I was in a discussion about budgeting and eventually decided that there are two primary types of budgeting by households. I called them “bottom-up” and “top-down”. However, there are some differing definitions of these terms floating around, mostly in connection with businesses or governments. So first, some quick definitions:
Bottom-Up Budgeting is focusing on your spending and trying to manage each one. You keep track of your spending, either item-by-item with lists or by category using software like Quicken or Mint.com. You look at each expense somewhat holistically and decide consciously if you need to cut back or if you are happy with the amount being spent. Whatever is left, is put into savings.
Top-Down Budgeting is the simpler, big-picture type of budgeting. You decide how much you want to save from your income, either by percent or total amount. Examples: I want to save 10% of my take-home pay. I want to save $1,000 a month. After you figure how much you want to save, you just try to set that aside, and spend the rest however you like.
Alternatively, you might say “I want to spend $3,000 a month total.” I still consider this top-down budgeting if you are not looking at each expense separately each month. The focus is still basically saving some fixed amount for the future.