Money·3 min read

Ditch the App, and Try This Old-Fashioned Budgeting Tool Instead

accessibility, woman looking through a binder
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
September 1, 2022

There’s an app for everything, including how to manage your money. But that doesn’t mean a YNAB subscription is right for you. There are benefits to manually tracking your finances like your parents and grandparents. Yes, it may seem a little old-fashioned, but it works. Like the Spice Girls’ first album. Here’s how to get started.

What is a budget binder?

Prepare to fire up your printer. A budget binder is a literal binder where you keep your budget, money goals, and other important financial info. Think: 401(k) account details, credit card interest details, and bill due dates. 

I’m in. How do I create a budget binder?

The best part: There are no rules. It can be as fun and fancy (or basic) as you want it to be. Grab a three-ring binder to get started. Next, add dividers to separate each section of your binder. Colorful pens or markers can make it easier to separate your sections. And just like that, your budget binder’s ready. Oh, remember the Wite-Out. Just in case.

What should I keep in my budget binder?

You can keep lots of different money management tools in your binder. And which tools you choose are up to you, since it’s yours to customize. If you’re looking for a little inspo to get you started, here’s what’s normally found in a budget binder:

Monthly budget

This section is a must for any budget binder. And it’s where you can keep a record of your 50/20/30 budget plans. Or your budget template. Just print your budget template, fill in the blanks, and update them monthly. 

Income tracker

Because you’ll need to have a handle on how much you earn each month. Print out an income tracker to create a good spending plan. And don’t forget to add in the money you make from your side hustle, too. Because even if it varies from month to month, it’s a good idea to track how much you make, on average, from all your jobs.

Debt tracker

It’s a good idea to reserve a part of your budget binder for a debt tracker to stay on top of what you owe. And your strategy for paying it off.Because you can’t ignore credit card debt forever.

Savings tracker

Bring out the money goals for the savings tracker section of your budget binder. Are you considering buying a new home or car? Your savings strategy belongs in this part of your binder. If you’d like to physically separate your cash for each goal, you can make yours a budget binder with envelopes. Because sometimes keeping your money in different places helps with budgeting. P.S. Now’s a great time to make sure you have the right savings account for your goals.

Financial goals

Long-term and short-term. Use your financial goals section to keep you focused, especially when it comes to the things you don’t think about every day, more like once or twice a year. Like retirement. Unless FIRE is your thing. 


Finance apps aren’t everyone’s go-to tools. The good news: Pen and paper are still a great way to keep track of your spending and savings goals. Financial health, here you come.

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