Keep it simple.
That’s the consensus when it comes to starting a bullet journal for your budget.
Forget the flowers, skip the swirls and just track your expenses and goals in a format that is easy to follow and maintain, according to Tayler Rothwell. And she’s no slouch in the creativity department — she teaches brush calligraphy classes at Whim So Doodle art supply store in St. Petersburg, Florida.
But when it comes to budgeting in a bullet journal, she advises to keep it simple.
“Don’t worry about design,” Rothwell said. “For me [bullet journaling budgeting] is almost less overwhelming because it’s like a brain dump. I don’t have to memorize it — I can just write it out and see it.”
Those pages of dotted grids staring back at you might feel a bit intimidating at first, but by focusing on specific financial goals, you’ll be able to create a spread that works for you. Here’s how.
3 Women, 3 Money Goals, 3 Bullet Journal Budget Ideas
At The Penny Hoarder, we’re big fans of using a bullet journal budget.
We talked to three people who’ve found enjoyment — and success — by personalizing their budgets in their bullet journal spreads. Here are their tips for using a bullet journal to reach your financial goals.
Budget Goal #1: Organize Your Finances
When it comes to budgeting, you need goals, even if the goal is just to find out where your money is going each month.
A self-described visual learner, Rothwell explains she and her husband, John, started bullet journaling their budget eight months ago. They began by categorizing their expenses, noting the payment method for each expense.
“We liked the categories because we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re spending so much money eating out’ and we had no idea,” Rothwell said. “I like to do the bars in color so it’s even easier to see where we’re at.”
Experiment with multiple tracking methods to determine which is most helpful for you — that could be a bar graph, linear chart or sketch (think: bricks in a house for your mortgage payment).
In addition to the daily trackers, Rothwell created a spread for a bigger project: a kitchen renovation.
“I have day-to-day in there because I like the accountability to not spend a ton, because we’re on a budget,” Rothwell said. “But then I am a very goal-oriented person, so it’s nice for me to have, ‘new countertops are going to be this much money,’ and then save up for those things specifically.”
By assigning the project a specific color, Rothwell said the bullet journal helps her focus on the bigger picture instead of worrying over every detail.
“It keeps me looking at the goal instead of all the little moving parts.”
Budget Goal #2: Save for a Vacation
Sure, you dream of a trip to Paris, but funding it is tough when the “extra” money every month seems to disappear.
After three years of bullet journaling for fun, Alicia Geigel of St. Petersburg, Florida, decided to use it to save up for her trip to Italy. As a freelancer, Geigel’s income varies, so she wanted to see where the money was going — and needed to go.
She created a system in which she tracked her expenses every day by color coding them, providing her a visual reminder to stay on budget.
“It makes spending more of a chore, so I don’t do it as often,” Geigel said. “At a glance, I can see, ‘Oh I’ve got a lot of pink,’ which stands for lattes, so maybe next month let’s not have as much pink on there.”
The bullet journal ended up being a more convenient way to budget than the apps and spreadsheets Geigel had also tried.
It makes spending more of a chore, so I don’t do it as often.
“I liked being able to stay on top of it without having to look at an electronic device,” she said. “And I always know what my balance is without having to have that anxiety of typing in your password and waiting for it to pop up.”
With the plane ticket already paid for, Geigel incorporated a bullet journal spread to save $2,500 for the rest of her three-week trip to Italy. She set a goal to save $500 each month, and seven months later, “I’ve hit my goals, so the extra is spending money.”
Budget Goal #3: Get Your Money’s Worth
You know how when you make an oversized purchase — let’s say, bulk cheese — you think to yourself, “I eat so many quesadillas, this is totally worth the investment.” Then three months later you discover half the fromage growing penicillin in the back of your fridge.
Nelani Palomino of Tampa, Florida, knows what I’m talking about. She invested in a 2019 Disney Silver annual pass for $439. Pricy? Maybe, but considering that a day pass to visit Mickey costs more than $100 — and don’t forget the $25 parking fee — the pass can be worth it to those who make multiple trips.
Certain that she’d get plenty of use out of it because her sister lives in Orlando, Palomino decided to start tracking her pass usage in March, which is when she realized she’d only visited the park once in three months.
To incorporate annual expenses like subscriptions into your monthly budget, divide the total by 12 and use that amount as an entry in your monthly expense tracker.
She decided to use the bullet journal as a reminder to get her money’s worth from the pass.
“We made a conscious effort to go more often,” she said. “I’ve already gone four times this year, and that’s already paid for the pass.”
When Palomino swipes her pass at a park, she now tracks the day she went, the park she went to and that day’s ticket value, which changes depending on the time of year.
Additionally, Palomino gets a 20% passholder discount on Disney merchandise and dining, so she’s started itemizing her savings in those areas to help her decide if she’ll renew next year.
So whether you’re investing in an annual pass to your favorite amusement park or buying a Costco membership, try tracking your usage in a bullet journal to determine the real value you’re getting from your investment.
Need more ideas? Check out these five easy ways to manage your money using a bullet journal.
Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer with The Penny Hoarder. Senior Photographer/Videographer Chris Zuppa contributed to this article.