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How to stick to a budget
It may seem odd that we cover how to stick to a budget before even offering guidance on creating it.
The real truth is that most people are hesitant to budget since they believe it will result in a lot of stress.
Facing reality and looking at your finances on paper can be stressful, especially if you don’t make enough money to support your current lifestyle.
However, after this reality check is complete and you start to experience the rewards that come from not spending more money than you make, it is well worth it!
And the stress is much less following a budget than not keeping track of your money.
Budgeting can be simple, pleasant, and even enjoyable when done correctly and with the right mindset.
This is even more true if the budgeting exercise can show how much money may be saved without feeling guilty about enjoying little things in life.
Starting a budget doesn’t mean you have to give up doing all the things you enjoy.
It just means you need to have a plan in place before you spend your hard-earned money on going to a concert, enjoying dinner at your favorite restaurant, or taking your kids on a zoo excursion.
The following tips help you plan a solid budget, keep it going, and help save money each month.
1. Don’t overcomplicate the budgeting process
A good budget allows you to see exactly how much money you’re bringing in each month and where it is being spent.
It’s also very useful to get into the routine of paying your bills as soon as they arrive so that you don’t have to deal with a large number at once.
However, these actions are only as difficult as you want to make them. If you are looking for a simple budget to keep from overspending and add to your savings, it can easily be done.
- Categorizing too much can create anxiety both in the planning phase and maintenance phase. It’s more important to be accurate than overzealous with detail.
- Avoid using words such as miscellaneous, other, etc., since they might lead people to justify unnecessary expenditures as part of their budget.
- Stick to two to five categories
- Two to five categories are perfect for establishing a solid budget. Only add more if there are expenditures that cannot be classified in one of these categories.
2. Tailor the budget to your personal situation
When you create your budget to match your life, your income, and your lifestyle, there is no reason it won’t be effective if you truly want it to be successful.
On the other hand, if you try to turn your family or friends’ budget into your own and just copy what they are doing, it is a sure sign your budget will fail.
- It’s a good idea to look at what others have done, as long as you realize no one’s financial situation is alike.
- Never compare your finances to anyone else
- If this is a struggle, quit looking at what others have done with their budget.
3. Figure out what triggers your over-spending
It is impossible to fix the problem if you aren’t sure exactly how much you are overspending your budget.
- Monitor every cent you spend for a month to identify triggers that cause you to spend money
- For example, are you going to the grocery store hungry and it is costing you more money than necessary to buy impulse items?
- Are you starving after work so you find yourself in the fast-food drive-thru for a quick snack on the ride home?
- Do you go to the mall when you get bored on a Saturday with the intention of window-shopping, then you can’t resist and make an unnecessary and unplanned purchase?
- Once you know your triggers, start a challenge to compete with yourself to have fewer over-spending incidents each week.
- Log your daily spending longer than a month if you still are falling off track at the end of the first month.
4. Stop using credit cards
Credit cards have pros and cons.
However, if you are just starting the budgeting lifestyle, it is probably best to stop using credit cards until you get into a solid routine and trust yourself you won’t use them as an excuse to overspend your budget on unnecessary items.
- The best solution is to stop using credit cards and get your finances in order so you know where you stand, then budget your way to paying them off.
- If you don’t think you can stop using credit cards cold turkey, the next best way to manage credit card spending is to use one credit card for certain expenses.
- Any websites where you have stored your credit card number, remove it
- It is far too easy to make a quick purchase with a stored credit card in an online store, often times the purchase is made before evening thinking about where it fits into the budget or if it is even a necessary purchase
- The added bonus is it is also safer for your banking security not to store your credit card details at any online vendor
5. Go one step further and use cash only
If overspending your money is a constant mental fight with yourself, a cash-only system of spending may be the answer to get over the hump.
Parting with cash as you place your hands on it and pass it to someone else creates emotional feelings that do not happen when we hand over a piece of plastic.
If you make the switch to a cash-only system, remember this also includes your debit card. Leave it at home with your credit cards.
- Set up a system to monitor your cash, the envelope system works well
- Create a way to track receipts
- Set up the time you will get your cash, weekly or monthly
- Plan before you go shopping so you know how much cash to take
6. Don’t try to keep up with your friends
For many people, one of the hardest challenges in sticking to a budget is telling their friends or family they can’t join them for a night out at the movies or to turn down an invitation at a new restaurant in town.
If might be your friends don’t follow a budget and don’t see why it is important, or they can have a higher income or fewer expenses than you.
- Let your friends know you are following a budget right away, so they know before they ever ask you to join them
- Plan activities that cost little and invite them so you can still spend time together, such as a picnic at the park or backyard bbq
7. Delay purchases outside of general living expenses
This is typically known as impulse buying, one of the biggest enemies of budgeting.
An impulse purchase can be something small like stopping at the coffee shop on the first floor of your office building or a much larger purchase.
Either way, impulse buying can throw your budget out of whack very quickly.
- Allocate a set amount of money each week or month for your typical impulse purchases, such as coffee or donuts in the morning, and when the money is gone there are no exceptions to adding to the amount
- For larger purchases, set a time limit for making the purchase, such as a few days or a week.
8. Take your budget seriously
If you are serious about getting your finances in control, you must be serious about following a budget plan.
If you don’t have a reason to start and follow a budget, you likely won’t be motivated to stay on track.
- Define your financial goals before you start
- You are more likely to reach your goals when you take small steps at a time and track each step as a milestone
- Pick goals that inspire you so you want to achieve them
9. Don’t create an unrealistic budget
If your budget is not realistic, you are setting yourself up for failure before you even get started.
Don’t let this happen to you.
I get it. It is hard to look at your income, then compare it with the money you are spending each month.
But you have to be realistic with your spending to move forward.
Otherwise, you will continue to overspend your budget and in one, two, three years and later, you will be in the same situation you’re in now.
- Don’t stop with your budget, take it a step farther and track your spending every single day for as many weeks or months as necessary to see where your money is really going
- Face the truth and if you are spending more money than you make, adjust your expenses or get a side hustle for more income
10. Your budget is too restricting
Accuracy is important for a budget to work, especially if overspending is a challenge.
However, if your budget doesn’t include any wiggle room for fun and activities you enjoy, it is highly unlikely you will be willing to stick to it.
- Without overdoing it, set aside money for activities you enjoy
Now that you are prepared to stick to your budget, we will cover the importance of living with a budget.
Let’s dive in!
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