Whether you’re putting together your first budget or you’re an old hand at this money management tool, sticking to a monthly budget can be harder than you think. Unexpected expenses or a financial emergency could throw off your entire budget for one month. Or you might overspend in certain categories, knocking your budget out of whack.
Sticking to your budget doesn’t have to be difficult, though, if you take time to create a budget that works and leave room for more than just basic monthly expenses.
Budgeting often gets a bad rap for being tremendous hassle. But maintaining a household budget is the best way to avoid debt problems, save money consistently and achieve your goals. What’s more, budgeting doesn’t need to be tedious! With the right strategy, you can maintain an accurate household budget without a lot of work. These twenty budgeting tips can help you get started.
Note: The tips in this section support building a budget using the method we describe on How to Create a Budget and Stick to It. If you have not built a formal budget, we recommend starting there first. Then you can come back and use these tips to refine your budgeting strategy.
Know why you’re budgeting
Why even bother with a budget if there was no purpose? Clue: it’s not just to track your money. Set short and long-term financial goals to improve your life. You can’t just plan for the far-off future. Make sure you have quick wins that keep you motivated. Keep your goals visible when you are making budgeting decisions. What are you going to do with that holiday bonus?
#1 Your urgency of having a budget
Keeping to a budget is determined by why you have a budget. The urgency of why you need a budget is personal. Some people have no problem living within their means and just want a way to track and plan for the future. They have no real urgency to stick to a budget because they have an income buffer. They can have a more flexible budget.
On the other hand, nearly 65% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Many are always turning to credit cards to cover costs and digging into debt. Their urgency for making and sticking to a budget is apparent. The struggle to cover bills is stressful and no way to live. The options are limited to increasing income and/or reducing spending. But, this is easier said than done. No matter how urgent your budget is, your first goal should be an emergency fund to cover a few months of expenses.
#2 Keep your goals visible
Motivation for sticking to your budget comes down to your goals. Travel, buy a house, or become debt free, you need to keep your purpose in the foreground so you don’t lose focus on why you are “depriving yourself”. Make sure you have short and long-term goals that are realistic. Prioritize the order you want to accomplish them in a logical path starting with an emergency fund and then getting out of debt. You should have some fun goals sprinkled in like buying a new computer or a vacation. Track your progress, you may want to create a physical representation like a thermometer or a latter with incremental goals listed.
#3 Have an accountability partner
Invest in yourself. Treat your budget like a business and get a CFO. Whether it’s your partner, best friend, or your mom, find someone who will help you help yourself. Meet up and go over finances and goals like a board meeting. Your accountability partner or budget buddy can keep you motivated and focused, and give you feedback if your goals are too lofty. Having someone else involved in the process will help you stay on track. You can make it an event instead of a tedious task, and celebrate your successes.
#4 Meet with a credit counselor
If you prefer in-person guidance on creating a budget that you can stick to, consider making an appointment with a credit counselor at a nonprofit credit counseling agency. Most nonprofit credit counseling agencies are free or charge only a nominal fee. The credit counselor can help you come up with a realistic budget. A credit counselor can also assist with creating a debt management plan to reduce or eliminate credit card or other debts to free up more money in your monthly budget down the road.
#5 Connect your spending to your work
When you buy something, think of it as time at work. If you work a minimum wage job, $7.25 / hour, a venti caffe latte ($4.15) costs you about 30 minutes of work. That doesn’t even take taxes into consideration. You can also use this to cross-compare products, a month of work for a new outfit, or a nice dinner out with friends. Shifting your thinking to hours worked can help you put purchases into perspective.
#6 Make budgeting a household affair
A Budgeting Survey from Debt.com found that almost half of people who budget say it’s a group effort. That means that over half of people who budget go it alone. That can make budgeting more difficult because everyone in the house is not working towards the same goal.
If one person in your house is trying to budget and save while the other partner is spending, you’ll never get anywhere. So, you need to make budgeting a group effort in your household. Everyone – including any kids – should know that the household is on a budget. Everyone should do what they can to help save money and achieve household goals. You’ll make it where you want to be a lot faster if you move forward as a group.
Create a realistic budget
It’s easy to underestimate how much you need to spend each month. Be as realistic as possible when you make up your budget. That way, when you stay within the budget each month, you can be proud of your financial progress. Make sure to leave a little buffer for variable expenses or seasonal costs. You already know what your rent, car, or mortgage payment is and can estimate the monthly cost of utilities. But what about other expenses that you could underestimate or forget about entirely? You may work so hard at crunching numbers to make the budget work that you end up overspending by $50 a week on lunch or groceries.
#7 Budget for the income you receive, enter money when it arrives
This budgeting tip is important, especially if you receive income from things like alimony or child support. If your ex doesn’t pay what they’re supposed to, it can throw off your budget. You can’t depend on that money to cover expenses if it isn’t consistent. So, you need to budget for what you actually receive. It’s the same for windfalls too, when birthday cash or a bonus comes that’s the moment it should be entered into your budget (we suggest savings).
#8 Leave breathing room in your budget with free cash flow
Another big mistake that people make when they budget is budgeting down to the last penny. Some “experts” even recommend that you should allocate every dollar. Don’t do it! It’s a mistake that will invariably lead to credit card debt.
Unexpected expenses inevitably pop up – usually every month. If you’re always dipping into emergency savings for these costs, you’ll never get the financial safety net that you need. A much better strategy is to leave breathing room in your budget known as free cash flow. This money is separate from what you put in savings. It’s basically extra cash in your checking account that you can use as needed.
A good rule of thumb is that the expenses in your budget should only use up 75% of your income or less. That 75% includes the money you pay yourself (savings). That leaves 25% of your cash to cover anything from the dog getting into some chocolate to an unexpected school trip.
#9 Create your own budget categories
Not everyone spends money on the same things.If you don’t organize your spending in a way that makes sense to you, there is no way you will be able to stay on budget. Categories will reflect your lifestyle foodie, fashionista, gamer, audiophile, or bibliophile, and will have different spending needs and goals.
#10 Use a “cheat” category to celebrate
Just like a diet it’s a good idea to have a cheat day. All work and no play will make you crazy. Set aside a little money for something extra, be it going to a coffee shop for your daily joe or going out for drinks with co-workers on Friday. You might want to make it part of your accountability meeting. You decide how often you get to cheat, weekly small splurges or once a month, something a little more indulgent. Just keep an eye on your goals and don’t go overboard.
#11 Budget just one or two categories at first
If you are struggling to track all your expenses start small with food costs. After the fixed non-discretionary costs; rent, loan payments, and utilities like internet and phone are the same every month, food costs are the most important to track. Look back at how much you spent last month and figure out if you can cut back. Once you have food under control, you can always expand into more categories, beauty, clothes, or entertainment.
#12 Divide food costs into two categories
The more you can break up expenses into specific categories, the better off you usually are. One of the most common expenses that benefit from being broken up is food. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household spends about 12.5% of their budget on food.
But food costs can vary widely depending on how much you cook at home versus eating out. Buying groceries tends to result in a much lower food budget than eating out every day. And while food is a necessity, eating out is a luxury. So, it makes sense to break your food budget up – have one expense for groceries and another discretionary expense for dining out.
Then, if you need to cut back spending for any reason, you know which part of your food budget to cut.
Evaluate your current spending habits
Find outliers, the occasional large expenditure is to be expected, medical bills or home improvements. But multiple expensive dinners or online shopping purchases are cause for concern. Repetitive small charges can add up to big bucks over time, food and drink purchase are usually the culprits. Setting non-financial limits, like only going out once a month or buying coffee once a week, can help curb those expenses.
#13 Focus on what you need right now
Goals are important but looking too far into the future can be daunting. You don’t know everything that could happen in the future. Relax, start small, and plan for tomorrow. As your little goals are being accomplished you can work on longer-term goals.
#14 Create weekly budgets for certain expenses
Some expenses have a shorter cycle. Food costs are a great example of weekly expenses. It may be easier if you allocate food funds by meals. You can even add in splurge days if you decide to go out to eat.
#15 Include expenses for cash transactions and small incidentals
Small cash purchases often get left out of people’s budgets. You stop every workday at the vending machine and spend $2.50 for a soda and an afternoon snack. It seems small, so you don’t include it in your budget. But long-term, these small incidentals can add up to a big expense. For instance, $2.50 multiplied by 5 days per week for 50 weeks per year comes out to $625.
So, if you have small incidentals that you purchase regularly, make sure they make it into your budget. These types of purchases are usually discretionary because they tend to be wants instead of needs. Putting them in your budget gives you an easy line item to cut if you need to increase cash flow.
#16 Set non-financial limits
If you struggle to stick to financial limits try setting time limits. Limit how many times you get retail coffee or order takeout each week or month. Just make sure you have a financial cap on how much you spend, it’s not a free for all.
#17 Set practical targets on flexible expenses
One of the most difficult decisions you make as you build a budget is how to account for expenses that change. By definition, the cost of flexible expenses varies from month to month. You can’t possibly spend exactly the same dollar amount on groceries or even gas for your car.
So, how do you account for expenses that change? There are two options:
- Take an average of three months of spending to set a target
- Find your highest spend in that category and set that as your target
You may choose to do the former for some flexible expenses and the latter for others. For example, taking an average spend works for things like groceries, pet care and clothing. But it may not work as well for things like your electric bill and gas for your car. In these cases, the yearly high may be the better way to go. This also leads into our next tip…
#18 Use credit cards strategically for recurring expenses to earn rewards
Another nice thing about having an organized budget is that you can find strategic uses for credit cards. Many rewards cards offer incentives for certain types of purchases. So, you can use a gas credit card to earn miles as you fill up. Then you have a card that gives you cash-back on grocery store purchases. There are even cards that offer rewards for using it to pay bills, like your utilities.
Find these cards and assign them a specific purpose. Then, take the cash you would have spent on that expense to pay off the credit card bill in-full. This way, you earn rewards and still keep your net credit utilization near zero. It’s good for your credit score and good for your budget.
Get professional help to clean up errors in your credit report.
Planning ahead for seasonal expenses
As you get used to organizing your budget you will see trends. Annual or semi-annual costs can be pretty big. Don’t be caught off guard when your insurance bill comes. Saving little bits throughout the year is much more manageable.
#19 Know when fixed expenses may adjust
Fixed expenses are not set in stone. Most of them may adjust annually – and most of them usually go up. If you know when fixed expenses adjust, you can plan ahead to easily absorb any increases. That gives you breathing room to readjust your budget for the higher cost.
For example, let’s say your condo rental agreement renews every year in June. In April and May, you may want to increase savings to ensure you can easily cover any potential rental increase. Then, once you see how much your rent goes up, you go back to your budget and adjust it accordingly. As always, make sure that your expenses only take up about 75% of your income with savings built in.
#20 Compare brands
We all know the ad, “Fifteen minutes…”It’s true, regular comparison shopping and trying to negotiate rates can save you money. It is a must for seasonal expenses like insurance, utility providers, and even credit card companies. You see an ad for a competitor, and you call your current provider to ask if they can price match. Worst case they say no and you have the hassle of setting up a new account but you saved a bunch of money.
#21 Make seasonal adjustments to keep a budget balanced
Many flexible expenses change seasonally. Gas is almost always more expensive in the summer. Water bills also tend to be higher in the summer if you live in a single-family home (especially one with a pool). Your electric bill will vary seasonally, too; it may be higher or lower in the summer, depending on where you live.
If you set these types of flexible expenses around the most expensive month in the year, you may not need to make seasonal adjustments. You’ll just have more cash flow in the months where you don’t hit that high.
But another school of thought that can help you save and achieve goals is to make seasonal adjustments. You set targets for each season and when the targets are lower, you allocate more money to other things. For example, you can focus on faster debt repayment in winter when some of these expenses are lower. This can be especially helpful given that the winter holidays are the most expensive time of year. Speaking of…
#22 Use your budget to plan ahead for expensive times of year
There are two times of year that are notably more expensive for most households:
- The winter holiday shopping season (end of October through New Year) tends to be the most expensive for everyone.
- If you have kids, the back to school shopping season in August is the second most expensive.
In the lead up to these times of increased spending, it’s a good idea to cut back on a few expenses so you can save more. In addition to the regular savings that you’re putting away every month, you divert a little extra cash into savings to cover you during these key shopping seasons.
This allows you to avoid credit card debt, because you have savings and extra cash flow available. You can either make purchases in cash or with your debit card, or you can use credit but pay off the bills in-full. This allows you to earn rewards that many credit cards offer during these peak shopping times, without generating debt.
#23 Always set a budget for winter holiday spending
The winter holidays are the most expensive time of year for almost every family. Most households spend over $1,000 to make the holiday season merry and bright. But most households don’t have $1,000 in free cash flow just lying around! This is why the last quarter of the year always has the biggest increases in consumer credit card debt.
Each year, you should get organized for the holidays in advance. Set a holiday budget that includes gifts, meals, travel, postage, decorations and everything else. Then figure out how much extra you need to save leading up to the holidays. Ideally, being able to budget, save and shop for the holidays throughout the year is the way to go. According to Debt.com’s 2019 Budgeting Survey, about a third of people budget for the holidays throughout the year.
In any case, at the very least, set up a holiday budget in September or October to give yourself time to plan and time to save. This will help you avoid a holiday debt hangover!
Learn: How to Make a Holiday Budget
Use a budgeting style that works for you
Whether you use a percentage-based system or all cash, the budgeting style must fit into your goals and lifestyle.
#24 Automate everything
Avoid the temptation of spending if you don’t have access. Direct deposit into savings and pay your non-discretionary bills automatically. This will make sure bills are paid on time, avoid late fees, and even help your credit score. Then you only have to worry about budgeting some variable expenses. Use a cash-only approach to shopping and always have a list to keep you from splurging.
#25 Split up direct deposits to match your budget goals
Once you decide how much you want to save, there’s another step you can take. You can ask your HR department to split your Direct Deposit between two accounts. You can ask for a percentage of your paycheck to go to a savings account with the rest going to checking.
This is another way to help ensure you save money consistently. As you begin to grow your savings, you may decide to get more than one savings account. For example, Money Market Accounts (MMA) offer tiered savings rates, so the more you save the faster you earn. MMA savings rates are typically notably higher than traditional savings accounts. So, they can be a good place to keep long-term savings for major goals, such as buying your first home.
#26 Budget to zero
After the money comes in, you want to give every dollar a job. Not every penny needs to be spent, just accounted for, be it food, transportation, or savings. If you find you are always short in particular categories you need to adjust the allocation. It’s better to overestimate how much you will need for variable expenses and have surplus money at the end of the month than to continuously dip into emergency savings. Remember you want to leave breathing room in your budget. As you pay off bills you can move that money to another task. Each month you can change jobs till you find the balance that works for you.
#27 Try a budget for two weeks
If your budget it’s not working, then try something else. Maybe only some parts mesh with your lifestyle. If you are new to budgeting or are trying to change your spending habits its going to be a little awkward at first. Make sure you are not using excuses not to budget, it’s hard work, and some sacrifices will be made.
#28 Find a tool that fits the way you like to budget
Budgeting is notorious for being a hassle, but it’s essential if you want to reach your goals. That means you need to find the fastest and easiest way to budget so you can keep it up. Whether that involves pen and paper, online spreadsheets or smartphone budgeting apps, choose resources that fit your lifestyle. And keep in mind that the easiest way for your neighbor to budget may not work for you.
Budgeting tools like Personal Financial Management tools and budgeting software may make budgeting easier for some. However, Debt.com’s 2019 Budgeting Survey found that most people prefer “old school” methods of budgeting. Almost two-thirds use pen and paper, while one-third prefer spreadsheets.
- The right budgeting tool is the one that:
- Easily captures all the numbers you want to measure
- Minimizes the amount of time it takes you to budget effectively
- Helps you reach your goals
So, if you use a budgeting tool that doesn’t categorize things the way you want them, it’s not the tool you should use. In this case, you may be better off with a pen and paper or spreadsheets.
In the spirit of making things easy, Debt.com has several resources that can help people that prefer “old-school” budgeting methods. First, you can download our budgeting worksheets. Or we’ve partnered with Tiller to offer easy-to-use budgeting spreadsheets.
#29 Be wary of warning signs
Ording a mid-day coffee every day, mindlessly scrolling your favorite store online, or shrugging off constantly being over budget might be signs your budget isn’t working for you. Perhaps your budget is too restrictive if you are always overspending. You may also need to reevaluate your goals and remember why you are budgeting.
Fine-tune budget savings
Creating a realistic budget doesn’t mean you can’t still save money on certain budget categories. Let’s say you budget $200 a week on groceries for your household. You may be able to shave $50 a week off that amount by taking advantage of grocery store sales or shopping at a discount grocer. If you go out to eat every day at work, you may save $20 to $50 a week if you take your lunch for a few days and choose lunch venues that offer daily lunch specials.
#30 Pay yourself first
Set up automatic deposits from your paycheck for retirement accounts and savings accounts. Make the amount worthwhile but not something that could break your budget. Don’t even consider this in your net income. Next thing you know you have a few hundred dollars set aside for an emergency or a trip.
#31 Savings should be a fixed expense in your budget
One of the biggest mistakes that most people make in saving money is not including it in their budget. You decide to save whatever you have left at the end of the month. But this is a good way to ensure you never save anything at all.
Instead, savings should be a line item in your budget. You determine how much you can afford to save each month. Ideally, you should save about 5-10% of your take-home income or more. Then you set that amount as a fixed expense in your budget. It’s basically a bill you pay yourself each month. This is how you make saving money a consistent habit that you can keep up.
#32 Build emergency savings
Nothing wrecks a budget like an unexpected emergency. What if you have to spend $4,000 on a new furnace or air conditioner? You could crash your bike and end up in the emergency room, footing the bill for the entire amount if you haven’t met your health insurance deductible. Maybe you’ll have to travel suddenly for a family emergency.
In a financial emergency, the last thing you want to do is short-change other creditors or put the entire expense on a credit card. Yet that’s exactly what you’ll have to do if you want to stay within your budget but have no emergency savings.
If you don’t have emergency savings, you can open an account with even a small amount such as $50 or $100. Then make sure you have a category in your monthly budget for regular contributions to your emergency fund. Before you know it, you’ll have enough saved to handle emergencies in full or at least reduce the amount charged to a credit card.
#33 Right size your emergency savings fund
If you don’t have anything in savings, then your first goal should be to save $1,000. This is a good starting emergency savings fund amount, since it will cover most unexpected expenses. However, it’s not nearly big enough to be the full emergency savings fund you need. For that, you need to do some calculations to determine how big your emergency savings fund really should be.
Most experts recommend that you should save 3-6 months of budgeted expenses in your emergency savings fund. So, if you have $1,500 of expenses every month, your ideal emergency savings fund would be $4,500 to $9,000. This fund is large enough that you could live on it if you lose your job or are unable to work for a few months. The idea is that you could survive a period of no income without taking on massive credit card debt.
Once you get an emergency savings fund that’s big enough, consider moving it to something like a Money Market Account. That way, your emergency savings serves a purpose, even if you don’t dip into it.
#34 Track your emergency fund
If you have to dip into your emergency fund make sure it is for a real emergency. You must track it and replenish it ASAP. Borrowing money constantly is a sign your budget is not balanced and working. When a true emergency happens you won’t be able to handle it.
Use your budget to pay off debt faster
One of the best things about having a budget in place is being able to use it to achieve key financial goals. Once you set up a budget with built-in savings, you can allocate extra funds to paying off
debt faster. Here are a few tips you can use:
- Set up a credit card debt reduction plan so you pay off your balances and minimize interest charges
- Use your budget to make extra payments on loans that don’t have early repayment penalty fees
- Consider the value of making an extra mortgage or car payment once per quarter to pay off those debts faster
- Get your finances organized, so you can use faster student loan repayment options, such as private consolidation or a graduated repayment plan for federal loans.
Read more about Finding the Best Way to Get Out of Debt
#35 Sleep on big purchases
The larger the expense the longer you should wait before buying. Most large purchases should be saved up for if possible. You should shop around for a deal and make sure it’s a good buy not only for the price but durability and quality too. Ask yourself: Is there a daily benefit? Is this s need? Is there an alternative? Can I afford the loan payments? It’s not meant to be if you have forgotten about the purchase after a week.
#36 Learn to say no (or not now)
You don’t always have to “keep up with the Jones’s” social media, it’s okay to “Just say no.” If you have said no to a social engagement because your emotional battery is empty, you can say no to a purchase because your budget is empty. All it will lead to is buyer’s remorse.
#37 Ditch the credit card
Enjoy today and pay tomorrow, with interest. Unless you can pay your balance in full when the bill comes, do not use credit when you are trying to pay down debt. Keep them out of your wallet and away from your computer to limit impulse shopping.
#38 Keep your credit card low
Low interest and low limits will help you from building back debt. If you must use a card because your emergency fund isn’t established, make sure it’s a zero or low-interest-rate card. Maybe you have an old rewards card you want to keep active. You can call and ask to lower your limit if the available funds are too tempting for a spending spree. Be aware that this will change your credit utilization ratio and might lower your credit score. Make sure you pay your card off in full at the end of the month or before the introductory rate increases.
#39 If you have high credit card balances, make debt repayment a fixed expense
Credit cards are revolving debt. That means the minimum payment requirement changes based on how much you charge. Paying off bills is a necessity, so this would seem to make credit card debt repayment a flexible expense. And, if you pay your bills off in-full every month, it probably is a flexible expense.
However, there are some cases where it makes sense to make credit card debt repayment a fixed expense. This happens when you’re carrying balances over from month to month or you just made a big purchase. If there’s a big balance to repay, then you want to make a plan to pay it off as fast as possible.
In this case, figure out how much money you can allocate for credit card debt elimination. Then make that a temporarily fixed expense in your budget. You spend that much to pay off your balances each month. Then you implement a credit card debt reduction plan to minimize interest charges and reach zero faster.
Talk to a debt relief specialist to find the best way to pay off credit card debt.
In the beginning, it’s important to take a few minutes to review your budget each day. This will help make budgeting a good habit. Changing bad habits can be tough but with practice it’s a skill you will learn to hone. Don’t worry about being perfect, just be consistent. If you forget, just check it when you have a few spare moments.
#40 Check your calendar before you make the budget
If you are invited to an event make sure you add it to your budget ASAP. Allocate enough for all potential costs, new clothes, shoes, hair, nails, gifts, transportation, lodging, and food. Don’t be caught last minute because you forgot a birthday party tomorrow. Know when seasonal expenses are coming up so you can shop around for better prices for insurance or utilities when a contract ends.
#41 Check the budget before spending
Let your conscience budget be your guide. This is very important especially if you are an impulse shopper. If you see something you want, make sure you have money to spend. New jeans, what is your clothing budget? Cookies on sale, what’s your grocery budget? Larger purchases need to be considered too, don’t let a sale lead you into debt. Take a moment to consider how much you are spending. Is the deal too good to pass up or will it come around again?
#42 Enter day-to-day spending immediately
Always keep your receipts so you can track your daily spending. If you are using a cash envelope system this is a little easier, because you can only spend what you have. But if you are using a gas rewards card, make sure you deduct it from your available balance. This works best if you have a digital system on your phone either an app or a spreadsheet used for tracking purchases.
#43 Reconcile your budget and bank account frequently
This is the most annoying part of budgeting but, if you make it a daily habit it should only take a few minutes. The longer you wait the higher the chances are of errors in your budget. Many apps have a feature that helps you with this tedious process. First look at the accounts for your bank and credit cards, if you are using one, confirm all expenses to date. Now, compare this to your budget and make sure they match. Variable expenses are essential to track. Were they higher or lower than your estimation? Consider the reasons for the discrepancy. A change in the weather or an unforeseen event you didn’t plan for may be the cause.
#44 Change the budget when needed
If you notice you are always low on funds for certain things like food or utilities, you need to take a hard look at your spending. Adjust your budget with real numbers. If you eat out more than once a week like you planned you need to account for that, either by being more disciplined or accepting you are not a meal prep person. Update your categories and targets, and budget for yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses, the budget needs to work for your goals and lifestyle.
#45 Analyze your budget semi-annually to make sure you’re on track
It’s a good idea to check back on your budget at least once every six months to make sure you are on track. This is a good way to ensure that you’re hitting the targets you set on flexible expenses. You can also see if there are any new expenses to add in, or you may need to adjust your savings to meet a new goal.
When you do the check, look at 2-3 months from the period since the last time you checked in. Total up your spending for each month and compare it to the targets you set. If you are consistently overspending on a particular type of expense, you have a spending leak. A spending leak is a place in your budget where you’re losing income that you didn’t intend.
As you find spending leaks, you have two options:
- Find a way to close the leak
- Adjust the spending target for that expense to match your real spending
If you can’t close the leak and need to adjust, make sure to rerun your expense total to ensure all your target spending still fits into using 75% of your income. If it doesn’t, then you need to cut back
#46 Revisit your budget anytime there’s a change
While you don’t need to pay attention to your budget day-in and day-out, you should always go revisit your budget when there’s a change in your financial situation. Anytime your income increases or decreases, you need to adjust your budget accordingly. You should also revisit it anytime you take on a new recurring expense, such as a new streaming account or a magazine subscription.
What you don’t want to do is run the numbers in your head and assume everything will be okay. Just take an hour to write it all out and determine whether your budget is still balanced. It will give you peace of mind and help you avoid debt.
#47 Avoid getting too stuck on minute details
Unless you use a budgeting app that does the work automatically, getting stuck in checking spending totals every day or even every month can get exhausting. It’s the fastest way to ensure that you don’t keep up with your budget. It’s too much of a hassle. And it’s also not necessary.
A better strategy is to work for a few months to get a budget set up and then make sure it’s working. Once you do, you can leave it alone unless there’s a change in your financial situation. Then you just check in once or twice a year to make sure you’re on track. This will help minimize the hassle of budgeting, so you’re more likely to maintain a budget long-term.
Common problems and solutions when sticking to a budget
#48 How to stick to a budget when some costs are hard to control
With inflation rampant many costs are just going through the roof. You can cut down on discretionary categories to boost non-discretionary costs by trading entertainment for food or gas costs. If you’ve already reevaluated you may need to consider alternatives, like taking public transportation or carpooling.
Have you considered the transportation costs of running errands? By cutting back on short daily trips you can save. Do you need it right now or can you wait for your weekly shopping run?
If your kids have extracurricular activities make sure you factor gas and food into costs. Driving to and from practice and picking up to-go meals need to be accounted for.
#49 How to stick to a budget without going crazy
Your first budget will probably be off. Don’t freak out! It gets easier. Just remember to keep receipts so you can make well-educated estimates. Reevaluate after the first month and make sure you’re being realistic with projections, some costs are what they are. You can not reduce gas costs if all you do is go to work and back.
If you are struggling to track every cent, use cash. Have $100 from discretionary spending for the week. You know you can budget $400 a month for those costs.
Remember to look toward the future. Don’t focus on your mistakes, learn and move on. Take each day, and do your best to get closer to your goal.
#50 How to stick to a budget when you are overwhelmed
Starting a budget can be the hardest part. Where do you start? What app do I use? Frankly, it can be overwhelming. Remember, there is no need to commit. Start slow and small with paper and pencil. Begin with how much you currently have in your bank account then write out the bills you know off the top of your head. Maybe there is a free version of an app you can use for tracking if it works cool, if not try something else.
#51 How to stick to a budget when facing your finances is scary
If you are struggling to pay bills facing your finances is scary. Making a list of your debt is daunting when you are living paycheck to paycheck it can make you feel like a failure. Instead of focusing on your debt focus on your goals. Break down your debt into small goals starting with the lowest balance first. Now you’re tackling a single $200 balance, not 6 credit cards and a $40,000 student loan.
Structure your budget as a plan to get to your goal instead of depriving your spending. Call a certified credit counselor for free to help you create a budget and evaluate the best way to get out of debt.
#52 How to stick to a budget when being unrealistic leads to giving up
With the best of intentions, you set your goals and you’ve tried to stick to your budget but it’s impossible. Unexpected expenses and complicated software or app can throw your budget into freefall and leave you lost and rage quitting with frustration. KISS your old budget goodbye and keep it simple silly.
Track your spending for a month and see where you can change your habits to better align with your goals. Cut that gym membership you never went op for a morning jog. Did you really spend $300 on dining out, maybe you can just go out on Saturdays? Look at that, you saved $100. Every month do the same thing. Tweak and rearrange your finances to fit your life and meet your goals.
#53 How to stick to a budget when you’re not a natural saver
That little burst of endorphins when you buy something can be very potent. But if you have money goals you can’t accomplish because you are a natural spender, not a saver, this can be frustrating. Curbing your bad habits is going to take work, self-reflection, and some psychological warfare.
First, make sure you know what your goals are SMART. Create a dream board or have stickies on your mirror so you see them every day. Put a note on your credit card with a rubberband so you think twice when you try and use it. Next, figure out why you buy impulsively, boredom and stress can be triggering. Find something else to replace this habit, something that helps you reach your goals, preferably free. If your goal is to travel, take up a language program that will help you during your adventures.
#54 How to stick to a budget when you feel like you’re the only one budgeting
If you are not having financial discussions with your family it can feel like you are the only one budgeting. Making sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to finances is important. Once you start talking about money you will find that you share some of the same problems, questions, concerns, and goals. Having an accountability partner can bring comfort and help find solutions.
If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with friends or family or you don’t have someone to talk to, you can find online communities for budgeting apps or speak with a financial counselor.
Benefits of sticking to a budget
Staying within your budget requires good planning, self-discipline and a bit of finesse when it comes to saving money. The payoff of sticking to your budget can bring major benefits to your personal finances, though.
For one thing, you’ll feel better about yourself for accomplishing budgeting goals. But you’re also more likely to make monthly payments on time, which builds a good credit history and credit score. Once you start tracking and adjusting spending habits, you may be able to pay off debt faster, too, allowing you to plan for major milestones like having kids, buying a house or other financial goals. Remember, There is no right way to budget, just make sure you’re not left without money.