for future expenses.

There are many free budgeting tools available on the Internet. Here are a few examples:

Financial Education: General Resources

  • MyMoney.gov The official U.S. government website for financial literacy
  • Money Smart Kansas City Website for Money Smart Month, Kansas City's annual financial literacy education event
  • Financial Basics From SaveAndInvest.org, includes tools and resources to help you start saving and planning, including a link to an Action Plan to track your spending
  • Mint.com An online personal finance tool; has free mobile apps
  • Get More Money Now Includes information about financial goal setting- an important step toward better money management, and information about credit and investing
  • Money Management International Articles and other financial education resources
  • American Financial Services Association-Education Foundation Resources to help high school students with responsible money management
  • Budgeting Tools

  • Determining how fast your savings will grow Use this form to compute how much your savings will grow based on the initial amount, interest, and taxes
  • How fast you can pay off your credit card? Use this online credit card calculator to find out!
  • A Teen's Guide to Economics and Saving Money Helpful links for teens on banking, budgeting, and saving
  • Credit

  • Consumer's Guide to Credit Cards Learn how to properly use a credit card
  • How to Establish, Use, and Protect Credit Learn how to establish and use credit
  • Your Free Credit Reports Learn about your free credit reports
  • Understanding and Improving Your Credit Score Learn how to improve your credit score
  • Many financial planners also believe that "living within your means" boils down to one thing: Self-discipline. Reaching financial goals requires self-control, and understanding the difference between wants and needs. Your first step is to determine your financial goals.

    When creating a budget, be sure to include

    • Fixed expenses: Expenses in which the amount does not change (such as monthly rent)
    • Variable expenses: Expenses in which the actual amount fluctuates from time to time (your electric bill)
    • Optional expenses: For things like dining out and entertainment

    Here are some easy day-to-day tips for saving money:

    From InnerLight Incorporated (Kansas City, MO)

    • Clip coupons only for staples (butter, hot dogs, bread, etc.)- many grocery coupons are for new high-priced items, so coupons will not really "save" you money- they will just bring these items down to regular price.
    • Read and use merchant sales flyers.
    • Buy whole rather than cut foods (meats, fruits, and vegetables).
    • Pack a lunch for work.
    • Engage in inexpensive forms of exercise that do not require a gym membership (jogging, biking, free weights).

    From Consumer Federation of America, "66 Ways to Save Money" (Washington, DC)

    • Buy generic products.
    • Pay bills ON TIME (to avoid interest payments).
    • Don't pay retail for anything—watch for sales, and ask merchants, "Is that your best price?"
    • When buying a used car, compare the asking price with the "Bluebook" price, or the price found in a reputable pricing guide (available at the Library).
    • Find and use an automotive mechanic who is honest, well-established, and communicates well about repairs.
    • Use a free checking account from a bank which does not charge extraneous fees.
    • Open a savings account at a bank that does not charge extraneous fees and earns the highest interest possible.
    • Use a cell phone plan which saves you the most money based on your calling habits.
    • Cook! Prepared foods are more expensive than ingredients.
    • Pay attention to quantities on food labels; shop for the lowest price per unit weight.
    • Ask your physician about generic prescription drugs, and call several pharmacies to compare prices for prescription drugs.

    For additional information, look over these books available at Kansas City Public Library; you can find more books by searching the Library's catalog under the subject headings "Saving and investment," "Budgets, Personal," and "Finance, Personal."

    The Debt-Free Spending Plan: An Amazingly Simple Way to Take Control of Your Finances Once and for All. 2013. Call number: 332.024 N14D 2013

    The Smartest Money Book You'll Ever Read: Everything You Need to Know About Growing, Spending, and Enjoying Your Money. 2013. Call number: 332.024 S68SM 2013

    Digital Smarts: How to Stay Within a Budget When Shopping, Living, and Doing Business Online. 2013. Call number: 332.024 P4853D 2013

    For additional information, contact an H&R Block Business & Career Center librarian by phone, 816.701.3717, or send us an email.