As a former teacher, I was obligated to teach personal finance in my Texas public school. Before you drop everything you’re doing and give me a standing ovation – you should know that while we were required to teach personal finance, it was more of a “hey, be sure to touch on this, but it’s not super important so don’t spend too much time on it, okay?” kind of topic. Basically, it wasn’t a heavily tested topic on the dreaded end of year state assessment. This means that teachers had to touch on personal finance, but couldn’t spend our valuable time on the unit.

Which means that as a teacher who loves budgeting, I flew through that curriculum as fast as the teachers around me. We worked four, maybe five days max on covering personal finance. 

Yep, that’s it. 

Five days to learn about budgeting, income taxes, property taxes, the difference between gross and net income, and how to write a check…despite the fact that I haven’t seen someone write a check in public since I was standing in line at the grocery store in 2007 and an old lady pulled out her checkbook to pay after I had all my groceries on the belt.

Needless to say, I’m guessing that what I taught during my five day timespan didn’t really “stick” in the minds of my students for the long run. I’m also guessing that maybe you, yes you, also don’t have a history of learning about budgeting or personal finance in school. 

If you are one of the few who learned how to budget, use credit cards responsibly, and dare I say it…invest before leaving your parent’s house then you are certainly in the minority.

Fast forward to where you are today, and you likely have been winging it with your money. Learning on the go, and making money choices that you’re still paying off…literally.

But do you want to hear the good news? Learning how to write a budget and manage your money better can completely change the game for you. Simple and consistent changes in the right direction with your money compound over time and have the ability to make a lasting impact on your future (and your family’s future as well).  

But what if you’re just getting started? Or what if you have tried budgeting and managing your money in the past but continue to fall into the same patterns. You try, things get complicated, unexpected expenses pop up, and you’re right back to square one.

Well don’t worry. I’m sharing 4 budget and money tips that everyone should know. These tips will help you think differently about one of the most important parts of your life: your money. They are tips that everyone should know, no matter if you’re a budgeting newbie or an advanced investor. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Tip #1: Let go of the idea of perfection.

Let’s jump in a time machine and go all the way back to the year 2010.  I was dating my now-husband Matt and he had introduced me to Guitar Hero. For anyone who is not familiar with this game, it’s essentially when you use a guitar-shaped video game controller to follow along with a song beat. Levels range from easy to advanced, and I’m a tad embarrassed to admit that I had become downright obsessed with perfecting Lady Gaga’s song “Poker Face.” 

I would practice this song on repeat over and over again. In fact, my husband’s best friend could somehow magically see our Xbox history (sounds like a privacy invasion to me, but I digress) and he even asked Matt why he had played “Poker Face” on repeat for over two hours. Guilty.

Sidenote: Recently I wondered what on earth I did with all my free time before I had kids. Now I remember: I spent my time fixated on a video game. 

I remember becoming obsessed over my goal of hitting every single note in this song. I’m not a naturally musical person – so this was actually a challenge for me. I’d practice, practice, and practice until I would eventually chunk the guitar-shaped controller on the sofa, sigh, and give up completely. I expected perfection of myself…and I had failed. I never did make a perfect score on that song, likely because it was a completely unrealistic goal for someone who lacked the ability to hear a beat or rhythm. 

What does Guitar Hero have to do with budgeting, money and your finances? 

A lot, actually.

If you’re like me and tend to expect perfection at times, you’re going to be disappointed and eventually give up. You’ll throw your own guitar-shaped controller out the window – except in this case it’s not a controller. Instead, it’s your budget or your debt payoff plan. 

Budgeting, paying off debt, or making positive money moves isn’t about being perfect every time. 

  • It’s not about being able to accurately anticipate every single expense that will pop up when you least expect it. 
  • It’s not about sticking to your budget 100% of the time and getting a big star sticker at the end of the month. 
  • It’s not about paying off debt on the schedule you set even though that schedule didn’t include an unexpected vet bill for your dog who decided a big ole Hershey bar would be a nice after dinner snack.

If that was the case then no one…I repeat: no one would ever succeed.

It’s time to let go of the idea that perfection is in reach. It’s not. 

In fact, I’d like you to take the possibility of perfection completely off the table.

::enter a collective sigh of relief here:: 

Writing a budget that works, paying off your dreaded student loans, and investing isn’t about being perfect every time. On the contrary, it’s about deciding that your future, your goals, are worth the effort. YOU are worth the effort when it comes to your money. You care enough to keep coming back to your budget and your goals. 

Don’t let the idea of perfection stand in the way of making progress with your money. It’s time to pick up your guitar-shaped controller budget and keep working on it. Not because you want to be perfect, but because you know that progress comes from consistency over time. 

Tip #2: Deprivation won’t get you anywhere.

Years ago I decided that for the month of February, I would start waking up at 5:00 AM, a full hour before I normally got up for the day. I figured that rising an hour earlier would be life changing for me. I mean, imagine all the things I could accomplish with no interruptions from my family for a full 60 minutes! 

I honestly thought that waking up at 5 AM would make me a better mom, wife, employee, and overall better person. 

As it turned out, getting up an hour earlier only made me grumpy, impatient, exhausted, and an overall miserable person to be around. The big mistake I made was to jump right into waking up early without easing my way into the process. I wasn’t going to bed any earlier which means I was depriving myself of my normal amount of sleep. This deprivation and somewhat extreme change in my schedule led to failure.

The same thing can happen with your money. Depriving yourself of spending any money on what you want in life leads to burnout.

Mathematically, it makes sense to only spend money on what you need in life. In fact, there are tons of books out there that will tell you how to “just spend less money” and cut every single extra expense out of your life.

However, while it makes sense mathematically to cut out all extra spending, it doesn’t always make sense emotionally.

It’s okay to want to pay off debt and still spend some money on things that bring you joy. Yes, even if you don’t “need” them. Spending money isn’t bad. It’s okay to spend money on what you love while still saving and reaching your other financial goals.

Money is math, but money is also emotional. It’s important to accept that there are emotions behind our spending and take that into account as well.

If you keep depriving yourself and living on an unrealistic budget, you’re going to give up on your money journey. It’s just not sustainable in the long run.

When you stop living on an unrealistic and tight budget, something magical happens! Budgets are no longer a burden. They are no longer this “thing” you do to help you reach your goals. They are no longer a consequence for your past money choices.

When you stop living on an unrealistic and tight budget, you will see your budget and money in a completely different way. Your budget becomes your path to reach your money goals, no matter how big or small they are.

From this point on, give yourself room to live your life in every budget you write. You can strike a balance between working to meet your money goals and enjoying your life as well. When you write a budget that’s realistic for you, your budget becomes something you can actually stick to! 

Tip #3: You reserve the right to pivot when it comes to your money.

In the Spring of 2022 I hopped on a plane and met up with two of my friends as well as a few other business owners in beautiful Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We spent our mornings drinking cappuccinos and working on our small businesses in an open-air cafe. 

Our afternoons were spent by the pool where we had one of the best conversations I’ve had in a while. It was all about reserving the right pivot or having a plot twist when it comes to your life, your goals, and your money. 

I’m guessing you’ve made a few bold statements in your life. Some of those statements might even be about money. And while everyone has the right to make bold statements, you also have the right to pivot and change your mind later in life. As you grow, learn more, and experience what life has to offer, it’s okay to change your mind. 

For example, years ago I believed that credit cards were awful. I associated credit cards with debt, and frankly, being irresponsible. Yet, as I’ve grown to learn more about myself and do the work to develop self discipline with money, I no longer dislike or have any disdain for credit cards. In fact, I appreciate them greatly!

The old Allison hated credit cards. She made a promise to never get one.

The current Allison booked my Puerto Vallarta trip using credit card points. I never carry a credit card balance and (surprise!) use credit cards responsibly. I pivoted when it came to how I view, and use credit cards.

When it comes to your money, budgeting, debt, and investing – you reserve the right to pivot however you choose. As you learn more about managing your money, make money mistakes, and experience more that life has to offer, you should pivot and change your money outlook. It’s only natural to grow and change your thoughts as you gain new experiences.

You don’t have to stick by the declarations you set when it comes to your money. 

Gosh, even typing that out feels so freeing to me! We are allowed to change our minds when it comes to the money goals we set, how we view debt, and when we want to invest. Right now you might think it’s irresponsible to invest even if you have debt. But over time, you are free to change your mind. You are free to pivot with your money and budget. 

Tip #4: Lifestyle creep is harder to fix than you think.

This is a story about a fictional family. Let’s call them the Davis family. This family has a budget and they are making their minimum debt payments just fine. At the beginning of the year, the wife receives a 5% raise. Congrats! Let’s celebrate women earning more money! 

All of a sudden the Davis family has an extra $400 each month. Not too shabby. Instead of choosing to use this extra income for debt payments or investments, they decide that it’s time to treat themselves. If you’re a Parks and Rec fan like me, then just imagine Tom and Donna on their annual Treat Yo Self day. This is what the Davis family decides to do every month. 

Their extra $400 each month is spent on takeout, another membership, and shopping for their home. I think we can both agree that spending an extra $400 each month isn’t difficult these days.

But after several months (or maybe even years) the Davis family realizes that they are having trouble affording their lifestyle. They aren’t making progress on their debt payments. Maybe they are even going further into debt. Their expenses crept up slowly over time (which the family didn’t even notice). 

Unfortunately, this family increased their “norm.” And as their norm increases, they need more money to cover all their expected expenses. This happens every year to many people. Heck, it’s even happened to me! Lifestyle creep is a tricky beast because usually it starts slowly. What starts as one small purchase here and there or an extra dinner out can snowball quickly.

I don’t think you should have to live a life of complete sacrifice or deprivation…I think that can lead to serious overspending. I believe it’s okay for you to spend part of your increased income. Managing lifestyle creep comes down to balance. 

Finding balance with increased income requires you to have an active voice with your money. Balance requires you to communicate and come to an agreement with others in our family which let’s be honest…is sometimes easier said than done. It also requires us to make an active decision on what we want to spend money on versus how much money we want to save or invest.

Finding balance with your money is possible. It takes intention and awareness to not fall victim to a level of lifestyle creep that is harmful. Thankfully, it can be done!

Budget and Money Tips: The Bottom Line

No matter where you are on your money journey, these four budget and money tips will help you think differently about your finances and goals. 

Remember that you don’t have to be perfect, deprivation won’t get you anywhere, you can always pivot, and to avoid lifestyle creep.