How We Set Up My Girlfriend’s Budget

Budgets… a lot of people can’t stand them! My girlfriend isn’t a huge fan of budgets either but she recognizes how budgets help you achieve your financial goals. More importantly, my girlfriend’s budget was made specifically to achieve her number one goal. Want to know what her number one goal is? Keep reading…

Budget Basics

Every budget is different but they all have a few similar parts. My girlfriend’s budget has four main parts. The first part of her budget is her take home pay (income). This is the total amount of money available to be spent each pay period, assuming you don’t want to go further into debt.

The second part of her budget is fixed expenses. These expenses are set and won’t change (or at least they won’t change a lot) from month to month. They are unavoidable unless you cancel a service or make a drastic change.

The third part of her budget is variable expenses. These expenses vary from month to month but still need to be accounted for.

Finally, the fourth part of her budget is savings. She understands the importance of savings even though she wants to pay off her debt as fast as possible. She has managed to save a small amount in a couple areas in addition to paying off her debt.

Take Home Pay (Income)

My girlfriend does not work a salaried job so her income is not the same every paycheck. Instead, she gets paid hourly based on how many hours she works each pay period. Unfortunately this makes budgeting a bit difficult because she has a variable income.

We’re lucky that her schedule is fairly set in terms of a minimum number of hours per week. In order for her budget to be most effective we based her income off of the absolute minimum number of hours she would work in a week. We have a special use for any money earned above that absolute minimum… I’ll let you in on the secret later on in this post.

Fixed Expenses

Now that we have a set amount of income we’re budgeting with it is time to figure out what expenses to expect. We took a look at a typical month for her finances and determined that the following expenses were set and wouldn’t change hardly at all from month to month.

The largest expense most everyone would have is the rent/mortgage. She pays half of the mortgage as “rent”. Luckily, the townhouse we live in that I bought on a whim has a very low mortgage payment. That frees up a lot of extra money toward her other expenses.

Next are the utilities and bills that she has to pay every month. These include, the electric bill, the cable/internet/land-line phone bill, her cell phone, the water bill and the car insurance bill.

Finally, her last and largest fixed expense is her minimum payment on her student loans. We are trying to pay off her student loans as fast as possible which means extra payments. The extra payments aren’t a fixed expense though…

Variable Expenses

We still had a pretty large portion of my girlfriend’s paycheck available after calculating her fixed expenses. We weren’t out of the woods yet though because there were many variable expenses we still needed to figure in.

The largest variable expense in her budget is food. This changes month to month based on how often we dine out and what types of foods we buy any given week at the grocery store.

We also set up a unique budget line item we called random expenses. This category is for those items that pop up everyone once in a while but not in every pay period. She uses this category for items such as clothes, uniforms, medications, auto registration, etc.

Other variable expenses included her budget are gas and a spending money. You need to have a little fun money even if you are working to pay down debt aggressively.


Normally, I’d say you should pay yourself first and set savings goals before any other budgeting takes place. However, because my girlfriend is paying off debt she doesn’t have a lot of room to save a ton of money at this point.

She did want to save for a couple key categories though so we made a little bit of room to make small contributions to two savings accounts. The first is her emergency fund. She started with a small chunk of money and adds a tiny bit each pay period in order to increase her emergency savings.

The second savings account is for our dog, Daphne. My girlfriend saves a small chunk of money every pay period for Daphne’s expensive vet bills that are sure to pop up again sometime in the future. Our dog, Daphne, has allergies and the treatments aren’t cheap.

What About Retirement?

Retirement is definitely high up on my personal list of savings goals. My girlfriend has other priorities and really wants to focus on getting her debt gone as fast as possible. Her student loans have high enough interest rates that I don’t think this is a horrible decision. If her student loans all had low, fixed interest rates it would be another story.

She isn’t completely ignoring retirement though. She contributes to her company 401(k) up to the full amount her employer matches. Who would turn down free money?

The Leftover Money

We planned my girlfriend’s budget so she’d have as much money as possible left over after we accounted for the normal budget categories of fixed expenses, variable expenses, savings and retirement. Why do we do this? Shouldn’t a budget balance to zero?

In an ideal world her budget would balance to zero. My girlfriend’s budget doesn’t balance to zero though because her income is variable and because of our number one goal. So… what is the goal I’ve been alluding to the whole time?

Since we want to pay off her student loans quickly we decided to take any and all income above her normal expenses and put it toward extra payments on her student loans. Even on her base minimum paychecks there is still a decent chunk of money to put toward her student loans.

That’s not all though. When possible she’ll pick up an extra shift or two per pay period in order to put even more toward her student loans! Needless to say, she’s aggressively working toward paying her student loans off.

So, that’s how we came up with my girlfriend’s budget! What type of budget do you use? Hopefully you don’t use the most popular budget… because it sucks!

What categories do you have in your budget? What is your number one goal you want your budget to accomplish?

Like What You See?

Join the other readers who have signed up for our email newsletter! No spam, just periodic updates to help improve your finances!

About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. My budget is done entirely within MS Excel and I find it works well for me. It took some time to setup, but once you have everything in place it is really easy.

  2. Nice post! You are training the GF early..brilliant…Gotta tell you that the cash envelope system is the best way to execute the budget for a newbie in my opinion. Good luck!

  3. Good post Lance! It’s obvious that paying off the student loan is priority #1, which I can understand in light of some of the variable rates. I think that for those who may not like to budget setting a specific/measurable goal is a great way to get them on track.

  4. It sounds like you are doing a great job of teaching your g/f the right way to handle money.. That will be a lesson that will help her for the rest of your lifetime.

  5. Though hubby and I have one budget, this is what we’ll do with my pay since it varies. I have an idea of what I’ll make each pay so we budget around the minimum I make, it’s it’s more then we’ll throw it on debt.

  6. I don’t understand “random expenses”. It seems like it would be difficult to track what exactly you’re spending that money on. I keep categories each month even if I know some months my “health” category will be zero, I still leave it there with a budget of zero.

    Generally I’m pretty wary of “misc” budget categories since the entire point of a budget is to track your spending, being as specific as possible will really help.

  7. I love the step-by-step walkthrough. Good stuff. I agree: planning “pay yourself first” is important, but she accomplishes the same task by setting up the budget so that the “pay yourself” happens before she gets the money in her hand to spend.

  8. Nice. Looks like a great plan. I remember my first “budget meeting” with my wife(then GF), and it was tough, but really set the tone for money management that has carried over the years and put us in a pretty good spot. Sounds like you’ll both be enjoying the fruits of this down the road for years to come.

  9. That is awesome that she is so serious about paying off her student loans. Our budget is pretty simple- only living expenses and our mortgage.

  10. Glad you are helping her with this and targeting those student loans!

  11. I totally have my budget all lined up on an excel spreadsheet. Before the month starts I have the month projected out bill-by-bill (including paychecks) on the sheet and then I update it as the month goes along to ensure that it reflects exactly what happened.

    I have the fixed expenses, the targeted savings, and we don’t zero our budget out either. We just take whatever is left at the end of each month and put it towards our current financial goal. Right now we’re trying to accomplish 3 things: increasing our e-fund, paying down some debt, and building a house down payment fund.

  12. I budget and track expenses and net worth in excel. I’m not super concerned about budget categories as long as I stay under budget for the month. If I spend too much in one category I just take it out of another.

  13. Lorillia|Your Money Mentor says:

    Everyone wants to save some money after his/her essential costs. But sometimes it becomes difficult to save when income is variable. Naturaly , girls,/women tend to save more money than men.
    Hope both of you will finish the student’s loan as early as possible as your gf’s #1 goal.
    Are you trying to train your gf to save money? Anyway , thanks for sharing tips will help others like me.

Share Your Thoughts