– If you’re just starting to budget, it’s important that your budget be realistic.  So you need to find out how much you’re actually spending.  You can look back at your bank statements for this, or use something like Mint.com that can track and categorize your spending for the next few weeks.  Tracking your expenses will allow you to understand where all your money is going, and how to build a budget you can actually execute.

– If buying a home, get a 15-year mortgage where the the payment is no more than 25% of your take-home pay.  That’s only one of the many costs of owning a home!  When renting, it can be a greater percentage, as you don’t have the other costs of maintenance, HOA, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, etc.  That being said, I wouldn’t recommend more than 35%.

– Budget billing (or balanced billing) for utilities can be helpful, but it’s not necessary.  It’s where they bill you the average of your last year’s energy bills each month, so there’s not as much fluctuation month-to-month.  Don’t use it if they want to charge you extra for the “service” of budget billing.  If you don’t use it, just read your bill each month and budget for it!