Cost of living

Basic Budgeting: How much do I need to make to live like I want? 

Like governments and businesses, it is important for individuals and families to have a budget so they understand how much money they make and spend each month. Fortunately, apps like Mint can help you track your budget, but it is also good to know where your money is going without the help of technology. 

Where you live matters:

The cost of many common items in your budget will be different depending on where you live. The Economic Policy Institute estimates housing for one person in the Madison area is around $769 per month while the Janesville-Beloit area costs $596. Prices are even higher in other cities like Chicago ($879) or San Francisco ($2,014). Here’s a look at how some common costs compare across metro areas. 

What makes up your budget?

At its heart, a budget is about how much you make and how much you spend. Every month, there are certain costs you can plan for like rent, utilities, groceries and food, and transportation costs like gas for your car. There are also unexpected costs like medical bills if you get hurt or car repairs if you’re in an accident. You should plan some extra cushion in your budget to account for these, to save for bigger purchases in the future or to pay for things you want to do like going to a Brewers game or attending a concert. It may seem like it is a long way off, but you should also plan to set some money aside for your retirement. 

What changes my budget?

The amount of money you spend each month on some things, like rent, may not change very much. Other costs may go up and down depending on your activities. For example, utilities charge you based on how much natural gas or electricity you use, so if you have to heat or cool your house a lot, your costs may go up if those items are not included in your rent. The amount you spend on food may also change if you eat at restaurants a lot since they are generally more expensive than cooking at home. 

How do I save money?

If you want to save money for bigger purchases like a house, a new car or a nice vacation you will need to spend less than you make each month. There are lots of ways to save money on regular costs including splitting housing with roommates, buying generic products instead of name brands, buying in bulk, not using credit cards or at least making sure you pay off your balance every month to avoid interest costs. 

Extra cash

Save up for these special times and treats

As you put together your budget, here are some other things to consider:

  • What are your long-term financial goals? Do you want to buy a house? A new car?
  • What do you need to have versus what do you just want to have? 
  • How could you increase the amount you make each month? 
  • How could you cut costs or find cheaper alternatives?

iPhone 13:

  • $699 to $1,099

Wisconsin state Parks:

  • Annual Vehicle Sticker: $28
  • Daily: $8 
  • Devil’s lake daily: $13
  • Peninsula & Willow River Daily: $10

Packers gear:

  • Packers T-shirt: $25
  • Packers Jersey: $100 $370


  • 32-inch TCL Roku TV: $200
  • 65-inch LG G1 OLED TV: $2,300

Cascade Mountain

  • Night ticket: $40
  • Platinum SEASON Pass: $650


  • Serial 1 MOSH/CTY ebike: $3,799


  • Spotify: $9.99/month
  • Netflix: $9.99 – $19.99/month
  • Disney+ bundle $13.99 $19.99/month