Take these steps to stay within your monthly budget and achieve financial goals.
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.
Here are five tips to help you stick to your monthly budget.
1. Create a realistic budget
It’s easy to underestimate how much you need to spend each month. 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’ll need to buy birthday and holiday gifts, for example. It’s also a good idea to set money aside in savings each month for big annual expenses like car insurance, homeowner’s insurance and property taxes. You may work so hard at crunching numbers to make your budget work that you end up overspending by $50 a week on lunch or groceries.
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.
Find out: How to Create and Stick to a Budget
2. Use a budgeting style that works for you
If scratching out a budget on a legal pad works for you, go for it. But there are more fun ways to come up with a monthly budget. You can download a budgeting app like Mint, PocketGuard or YNAB (you need a budget), for example. Many budgeting apps also track spending, send payment reminders and monitor your bank accounts for suspicious transactions. Some also offer suggestions on ways to improve or adjust your budget.
Find out: 20 Smart Personal Budgeting Tips
3. 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.
4. 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 like Aldi. 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.
5. 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 an 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.
Find out: Build a Budget that Works for Your Goals
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.
Find out: 6 Easy Ways to Track Your Spending
Published by Debt.com, LLC