Budget Binder (And Free Printables)

the reluctant budgeter

My reluctant budgeting continues.

The first time I met with my budget mentor Pat, we talked about the benefits of the cash system.  Money can seem theoretical when it’s electronically zipping out of your debit card.  A few dollars here and a little stop at the store there, and you’ve unknowingly blown your budget.

So we’re working on the cash system.  Not for everything.  We’re not taking dollars and exact change to the mortgage company, but we are using cash for everything except bills, charitable giving and gas for our cars.  It’s divided into five categories:

  • Groceries – food, cat stuff, toiletries, household cleaning supplies
  • Clothes & Makeup – including my more expensive hair-care products
  • Entertainment & Eating Out – this how we feed our Thai food addiction.
  • Play Money – a little pocket money for The Professor and me during the week.
  • Gifts – Because we have a lot of nephews and nieces, we’re putting $40 back each month for gifts and hoping that this will cover birthdays all year and Christmas.

Pat told me that I needed to figure out an organization system.  She said a budgeting system has to have two important elements: it must work for you and you must like it.

Translation: make it pretty.

Yes, you heard right…straight from my mentor’s own lips.  Her reasoning is this: who really wants to spend all that time budgeting?  But if you have to do it, it’s easier when you have created an inviting system that you can tuck into once a week.  Now, I’m sure there are accountants out there who just love spreadsheets and feel at home amongst those white and black lines, but I’m not one of those people.

Being me, I couldn’t find paper and organizers that I liked.  I knew I wanted things to be color coded.  I knew that I needed to keep details to a minimum, and I knew I wanted thick paper.  So, being me, I made my own system.

budget binderIt started with a regular-sized, 1-inch binder with the clear front pocket where you can slide in a cover sheet, some plastic binder pouches to serve as money envelopes and binder dividers.  (In case you long to be just like me, I put the links to the exact things I bought.  You know, since everyone wants to be like me.)  Then I designed my system.  Each of the five categories of the cash budget has a section within the binder that contains three items.

budget binder | www.accidentalokie.comFirst, there’s the cover page.  This is important because this where I defined my categories.  When I told Pat my grocery budget, she said it was a little high, but when I explained that it included things like cat litter, cleaning supplies and toothpaste, she said that it was actually  accurate.  (Score!)  Having all these things lumped together works for me because I buy a lot of them in the same place. Also, I knew I needed my system to be as simple as possible, or I wouldn’t use it.

budget binder ledgerNext is the ledger where once again I kept things simple.  It has three categories: date, details and dollars.  I’ve simplified things further by not recording my purchases by date, but by week.  I section off each month and write how much money we’ve budgeted for the category.  Our grocery budget has seen an increase since my sister has moved in, so we’ve been learning how to adjust for a third eater and a second gluten-free eater.

In the details column, I write down notes.  This is especially helpful if my bill was especially high.  One grocery trip, I had to buy allergy medicine and supplies for a big pizza party.  That will be good to remember when I’m reviewing the month.  I also keep track of cat expenses, so I have a better idea what to budget for Charlie and Pippa.

budget money folderFinally, each category has the cash, stored in the convenient plastic pouch from Office Max.  The goal is for these envelopes to accrue cash – for us to not spend to the limit every month but to build a cushion for a rainy day (or when we want to buy rib eyes or other splurges).

I tried the cash system once before and carried all the cash with me.  This didn’t work for two reasons: First, I was stressed about carrying several hundred dollars with me.  But second (and the real reason), I would be like “Oh look how much money I have!  I should get a coffee,” or “We can totally afford eating out again this week month.”

budget binder percentages

Another thing Pat and I talked about was deciding how much to spend on each category.  She gave me the generally accepted guidelines, which I designed as part of my binder.  My hope is to do quarterly check ups of our spending against this guide.

I’ve been on the system for about a month now.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • A cash system does not work if you forget to get cash before you leave the house.
    I’ve had to learn to give The Professor and me our $20 of play money at the beginning of every week so that we don’t use our debit cards for little purchases.  I’ve also had to make sure to get grocery money before every trip.
  • I can afford things.  
    Before I started the cash system, I spent a lot of time being frustrated because I couldn’t afford things.  I’d tell myself it was the plight of a teacher’s wife.  Now that we have entertainment and play money budget categories, I’ve been able to buy little things that I want.  I was at Target last weekend and saw the soundtrack to the Les Mis movie (the only movie I’ve seen twice in the theatre since high school), and rather than feeling sorry for myself, I bought it with my play money.
  • I spend too much.
    I’ve already pinpointed areas of over-spending, which I’m now able to address.  Also, I was spending money on things I didn’t know about.  For instance, I had a Weight Watchers membership.  Who knew?
  • Grace
    Pat told me that it will take about three months of doing this consistently before I’m not overspending every month.  In the interim, I’m remembering to have grace with myself.
  • I feel empowered!
    Maybe this reluctant budgeter is becoming a little less reluctant.

Because I love all my followers and because I hope this is helpful for you, I’ve created printables so you can have a beautiful budget notebook, too!

budget binder printables | www.accidentalokie.com

Below are PDFs so you can create your own budget binder.

binder cover
cover groceries | groceries sheet
cover clothes | clothes sheet
cover entertainment | entertainment sheet
cover play money  | play money sheet
 cover gifts | gifts sheet 

If you want to make your own modifications to the sheets, I used AlexandriaFLF Font throughout the budgeting sheets. It’s a free font you can download here.

Update: July 2013

Due to popular demand, I’ve released a series of completely customizable budget sheets! You can see them here:

Customizable Budget Binder | Accidental Okie

Dont’ miss Reluctant Budgeter Post 3: Weekly Meal Plan Organizer and Free Printables


  1. Yay! Thanks for sharing the love! …and the pretty paper! It sounds like you and Pat have some wise guidelines. Agreed on all accounts!

  2. Great post! Thank you very much!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Do you have any blank templets where I could have my own sections? I’ve just started using this, but would like to add a couple more options. Thank you for making these. They have already been helpful!

    • Sarah Warren says:

      Hi Elizabeth! I’m so glad that the budget binders have been useful! I’ve tossed around the idea creating some blank templates, but just haven’t gotten around to it. I’ll try to get some up by the end of the week. ~ Sarah

  4. really stupid question but..with the percentages. Do you just divide it all up with your paycheck amount basically or do you put some in savings before you do the percentages? Not sure if that makes sense or not!!

    • Sarah Warren says:

      Hi Carrie,
      There are no stupid questions when it comes to jumping into the world of budgeting! This system divides up everything from your paycheck, assigning every dollar to a category, so that there is no money left over at the end. But the first two categories are charity and savings. This allows you to immediately take out the amount you’re planning to save and donate. After you’ve allocated your charity and savings, see what you have left and spread that out among the other categories. In our home, being gluten-free, groceries are on the high end. But entertainment is on the low end. So we let those things balance out.
      To quote Dave Ramsey (my favorite financial guru), “If you don’t tell your money where to go, you’ll wonder where it went.”
      Does that answer your question?

  5. Hello. I was going to use the binder cover for a baby book for my newborn, but I am unable to edit it. Any idea how I can?

  6. What is Pat’s job title? I’d love to have someone help me with a budget but I don’t even know where to look or who to look for! Thanks!

    • Sarah Warren says:

      Hi Megan, Pat is a mom who has been through the trenches. She helps run her family business, but she doesn’t hold any titles. Those tend to be the best mentors to find! πŸ™‚

  7. Do the links not work for anyone else?

    • Sarah Warren says:

      Hi Brielle,
      I just checked the link and they’re working on my computer. What browser are you using? Also, remember these are PDFs, so depending on your computer, they might be automatically saving somewhere.

  8. Hi, thank you so much for sharing these files! I was able to download them & edit them just fine with your instructions! I am a reluctant budgeter too, so this is new to me. πŸ˜‰ I have some questions,

    Do you only use cash for these forms that you gave us?

    What about the other categories like housing, auto, insurance, medical, utilities, etc. How do you keep track of those expenses? Do you have a form or a spreadsheet for them? If you don’t use all that you budgeted what do you do with that money?
    Thank you in advance πŸ™‚

    • Sarah Warren says:

      Hi Becky.
      I just use cash for the categories in the budget binder. That helps me not overspend. Unlike some people, I don’t use cash at the gas station because I think it’s safer and more convenient to use my debit card, so I keep up with that on a spreadsheet. Everything else is tracked on a spreadsheet, however I’m thinking about trying an online tracking webpage to better track all those expenses. With extra money in my envelopes, I put it in the back of my folder and store it away for a big purchase. Well, big purchase isn’t exactly correct. For instance, most of my makeup and my hair care products come from Ulta, and they’re all either Ulta or regular drug store brands. So buying those doesn’t take a big hit out of my budget, especially because I wait for their big sales. But I use Clinique foundation and face lotion. Those are expensive and always seem to run out at the same time. So having an extra $40 stashed away is helpful. I hope that answers your questions.

  9. Kristi Salinas says:

    I love this budget! I’ve been struggling to find a budget that was something easy I could do and not have to have a CPA degree to figure it out. I do have a question about the percentages: Are the percentages per week or per month? Since this seems to be set up to be a weekly budget planner, I was thinking per week, but am not sure…..

    • Sarah Warren says:

      Hi Kristi, the percentages are based per month and come from Crown Financial Ministry and Dave Ramsey.

  10. Right here is the perfect blog for anyone who wishes to understand
    this topic. You understand a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I really would
    want to…HaHa). You certainly put a brand new spin on a topic that has been written about for
    years. Great stuff, just wonderful!

  11. Thanks for sharing these great organizational tips! Do you have any printable for weddings? Budget wedding planner or general wedding planner? Thanks in advance!

    • Sarah Warren says:

      Hi! I don’t have any for weddings, but the same principle would apply. I’d make a sheet for flowers, food, entertainment/venue, clothes, etc. Weddings are hard. You’ve got to keep a tight reign or they just get out of control. Good luck!

  12. Simmons says:

    What category do you file gas or transportation under?

    • Sarah Warren says:

      I don’t put that under these budget sheets because I only do things I pay cash for. So that would be a part of your budget breakdown. Good luck!

  13. Brittney Hand says:

    The first thing I did was print the printables! I am new to this! What is the next step that I need to do! Do i need to print these out every month! You can email me if you would like! My email is auburntigrs07@gmail.com!


  14. Your mentor is right! If it’s not pretty and we don’t like/enjoy it we’re going to find every reason not to use it. Which is probably why I never use my fancy budget software. It’s not aesthetically pleasing AT ALL. But these printables…. πŸ™‚ Thanks so much for sharing!

  15. Patti Collins says:

    You posted this so long ago I’m not sure you will get this comment, but I have a question.
    I know you don’t include housing, gas, etc. because you don’t pay cash for those.
    So do you subtract those expenses out of your monthly income before you do the percentages for you cash budget?
    I’ve been doing a spreadsheet budget for years, but it’s like I know it so well that I don’t pay attention to it at all. I fill it out for an entire year, and then adjust each month as necessary.
    The problem is that I adjust every month because I don’t stick to anything! hahaha
    Hope you can answer my question because I would love to try this.
    I’m all about making things “pretty” so I think this may work for me! πŸ™‚

    • Sarah Warren says:

      Hi Patti,
      If you look on the printables, you’ll see a list of percentages of all expenses including housing, gas, etc. They’re all in ranges. So what’s best to do is set all the fixed expenses and see where you fall on percentage for housing, etc. Then you’ll have a good idea of what is left and how to divide your other expenses. Also track your food and eating out for a few months to get to a good average of expenses.
      Good luck!

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