Why I Budget Monthly, Semi-Monthly and Weekly

January 21, 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post like this, but there are a few questions that keep popping up in my inbox and in comments: Do you budget monthly or per paycheque? If you have money leftover in your account before your next payday, what do you do with it? Do you keep a buffer in your chequing account? And how do you really track your spending?

When I first started reading these questions, I thought, “haven’t I already answered these!?”. But in looking at my budget template and posts on how to write a budget, it doesn’t look like I have – at least not in one post! So, for those of you who asked, I haven’t been ignoring your questions; I just decided to answer them here, for all first-time budgeters (and financial voyeurs) to read.

Why I Budget Monthly

After posting nearly 40 monthly budgets here, the answer to the first question is that I do, obviously, budget monthly. The reason I budget monthly is because there are so many fixed expenses that pop up once per calendar month. I pay rent monthly, internet and Netflix monthly, all my insurance policies monthly, healthcare monthly, make donations monthly and I also go to massage therapy monthly.

Look! Real numbers! No percentages!

Look! Real numbers! No percentages!

Based on a number of conversations I’ve had recently, I get this sense that people think budgets are these big scary monsters that are going to control all your money. That’s not true! I promise! My monthly budget is just this awesome guide that I use to a) remember what all my fixed expenses are, and b) review and tackle my savings goals. It’s not in control of me – it puts me in control of my money!

Why I Also Budget Semi-Monthly

Now, even though January’s budget looks nice up there, I still also budget semi-monthly. I get paid on the 15th + 30th of each month (so there are no 3 x paycheque months for me) and it’s important that I use that money wisely. Like I said, my monthly budget is just a guide to keep me on the right track. If anything, payday is when I do my real budgeting…

On Payday #1 (the 15th), I set aside half of my rent, then pay all my utilities, insurance policies, healthcare, etc. Basically, every fixed expense filed under “Living Expenses”. Then I tackle my “Planned Spending” savings goals, because they are all small. On Payday #2 (the 30th), I set aside the other half of my rent and tackle my “Long-Term Savings” goals. (This payday is my favourite!)


The few hundred dollars leftover, after I pay and save for all of these things, is what I use for groceries, gas, entertainment, personal care items, etc. You’ll notice that I give myself a small buffer with Payday #1; that’s something I consciously do, knowing that that payday is technically all my spending money for the rest of the month, so I like to have a little wiggle room.

Now, up until a few weeks ago, I used to login to my online banking the night before payday and move whatever was leftover in my chequing account over to one of my savings accounts. I don’t do that anymore. I’m not sure if it’s because I feel safer with my topped up Emergency Fund, but I just prefer to have a buffer (~$250) in my chequing account for the “what if’s”. So, that answers two questions.

Why I Also, Also Budget Weekly

Finally, I don’t actually budget weekly, per se, but I do still track my spending weekly. This is a habit I built into my life way back in the day, when I first started this blog and posted a weekly spending report every Sunday. Today, my Sunday morning ritual still includes making coffee, logging into all my accounts and adding new spending into my monthly budget.


Tracking my spending weekly lets me see where I’m at, and if I’ve gone over anywhere, so I can plan for the weeks ahead. As you can see, I’m having a pretty good month, so far! (And this was updated last night.) The somewhat impulsive decision to chop all my hair off set me back $60 (under Personal Care), but fortunately there’s still lots of money to eat with… and that’s all I need!

To recap, I budget monthly and per paycheque, I do keep a buffer in my chequing account and I track my spending (in Excel!) every week. If that sounds like a lot of work, I must repeat that my monthly budget is just a guide! It’s like a checklist of all the things I have to pay for, with an extra list of what I want to save for. And I wouldn’t be where I am today without these little spreadsheets of mine.

I hope that answers all of your questions! If you have more, ask away! I could talk about this stuff all day. If you’ve never written a budget before but want to now, I still stand by everything I wrote in my post on how to create a monthly budget, so that might be able to help you get started. Just remember that budgeting puts you in control of your money, not the other way around.

Long-time budgeters: Any personal techniques you want to share!?

  • Sarah January 21, 2015 at 5:50 am

    This is very helpful. I’ve been trying to track and budget my expenses and I never thought it break it into paychecks. I’ve been doing monthly, but by paycheck makes much more sense! Thanks :)

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 7:24 am

      You’re welcome, Sarah! I wasn’t sure about writing this post, so am glad it’s been helpful. Thanks for your comment! :)

  • Emma January 21, 2015 at 6:11 am

    Awesome post, thank you!

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 7:24 am

      Thanks, Emma. :)

  • C@thesingledollar January 21, 2015 at 6:33 am

    I am totally obsessed with my budget, so I actually even check it daily. That part is not really that useful — I just find it soothing :) But my basic strategy looks a lot like yours: plan the month, check in periodically, enter expenses more or less as I go.

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 7:38 am

      Yea, I like opening up my spreadsheets too. Good to know I’m not alone! *pushes up glasses* hehe

    • Becca January 22, 2015 at 3:27 pm

      I definitely get a thrill from checking my budgets daily. It’s like a progress report that I’m the one grading – every time I’m on track, it’s like getting an A, and when something “needs improvement,” I know where to focus next.

  • Sara January 21, 2015 at 6:58 am

    If you’re sharing funds with another person, I think an allowance is great. A certain amount per budget cycle that each person spends without the oversight of the other one has helped us feel like we aren’t constantly being watched by the other person. That way we feel like we have some of our “own” money – we consider the budget joint – and spend it completely selfishly without worrying whether the other person would approve of the purchase.

    At our current income it’s $100 per person, per month. But we’ve done as little as $5 per week and still enjoyed the idea of our own money.

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 7:39 am

      I like that, Sara! I know Jordann from My Alternate Life does the same thing, and it seems to work for her too.

  • Rob January 21, 2015 at 7:43 am

    Hi Cait!
    Being a long-time budgeter (as well as financial voyeur – lol), this has been my approach.

    We’ve received income arriving at various intervals over the years and from various sources:
    Thru employment – every 2 weeks, once monthly, twice monthly
    Thru investments – monthly, yearly

    So what I have found that works well is to have a buffer amount sitting in our joint chequing account equal to a month of net income. This acts as our contingency short term buffer. When the next month of income arrives (at whatever time of the month) I then could either manually pay bills when received or let the bank automatically pay them on their due dates, if handled on a pre-authorized basis. Should one not elect to pay bills in this way (ie., tying up buffer $$$ in one’s chequing account) then best you arrange to have overdraft protection set up (to avoid pesky service charges that might otherwise accrue). After all, it does happen on occasion that we forget to update our records correctly and misreport the correct outstanding balance in our chequing account – right?

    As to tracking expenses, I keep a hardcopy supply of monthly budget / expense detail sheets (one sheet for each month) and then each evening manually record any income and/or expenses for that day. At month end I then take the sheet and transcribe the monthly totals into a yearly excel spreadsheet. I find that It’s a pretty quick few minutes procedure (if done daily, as required) and then it’s off my mind.

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 7:45 am

      A month’s income in your chequing account – I’d never thought of that before! I know my parents always have $1-2K (whatever the amount is needed to pay $0 banking fees) but a month’s income would be a pretty big/awesome buffer. Don’t think people would sleep ever, if that was sitting around. :)

      • Rob January 22, 2015 at 8:27 am

        Cait, you have to be aware of our situation. With my wife and I both now retired, our cost of living has thus reduced quite a bit (compared to when we both worked), what with no debt to speak of. That said, our monthly incomes have also reduced but are still quite sufficient for our spending wants and needs. So a “month’s income” for us is quite a bit less that what a month’s income was back when we both were employed. With our good financial situation, it doesn’t represent too much of a burden to set aside this buffer amount. Obviously I wouldn’t recommend to put aside this much money if still fully employed but paying off debt and/or saving for other things (although putting aside some smaller buffer amount might be prudent).

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods January 21, 2015 at 8:05 am

    I like how detailed your system is–very nice! We’re much more lackadaisical in our approach–we just review all of our spending at the end of every month. Since we don’t budget, our goal every month is just to hit our desired savings %. If we’re off track in any given month, we’ll recalibrate for the next month.

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 7:49 am

      I love that – and I think that’d be something I’d strive towards, if I had two incomes to work with! Would be nice to feel a little more relaxed about this whole budgeting thing, but at the end of the day got bills to pay!

  • Trista January 21, 2015 at 8:30 am

    I love this post Cait. You budget very similar to the way I do. Although I don’t track my spending weekly I do it daily. Although Sometimes I slack off on the weekend and I find that’s when I tend to overspend. My budget is very lopsided where I don’t split my rent between two cheques. Most of my discretionary money is actually contained in the second cheque of the month. To make this work I “borrow” my entertainment, clothing and gas allowances from my savings account and replace the money when the second cheque comes in. I could split the rent but now that I’m accumulating money instead of spending every last cent I don’t think it really makes a difference.

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 7:51 am

      I used to “borrow” from savings all the time, but never actually put the full amount back. Do you save what you borrowed + save more?

      • Trista January 22, 2015 at 10:17 am

        I used to do that too. But now I can proudly say I don’t do that anymore. By the end of month I’ll be up money in my savings account. I’m finally get the hang of this I think. I have separate tangerine accounts for each of my major spending categories. So at the top of the month I fill the buckets (accounts) to their total monthly amounts. On pay day I move the budgeted amounts directly in to my savings account before I can get my greedy little hands on it and continue to use what’s left in the buckets for daily spending. I believe having the full amounts at the beginning of the month is helping me to stay on track overall.

  • Alicia January 21, 2015 at 9:50 am

    This is very similar to what I do. I started doing it when I was paid semi-monthly, like you, so it was much easier (have I told you how much I hate shifting paydays with bi-weekly – oh yes, I think I’ve screamed that to the world on multiple occasions/posts/tweets).

    I think for those without mortgages, or car payments (both generally bi-weekly billing cycles), this is the easiest and best way to do this. I do it slightly differently. I take all my rent from my “first cheque” then put all my debt repayment from my “second cheque” similar to you and your savings. I give myself discretionary money on a bi-weekly pay cycle, but really, it gets used more so on a weekly schedule (like Oh $25 for gas in the car this week, and $X for groceries).

    I’m glad my system looks similar to yours. Makes me feel like I’m not completely out in left field :)

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 7:53 am

      *I’m* glad our systems look similar!

  • ARBM January 21, 2015 at 10:05 am

    Thank you for this post! I am still working out the details of how budgeting will work best for us, so it is really helpful to see how someone else makes it work.

    I think that the weekly sit down to review expenses is a really great idea, and I think that will help us at the beginning of this budgeting process to keep track and curb spending before we go over budget.

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 8:05 am

      It absolutely will! It’s also just great to talk to someone about this stuff, to make sure you’re on the same page and make decisions about what to do going forward. :)

  • Rochelle January 21, 2015 at 10:51 am

    Right now, my husband and I are both paid bi-weekly–on opposite weeks. So we have a paycheck every week of the year. Ironically, it took me a long time to get used to this. However, now we have it set up well. The first paycheck of the month is what my student loans come out of, the second used to be my car payment and now is daycare, and the third and fourth cover our mortgage. Since those are our only “big” expenses, it works out nicely. On the months we have a fifth paycheck (four a year, I think–two each), more than 50% goes towards savings or debt repayment, whatever we’re working on most.

    When I move to full-time freelancing in just over two months, I have no idea what we’ll do, since I’ll get paid in sporadic lump sums. I’m thinking about setting up a separate account for those, and paying ourselves with what we need. But we’ll see, since I’m still building freelance clients. (If you know anyone who needs an editor, let me know!)

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 8:15 am

      Yea, I’ve wondered what it would be like to budget as a full-time freelancer… don’t see that in my future, but maybe you can share more details after you’ve gone down that route for a few months and figured it out!

  • Bridget January 21, 2015 at 11:20 am

    I’m totally headed in the opposite direction of this and budgeting annually… because I find some expenses are so variable but large they throw the whole thing off.

    Also I’m only paid monthly from my job, so a bi-weekly or weekly budget doesn’t work for me. Likewise freelance/blog income comes without any schedule whatsoever.

    Thankfully I’ve finally developed that intuition where I can just “feel” if I’m over budget in one thing and need to scale it back. It’s nice to stay inside the lines without having to actually think about it.

    • Cait Flanders January 21, 2015 at 11:33 am

      I will say, I generally know if I’m on track without having to look… and that’s only because I don’t really “spend” that much money! If you look at the spreadsheets, so much of what I pay for is fixed, so I really only “spend” on food, gas and toiletries/household items. And I’m clearly not running to the grocery store to blow my paycheque!

      Now I’m curious though: what variable expenses are so large they throw off your budgeting? I don’t experience that often.

      • Bridget January 22, 2015 at 8:40 am

        Namely vacations, and also this year, the wedding. I guess I could break down my wedding spending to monthly, but honestly if something is under $2,000 we just pay it up front… but then my budget has a big charge one month and then nothing for the next 2, etc.

        Also I have tendency to go 2-3 months without buying any clothes, then all in I’ll spend $600 in 2 or 3 days. Then I’ll go through a jewelery phase or a book phase or a housewares phase… honestly nothing is monthly it’s just “oh that was the month I was all about bracelets” haha

  • L January 21, 2015 at 11:38 am

    I budget bi-weekly but fill out my budget daily/weekly depending. The BF and I put thing on our joint CC and I monitor that the amount we are spending during the 2 weeks does not exceed our budget…or well i monitor mine and he does his own as we have separate budgets. Before our payday (it is the same day) I send an email on how much we owe on the CC and that is deposited from the previous pay into our joint account to pay off the CC. I also include what we each owe for our shared expenses (mortgage, internet etc) and on payday we deposit that into our joint account. We each have our own savings goals at the moment for various reasons but we also have a joint savings account for common goals. This might sound like a lot to some people but it works great for us! Since we have no debt and we won’t allow ourselves to go into debt we like our cash rewards card for that reason!

    Great post as always!

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 8:17 am

      Hey, if it works for you guys, that’s all that matters! And I pay for everything w/ rewards credit cards too, so just apply payments on payday (but felt like that would be too much detail to go into here, hehe).

  • Melanie January 21, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    I budget semi-monthly as well as my paycheques are also the 15th and last day of the month. I’ve created a very basic spreadsheet for each paycheque to keep track of fixed expenses/debt repayment/savings.

    I use to budget my variable expenses but found, for me personally, it never worked. Recently, I try to think if spending the money is worth it or not and/or can I live without it. I set aside a certain amount for variable expenses such as groceries, gas and personal care. When I’m a week away from the next paycheque and I feel I have more than enough left, I’ll put what I feel is excessive and save it. I like the challenge of seeing how much I can save. Of course, we’ll see how long this motivation will last. I’d like to think I’ve changed the way I think about money and won’t get myself back into consumer debt.

    By the way, love your blog. I have been lurking for probably a year. I’ve always wanted to do what you did and I finally feel like I can. You’ve inspired me. :)

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 8:23 am

      Ooo do whatever it takes to keep your motivation to save! Find the feeling you love about it right now and hold onto it. Throughout my entire debt repayment journey, I held onto how crappy it felt to be maxed out and dreamt of how good it would feel to be debt-free. Maybe that’ll help you too.

      And I’m so glad you finally commented, Melanie! :)

  • Strandedrocks January 22, 2015 at 3:25 am

    Cait, do you ever find because you budget a certain amount for a variable expense (let’s say restaurants) you find yourself spending that amount? If you didn’t set a dollar amount for that category and took it month by month do you think you would spend less or more?
    I think I am more of a don’t budget for it because I will find a way to spend that much, I take it month by month with a limit though, I can’t go crazy.

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 8:27 am

      Nope! I budget based on averages from months prior. So, if you remember, a few weeks ago I published the average amount I spent on restaurants from July-December. Then I added a little buffer and threw those numbers into my budget. I typically spend less, some months I’ll spend more… it’s just a guide. And remember that I’m continually trying to decrease my living expenses, in order to save more!

  • Petrish @ Debt Free Martini January 22, 2015 at 3:35 am

    You have been officially crowned as the Budget Queen. I only set up a monthly budget and the only times I update it is when I have paid off a bill. I see how your methods can be very beneficial, but its just too much for me. Once all my debts are paid, I do plan on setting a monthly amount that I will live on and like you move the balance to my savings. I can’t wait.

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 8:40 am

      Woo hoo! I’ll wear the title proudly. :)

  • Taylor Lee January 22, 2015 at 4:39 am

    Very interesting! I tend to only budget monthly, with a general “check-in” number mid-month that I try not to pass, lest I’m blowing all my money before the 15th. But in general I don’t go too much more in depth than that.

  • Barry @ Moneywehave January 22, 2015 at 7:04 am

    I budget monthly and those yearly expenses that come up I just divide it by 12 and budget for it monthly and it goes into a “pooled” savings. Once that expense comes up I just pat for it from my pooled savings.

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 8:43 am

      Just curious: what yearly expenses do you have? I feel like I don’t really have any of these!

      • Reeses February 4, 2015 at 4:52 pm

        I do the same as Barry but am new at budgeting and was wondering how to approach that pooling. This mainly can apply to the car and the dog (but also clothing, or housewares, as I usually save up to buy something expensive, but want to budget for it monthly – eg Fluevogs and a Vitamix! Or a car repair, wamp wamp).

        I’m struggling with how to keep track of that pooled money – maybe just make notes carry them forward on each line item each month as applicable??

        • Cait Flanders February 5, 2015 at 9:16 am

          Maybe! Or I’d just have a “Shopping” or “Planned Spending” account that you throw some money into each paycheque. :)

  • Sara Hamil January 22, 2015 at 9:31 am

    I’m a budget per pay-cheque kind of girl myself. I have a note on my phone that breaks down exactly what goes where each pay (I split most things, except my life/critical illness insurance). It’s not fancy, but it seems to work! I’m always so impressed with how detailed yours are. I think I may need to start experimenting with doing the same thing.

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 9:47 am

      Do it! Now that you’re debt-free, I bet it’d be hugely motivating to SEE how much you could potentially save each month. :D

  • Kristen January 22, 2015 at 9:55 am

    I am newer to this budgeting thing (only about half a year of tracking). I have an app that I track the variable but planned expenses (groceries, personal care, pets, etc. etc.) daily, but we budget monthly.

    My husband gets paid every 2 weeks, so he does get the 3 pay cheque months. In these months we make an extra mortgage payment, an extra savings payment, extra car payment (things that are every 2 weeks). What is left doesn’t go into our monthly budget (we base our budget on a 2 pay cheque month), we have it to direct where we need/want it coming up (maybe the travel fund, or extra money in a savings, or something that needs to get done around the house). I get paid monthly. Sometimes my clients (currently I invoice 9 people) can be a bit late in paying me (the joys of being self employed), so we make sure to keep about $1500-$2000 in our account as a float so if my pay is delayed, we don’t have any problems.

    Tracking and organizing money can be complicated. I am trying to make it as easy as possible to encourage us to stick to it!

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      You guys are smart to keep that buffer in your account! Maybe I’ll boost my buffer to $500-1,000 this spring. :)

  • suzanne January 22, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Hi cait! Any chance there’s Irish in you with a name like that!! I’m Irish! Anyways, I’m new here and just wanted to say I love the blog and its really refreshing and honest that you put your numbers out there, thank you! By seeing someone else’s budget actually helps, I think, to try keep track of my own! You’re doing a fantastic job, well done :-)

    • Cait Flanders January 22, 2015 at 3:00 pm

      Hmm, nope, no Irish that I know of. My name is Caitlin, but nobody calls me that (unless I’m in trouble!). Happy the budget helped you, in some way! Good luck with yours :)

      • Suzanne January 23, 2015 at 4:11 am

        Thanks for reply. Cait is Irish language for Kate here so had wondered!!

  • Becca January 22, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    My method is pretty similar – since I’m also paid on the 15th and 30th, half of my rent comes out of each check. I’ve also just had half of my student loan payment automatically directed to a separate account from each check, so that’s split as well. Otherwise, I took a look at when all of my monthly bills come in and plan each paycheck accordingly. I also have a savings account dedicated to annual expenses – things like my rental insurance, zip car, memberships – I added them all up and divided by 24, and now I’m on track to pay them all without issue!

    • Cait Flanders January 23, 2015 at 6:17 am

      Nice! I’m bad for that and still just pay everything monthly (except my renter’s insurance dropped to like $200, so I just paid for it in-full last year). Otherwise I don’t really have any annual expenses.

  • Emily January 24, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    This post was so fantastic, thanks Cait! I’ve recently found your blog and obsessively read through the archives – although I’ve never been in debt myself, I’ve learnt so much from your values and approach to money through your journey paying off debt and now embracing a really cool approach to life. I’ve very heavily borrowed your budgeting process, and I’m looking forward to applying it this year. I will be getting paid monthly so I’ve had to tweak some things – but I think the core premise is there. Thanks again!

    • Cait Flanders January 24, 2015 at 7:47 pm

      Ahhh, comments like this excite me to no end, Emily! So glad you were able to take something from my budgeting approach and adapt it to your needs. Do you have any big financial goals for this year? :D

      • Emily January 25, 2015 at 4:31 am

        I’m trying to balance a few big financial goals – save 35% for ‘the future’, save an additional 11% for vacation/holidays (I also adore travel), and help support my boyfriend as we pay for his visa to move to Australia from Michigan (a cool $8000). So I think a few of those percentages will need a shaving down to accommodate real life! But I really liked your saving for a question mark, which inspired my 35% goal. I am planning to learn more about superannuation (the Australian retirement funds) to maximise that, as well as boost my emergency fund, so the 35% will go into one central place for now until I’ve balanced all that learning.
        Here’s to 2015 hey? :)

  • Kristy March 16, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Wow — love this, and hadn’t thought about doing a weekly check-in to see how the budget is going. Makes it much more manageable.
    Thank you!

  • Marie May 24, 2015 at 5:55 am


    I’m finding the transition to from being paid monthly to bi-weekly to semi-monthly confusing when paying my bills. I know this may sound very stupid but I do not understand how to set up my bill pay schedule.

    Should bills that are due between the 1st-15th come from your 30th pay check and bills that are due between the 16th -30th come from your 15th paycheck?

    I grew up in Europe where you get paid once a month, so you made a monthly budget…easy peasy. Then I moved to the US and had to adjust to getting paid bi-weekly…..which I kin of have figured out. I started a new job where I’m not getting paid semi-monthly. It just all so confusing. I just want to understand how to pay my bills on time to avoid late fees.