I have a confession to make. My husband and I struggle to stick to our budget. Yep. That’s right. I said it. Here I am, a budget expert confessing that I’m not perfect when it comes to my budget. Actually, I’m far from it! Do I love it any less? Not at all! Do I expect perfection? Nope! And you shouldn’t either! If you struggle with sticking to your budget and actually making it work for you, you’re not alone. Thousands (if not millions) of people all over the world struggle with the same exact thing. They start a budget and then throw it out the window as soon as something unexpected comes up. I totally get it! I’ve been there many, many times.
In fact, it took giving up on our budget several months in a row to realize that we were making a habit out of giving up. We used every excuse in the book. From “it’s my birthday month! Who needs a budget?!” to “We didn’t see that medical bill coming. Might as well scrap this month and start over next month.” We became experts at finding excuses to just start over when it was convenient for us. But guess what! When we gave up, we weren’t making any progress on our financial goals. Also, we weren’t being honest with ourselves. If we wanted to be the ones to truly make a change in our financial future, then we needed to find a way to make our budget work for us. So over the years, that’s just what we did. And I’m giving you my tips on how to stick to your budget and make it actually work this time. Because you DESERVE to reach your money goals. You work hard and you deserve to have something to show for it!
Make changes to your budget.
Just because you write your budget in pen doesn’t mean it’s set in stone! Years ago I used to think that I had to write a budget and follow it exactly. The moment I would “mess up” I’d beat myself up and throw the budget away. “Another failure month” I’d tell myself. Looking back, I wish I could grab that twenty-something girl by the shoulders and shake her. Just because it’s not perfect doesn’t mean you can’t make it work!
These days we anticipate that our budget won’t go as planned. We anticipate that unexpected expenses will come up. And when they do, we sit down and change our budget. I like to call these our “mini budgets.” I basically take how much money I have left in our checking account and write another budget to get me through payday. Even if I’ve taken money out for my cash envelopes already or I’ve already made our mortgage payment, I still write my budget. Because giving up IS failure. But changing your budget and writing a new one is setting yourself up for success. And I don’t know about you, but I know that the more times I’m successful, the more I believe that I AM capable of great things.
Track your expenses from the past 2 months.
The more you know yourself and your spending patterns, the more likely you are able to write a budget that actually fits your needs. I was in college the first time I realized I had a problem with spending money. One weekend I sat down and printed out my bank statements. I went through a month worth of expenses to see where my patterns lie. Where was I overspending? What places were triggers for me? I had to physically write everything out so that I could face the fact that I had a problem. Although this exercise was difficult and time-consuming, it gave me insight to my patterns that I didn’t even know I had! If you’re ready to try this exercise, follow the steps below:
- Print out your bank statements from the last two months.
- Grab a pack of different color highlighters.
- Assign each color highlighter a “category” in your budget. For instance, pink could be food, yellow could be housing, green could be transportation, etc.
- Go through every purchase on your statement and highlight it based on which category it falls under. If you aren’t 100% sure, just make your best guess.
- Look for patterns. Which areas of your budget are you spending the most? Are there certain stores that you keep going back to? How much are spending there? Do you think you could spend less?
- Asking yourself these questions will help you think through your spending habits and have a better idea of what your budget can look like in the future.
Be realistic this time.
If you have the habit of cutting your expenses down to barely anything, then you’re destined to fail. Now don’t get me wrong! There are times in your life where you might need to set a bare bones budget. But that won’t happen every month! Assuming that you won’t ever go out to eat or pick up the occasional new top is simply unrealistic…especially if that’s how you’ve been living your life! So sit down and set a realistic budget. If you normally spend $200 each week on groceries, don’t try to cut your budget down to $75 each week. That’s just asking for failure! Instead, cut it down to $175 or $150. This will help you make a gradual change that is more likely to last!
Set up autodraft on as many expenses as possible.
Autodraft has become my best friend when it comes to paying bills and saving money! In fact, we have a majority of our savings taken out just days after we are paid each month. This keeps us from having that money sitting around in our checking account. Because I don’t know about you, but if I have extra money in my account then I’ll find a reason to drop everything and head to Target! If possible, set up autodraft for your bills and savings. This way, you don’t even have to think about it. You are less likely to forget to pay a bill or miss a due date. Just make sure that you’re tracking how much money is headed to each bill every month! Being aware of your finances and knowing them backward and forward is key!
Ask yourself if certain purchases are truly necessary.
Every day as you make a purchase or pay a bill, ask yourself if it’s truly a necessary expense. It’s funny how once you start defending your reason for buying something, it might not seem needed after all. For instance, the rugs in our kitchen had grown disgusting over time. To the point where it was downright embarrassing. I threw them out and declared to my husband that I had to run to Target to get new kitchen rugs. Did you read that all the way? I HAD to have them. As I browsed through Target it hit me. I don’t need new kitchen rugs. Just because my kitchen always had some doesn’t mean that they needed to be replaced. So I walked out of Target and gave myself a point on my imaginary scoreboard. Allison-1 Target-0. Defending a purchase might just make you realize that you can live without it after all.
Turn to someone else for support.
Sometimes you just need the support of someone else to remind you that sticking to your budget, passing up that new outfit, or sticking to your meal plan is worth it. Find yourself a budget buddy or someone who can give you a pep talk when you can’t quite remember why it’s important to make your budget work this time. Although it would be awesome for that person to be your spouse, it doesn’t have to be! But I’m not going to lie, it helps to have an accountability partner!
There’s no doubt in my mind that making a budget work for you and actually sticking to it can be difficult. However, if you set daily habits to truly focus on your budget, then it’s possible to actually make it through the month without giving up on your budget! I can’t wait to hear about the progress you’ve made after you put these strategies in place in your life!
Need more support?
I want to help you succeed when it comes to your finances! Sign up for my FREE Budgeting Basics Email Course! You’ll get an email each day, starting today, that’s packed with information and tips to help you succeed with money. If you don’t have time to read and take action on an email each day, that’s okay! Just come back to it later on your own time. This course will help you face your financial truth and take back control of your money! Not to mention that it comes with some AWESOME (and free) printables! Sign up below!