Let’s face it. Debt sucks.
Especially when it gets out of hand, and you find yourself doing everything in your power to just ignore it. However, the bills keep coming and the interest keeps piling up. Eventually, we must face the music and start chipping away at our mountain of debt.
This can be a very overwhelming place to be, but with the right tools, it can be much more simple.
In this post, I am going to share the layouts I am using in my Bullet Journal to pay off my own current pile of debt. While we are not even close to paying off our debt at the time of writing this, we have managed to pay off more in the last four months than we had in the last two years! I give a lot of credit for this to my Bullet Journal, and I am excited to share my process with you!
Understanding Where The Debt Came From
It does not take long for debt to pile up, and you may even find yourself saying, where did this even come from?
Personally, I think one step that is often overlooked when it comes to financial planning is truly understanding where your money is coming from, and where it is going. You cannot create any sort of realistic budget until you understand this. You will also never get ahead of your debt if you don’t know where the money is being spent.
When Brad and I decided to start taking our money more seriously, one thing we did was sit down and look through some of our statements to see where the money was being spent. We spent about an hour listing out some big expenses that we knew had been put on the Visa. Then, we went through the past couple of statements to determine where all the little miscellaneous charges were coming from.
This was extremely helpful for a couple of reasons.
- We were able to clean up some old subscriptions that we no longer needed or used at all.
- We were able to determine what monthly bills were coming off the Visa, so we could ensure we were setting an appropriate minimum monthly Visa payment.
Understanding where the money is going was extremely helpful for us. We now know what comes off our Visa every month, and we both have a clear picture of our finances.
Understanding Your Budget
The next step towards getting yourself set up for success to pay off your debt is creating and understanding your budget.
This post is not an in-depth guide on setting up a budget, but rather the tools I am using to help pay off my debt. Budgeting is merely one of those tools. If you are brand new to budgeting, I highly recommend you check out this blog post from Natalie Bacon, How To Create A Budget, A 6 Step Guide.
There are a couple of things I recommend you keep in mind when it comes to setting up a budget.
Be Realistic About Your Monthly Finances When Creating Your Budget!
It is easy to say I am only going to spend $100 a week on groceries, but that may not be realistic. Here in Canada, a block of cheese is $13. That would be 13% of my budget! The inevitable result of setting an unrealistic budget is overspending, and that is not going to solve any problems. Be realistic!
Make Sure You and Your Significant Other Are On The Same Page!
If you are married or have combined finances with someone, then you need to be realistic about their expectations as well! My husband does not do well on a budget. By being mindful of that, we can work together to come up with a financial plan that we are both comfortable with!
I highly recommend sitting down together at least once a month to make sure you are both on the same page about where the money is going.
Now that you have a solid understanding of where your money is going, let’s get started with the three Bullet Journal layouts that will help you organize your money, and pay off your debt!
Setting Financial Goals
Now that you have your finances sorted out, you can begin to work towards some of your financial goals! I want to take a moment to stress the importance of the first two steps outlined above! You cannot set realistic goals until you understand your money.
In this post, we are talking about paying off debt, so that would be the obvious financial goal here. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. You can use these exact Bullet Journal layouts to save up to put a down payment on a house or to a take a big trip you have been planning for!
When you are setting your goals, be sure to set SMART goals. They should be;
Some great examples of SMART financial goals would be;
- I am going to set $100 dollars aside once a month for the next 60 months totaling $6000. This amount will be used to pay for my three week trip to Japan that will be paid in full with cash only.
- I am going to pay an additional $50 every week to my credit card debt. With my current balance sitting at $5000, this will take 100 weeks (two years) to pay off in full.
You can see from the example above that the goals are very specific. They outline the exact amount of money set aside, as well as the frequency. They are measurable and have a timeline stated. Ensure they are attainable with your monthly expenses, otherwise, you will not be able to succeed. Again, go back to your budget if you find you are not achieving these goals.
If you would like to learn more about setting goals in your Bullet Journal, check out my blog post, The Ultimate Guide To Setting Goals In Your Bullet Journal.
Now I am going to show you how you can complete all of the above steps with three minimalist Bullet Journal layouts. These simple layouts will only take a few minutes to create, and will help pave the path for achieving your financial goals!
The Three Layouts I Am Using To Pay Off My Debts
The best way to apply the foundational tips I outlined above is by creating three different layouts in your Bullet Journal. Each layout we are going to talk about relates to the tips I provided above.
This is the core foundation I am currently using to get Brad and I out from underneath our debt mountain.
Please note that I tend to have a very minimalist layout style! I encourage you to read through this section, and take a look at my layouts for the foundational steps! Once you have a full understanding of this system, take those foundational steps, and create your own Bullet Journal layouts that can be as minimalist or as artistic as you like! Remember, these layouts should motivate you! Put into them what will help you stay focused and on track!
Monthly Expenses Layout
The first layout is very easy to set up and can come in extremely handy when you are going to set up your monthly budget! This spread should only contain information about your fixed monthly expenses, as this will be a spread you can refer back to every month when you plan out your budget.
Some examples of this would be;
- Mortgage or Rent
- House or Rental Insurance
- Car Payment
- Car Insurance
- Gym Membership Fee
It is up to you how much information you want to include on this layout, but my suggestions are;
- Bill name – ie. Mortgage
- Fixed biweekly or monthly amount.
- Frequency – ie. Every second Monday
- Method of payment – ie. Chequing Account or Visa
This will be very useful information when you go to create your monthly budget. I have found months where there are five Mondays. which has resulted in us having three mortgage payments to budget for in one month. Had I not known that I would not have been prepared for that extra $900 payment to come out of our account.
Below is a photo example of what my monthly expense log looks like. Again, there is not a lot of information on this spread, however, the information you put on it will be very useful for you!
Monthly Budget Layout
The possibilities for budget layouts are endless, and will depend on what you are tracking on a month to month basis, as well as how detailed you want to get!
Personally, I tend to lean towards a minimalist approach, and my budget layouts are not actually all that in-depth. I am going to share how we are currently setting up our budget. Take a look, and then modify it to suit your family’s needs.
1. Start With Your Household Income!
I always start by tracking our monthly income and suggest you do the same! The importance of this is being able to see if you brought in more money than you spent. If you find after a couple of months your expenses are more than your income, you are going to need to find a way to scale back the expenses, or a way to make more money!
2. Add-In Your Fixed Monthly Expenses!
Next, write out all of your fixed monthly expenses! Utilize your monthly calendar along with the monthly expense log detailed in the step above. Create a grand total of these fixed expenses, and subtract it from your projected income! The amount of money left over will be the amount you can use to budget out your remaining expenses!
3. Finally, Create Your Monthly Budget!
The final step is creating your monthly budget using the amount left over after you allocate your fixed monthly expenses.
Now, this post is not a detailed walkthrough of how to create a budget. However, I want to give you a couple of tips to get started. These steps are the exact steps I am taking to create my monthly budget!
Start by creating a section on your layout that will contain four columns. In the first column, write down the names or categories of your remaining expenses. Some examples could be;
The second column should contain the amount you have budgeted for each of the expenses listed above.
The third column will contain your actual amount spent on the expenses listed above, and will be filled in at the end of the month!
The fourth and final column will be the difference between what you budgeted vs. what was actually spent. The reason I like to include this column is it helps me to create a more accurate budget the following month!
*Please try to include the amount you can allot to pay off your debt each month within your monthly budget!
Debt Payment Tracker Layout
The final layout to help you begin to pay off your debt is some form of a debt payment tracker! For those of you who don’t know what a tracker is, it is something used often in the Bullet Journal community to track the progress of a goal, or how often you are completing a task.
The reason I am using a tracker to help pay off my debt is simple. When you think back to the SMART goal you set, one element of that is the M which stands for Measurable! This tracker provides a way to measure your progress!
Trackers can be very easy to set up, and there are multiple layout styles that you can do!
Creating The Tracker Layout!
To keep this tracker simple, I took four steps.
- Determine how much money each square in your tracker is going to be worth.
- Determine the total amount of what you need to pay. Divide that by how much each box is worth. This will be the total of how many boxes you need.
- Next, count how many squares go across your page. Divide the total number of boxes you need (calculated in step 2), and divide by how many boxes go across the page in your notebook. This number will be how many rows you need.
- Draw out the box for your tracker based on how many rows and columns you need!
That may be confusing, so let me break down my tracker for you!
- I determined that I wanted each box to be worth $50. The reason I went with this amount is I felt that it was more likely to able to throw an extra $50 to the Visa when we could then an extra $100. This method has actually proven to be very motivating for us!
- The total amount of debt that was on our Credit Card at the time of making my tracker was $26,250. (P.S. yes… that physically hurt to type. However, I want to be totally honest and transparent with you! We all have things in our lives, and this is one of those things that I am dealing with right now!) When I divide that by $50, I know I need 525 boxes.
- I am able to draw my tracker with 25 boxes going across. 525 divided by 25 means I need 21 rows.
- I drew out my tracker box with 21 rows going down the page and 25 columns across the page.
Finally, holding my pen straight up and down, I drew darker dots on the dots within the tracker so that they can be seen clearly. This step is optional!
How To Create Your Layout If You Have Multiple Sources Of Debt
When Brad and I got married, we were able to condense all of our debt down to one Visa. For this reason, I only needed to create one large tracker layout.
However, if you have multiple sources of debt, you will need to modify your layout!
I would highly suggest you check out the debt snowball method that was created by Dave Ramsey! This system focuses on your smallest debt first, working your way towards your biggest debt. If you want to try this system, I suggest drawing out a tracker for each source of debt, starting with the smallest!
Should you add anything else to your Debt Tracker layout?
I have personally included one more thing on my Debt Tracker layout, and that is my SMART goal! This serves as a reminder every time I flip to that page what my goal is, so that I am constantly mindful of it, and working towards it!
My Bullet Journal has helped us immensely! Budgeting and controlling our finances used to be rather difficult. This new system has just worked so well for us the past few months, that I was so eager to share it with all of you! My hope is that you can use these layouts to work towards achieving some of your own financial goals!
Do you budget or do any financial planning in your Bullet Journal? How has it helped you? Be sure to let me know in the comments below! I would love to hear your story! If you don’t feel comfortable posting it publicly, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I love hearing from you, and respond to every email I get!
Until next time!