A Free Variable Income Budget Template

A Free and Editable Variable Income Budget Template

I’ve had a variable income for the last six years. Luckily I was employed the entire time, but the hours were often irregular. I worked as a caterer for several years, serving and busing at events around New York City for five to seven different companies. Even when I settled into a steady part-time job, I continued to work as a caterer, and then a freelance writer, on the side.

In spite of the fact that my income may change by thousands of dollars from one month to the next, I’ve stuck to a budget throughout it all. I started with a very simple spreadsheet and a budgeting app. Today, I use Quicken to automatically track my spending, but I still use my spreadsheet to track and manage my budget. It’s evolved over the years, and now I’m sharing it with the world. You can critique it (please do), use it, and edit it to meet your needs.

Getting Started

The spreadsheet may be a little difficult to navigate at first, but once you understand each section, it’s a breeze. It takes me just a few minutes to plug in my income and expenses each month, and the spreadsheet automatically breaks down how much I have to spend for monthly (household) expenses, food, and personal expenses. It can also track how much to put into retirement savings, how much gets set aside for charity, and up to four savings subcategories.

I’ve created a video walkthrough guide of how to use the budget, starting with this introduction video.

Get the free variable income budget template | click file -> “Make a copy” to save an editable version. 

Navigating the Budget Template

The spreadsheet is organized so the single sheet can be used to track your budget for an entire year. Scroll up or down to review information for different months, and left or right to review your income, spending allowances, expenses, and savings/taxes.

The cells with a gray background can be hidden when they’re not in use.

Recording Income and Tracking Taxes

Record income-related information in columns B through F when you get paid. You can mark whether or not the income is from a contract job, meaning the taxes aren’t taken out yet.

If you have a variable income, it may be because you’re self-employed or work as a contractor. When this is the case, you may want to put money aside to pay quarterly taxes. There is a sheet in the budget template that can help you estimate your tax burden, and you’ll use that to input your federal plus state tax rate in cell F4.

Column F shows the after-tax income, the sum of which is used to determine the following month’s budget.

Income Gets Allocated to the Following Month

There is one principle that’s essential for the spreadsheet, but may be difficult to put into practice if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. It’s the idea that the money you earn during the current month is going to get spent during the next month. In other words, if you’re paid on the first of the month isn’t spent on bills, needs, or wants, until the following month.

Once you’ve saved enough to follow along, the extra cushion of a month’s savings can help ease worries about paying bills. It can be especially important for those on a variable income as you’ll have more time to react to slowdowns.

The spreadsheet automatically pulls the income you record from the current month and uses this amount to determine the following month’s budget. You can make changes by altering the allocation, the blue cells with a percentage in column I.

Together, Personal and Food should equal 100 percent. The allocation for Savings 1, Retirement Savings, and Charity can be anywhere from zero to 100 percent, although the latter won’t leave any money for

Variable Income Budget Template - income and budget

Money flows left to right on the spreadsheet. Your income determines how much goes into your monthly budget and savings.

Get the free variable income budget template | click file -> “Make a copy” to save an editable version. 

Recording and Tracking Savings

You can use the spreadsheet to record and track how much you save for retirement and other short-term savings goals.

As with spending on food or personal expenses, when you record an expense from a savings category (column Q) your remaining balance for that category automatically updates.

Variable Income Budget Template - savings and tax

Money put into Savings 1 gets broken down into subcategories. Column W records the total amount you have remaining for each subcategory. 

Reconcile Your Accounts

The spreadsheet tracks what should be going on within your accounts, but you’ll need to do a little work to make sure it happens. Set aside some time at the beginning or end of each month to transfer funds to a retirement account and savings account(s).

Personally, I simplify the process by using a single checking account to hold all the money for my savings goals and expenses. It’s a high-yield account that gives me 3-percent interest on up to $15,000 (offered by Lake Michigan Credit Union). This way, I earn interest on all the money, and I can check to see how much I have for each savings category, or for general spending, on the spreadsheet.

This is Just a Template

Remember, the spreadsheet I’m sharing is just a template. Feel free to make edits as you see fit. Here are a few examples and explanations of the simple functions you can use to make edits. If you have questions you can also contact me at louis@saveful.com.

Get the free variable income budget template | click file -> “Make a copy” to save an editable version.