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Building a Spending Plan: Step 4—How Much Are Your Fixed and Flexible Expenses?1

Nayda I. Torres, Josephine Turner, and Brenda C. Williams 2

This step helps you record all of your expenditures each month. There are two major types of expenses in a spending plan. They are "fixed expenses" and "flexible or controllable expenses."

Fixed expenses are those you usually pay on a regular basis. They may be the same amount each time, or they may vary from month to month. Here are some common fixed expenses:

  • Child care

  • Rent or mortgage

  • Household bills (water, electricity, phone)

  • Installment plans (car, loans)

  • Insurance premiums

  • Deposits to savings account

Many fixed expenses are paid every month, but others have to be paid every three months (quarterly), every six months (semiannually), or every year (annually).

Flexible expenses are those that usually vary in amount from month to month. Since you are not committed to previous agreements with others for these amounts, you have more control over these expenses than for fixed expenses. When you are squeezed financially, you can cut back on flexible expenses or even cut some out. Flexible expenses can include the following:

  • Food (groceries, eating out)

  • Clothing (new clothes, clothing repairs, dry cleaning)

  • Transportation (gasoline, car repair, public transportation)

  • Medical care (doctor bills, medicine)

  • Education and recreation (books, magazines, movies, entertainment, vacations)

  • Personal care (haircuts, manicures)

  • Gifts and donations (birthdays, holidays, charity)

Figure 1. 
Figure 1. 
Credit: JupiterImages, © Getty Images

Flexible expenses usually vary from month to month. People who keep spending records for the first time are often surprised by how much they spend on things they don't really need or want.

As you gain better control over your flexible expenses, you will have an easier time covering your fixed expenses, avoiding late penalties, and achieving your financial goals.

There are four tables that are provided to assist you in calculating your total expenses. Follow the directions below for each of the tables.

Table 1 is designed for you to list all of your monthly fixed expenses. If some of your expenses are paid other than monthly (such as a quarterly car insurance payment or a semiannual homeowner's insurance premium), use Table 3 to convert the payments into monthly payment amounts. Do not total the categories until you have completed Table 3.

Table 2 is designed for you to list all of your monthly flexible expenses. You may total these categories when you have listed all of this type of expense.

Table 3 is to be completed to make your record of expenses more complete. Think about the types of expenses listed and how often you make payments. If you make these payments monthly, then list that amount under the proper category in Table 2. If you make a quarterly payment (four times a year), list that amount under the "amount paid quarterly" column. If you make only two payments a year, list that under the "amount paid semiannually" column. Do this for all the payments that are made other than monthly. The calculation chart following Table 3 gives directions for converting these kinds of payments into monthly dollar amounts (to be listed in the "calculated monthly" column). List these same monthly amounts under the proper categories in Table 1. Then you can add all of the categories in Table 1.

Table 4 is a final chart to list and add categories so that you get a grand total of all your expenses. This total will be used in Step 5 (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/he825).

Remember, these tables are only meant to help you make your first spending plan. You may add and delete categories to make the tables fit your exact expenditures.

Use Tables 1 and 2 to record and total your fixed and flexible expenses. These expenses are calculated by the month. These amounts can be determined by using your receipts, bank statements, check register, and other records.

In order to make your record of expenses more complete, you need to list those payments that you may not make every month. An example would be auto insurance that you pay quarterly (four times a year) or homeowner's insurance you pay semiannually (twice a year). Think about these types of fixed expenses and fill in the chart provided in Table 3.

Note: To get a monthly amount for the expenses listed in Table 3 above, use the following calculations:

  • If the payment is made quarterly (four times a year), divide the amount by 3.

  • If the payment is made semiannually (twice a year), divide the amount by 6.

  • If the payment is made annually (once a year), divide the amount by 12.

List these amounts in the last column of Table 3 above and also in Table 1.

Table 4 provides a chart for you to total your fixed and flexible expenses for a monthly grand total of expenses. This is the amount of money you will need each month to cover all your expenses.

By completing all these charts in Step 4, you should have a complete determination of your total expenses per month.

For the rest of the steps in the Building a Spending Plan series, visit https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_series_building_a_spending_plan.

Tables

Table 1. 
Table 2. 
Table 3. 
Table 4. 

Footnotes

1. This document is FCS7170, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date February 1997. Revised July 2012. Reviewed December 2018. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. Nayda I. Torres, professor emerita; and Josephine Turner, professor emerita, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; and Brenda C. Williams, Extension agent IV, UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County; UF/IFAS Extension Gainesville, FL 32611.

Publication #FCS7170

Date: 1/17/2019

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