How to Stick to a Budget
In this article I share 13 simple tips to help you learn how to stick to a budget. Being able to stick to a budget or spending plan is crucial for financial success, so read on to learn how to make this goal a reality!
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13 Best Tips for How to Stick to a Budget
I know that being able to stick to a budget isn’t easy. If it were, everyone you know would be doing really well financially and building wealth. Instead, nearly 80 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. And close to the same percentage of Americans have less than $500 in savings. I don’t know the statistics showing the number of families who budget, but I would guess that there is a strong inverse correlation between the two. I would bet that most people who budget, if they have been doing it for a while, have built up at least a decent-sized emergency fund so that they aren’t on the very brink of financial disaster.
If you find the idea of committing to live by a budget difficult, keep this in mind: you are the boss of your budget. You get to decide what you want to spend your money on! 🙂 If you want to spend $700 on entertainment each month and $200 on housing, as long as that provides adequate housing for your family, then that’s great. But do you have to make your budget balance—you can’t be going into the red anymore. Because that will never lead your family to where you ultimately want it to be.
Creating a budget and then committing to live by it is so important because it’s the foundation of your financial stability and wealth building. If you don’t know where your money is going and aren’t being intentional with how you are spending it and saving and investing it, you won’t be able to attain financial prosperity. In this article I discuss 13 things you can do that will help you to stick to your budget in order to reach your financial goals.
1. Identify your financial goals and dreams—know (and remember) your why.
W-h-y. Those three letters are incredibly powerful. Understanding your financial why may be your most powerful tool for curbing your overspending and getting control of your money, and that’s why we’re talking about it first. Because in order to change old habits and start new, better habits, we’ve got to have a very strong motivation—and that motivation, for many people, is their why. To learn more about the power of why, I highly recommend the book Start with Why, by Simon Sinek. It is (and all of his books are) an excellent read.
In order to be effective, your why has to be powerful—more powerful than your urge to buy stuff or do things you can’t really afford—or better put, things that jeopardize your long-term financial stability or goals. Maybe your why is to have financial security, have one parent be able to stay home with your children, be financially independent early on in life, live in comfort (or luxury) in retirement, be able to give very generously to worthy causes, be an exceptional financial example to your kids, or be able to retire early to travel, volunteer, or spend time with your children and grandchildren.
Take some time to sit down with your spouse and determine your financial whys—why is it worth getting out of debt? Why is it worth saving for retirement? Why is it worth saving for your children’s college educations? Why should you stop using your credit cards to buy things you can’t afford? Why should you pay off your home early? Why should you retire early(!)? Once you’ve talked about your whys, talk about the goals and dreams related to those whys, and make plans to accomplish them! Turn your whys into will-dos, and get after it!
For me, my financial whys are very strong motivators. My current financial goal is to be able to get this blog to the point where it can replace my full-time income so that I can be home all day with our three little cherubs. Even though I love my current job, being able to be home with our children is something I want even more, and so I’m willing (very willing, really) to make sacrifices (of sleep, mostly, and leisure or “me” time) to make that hope and dream a reality. And then they aren’t really sacrifices at all—just choices to be made.
When your motivators are strong enough, you will choose to stop overspending and to get control of your money. You will stick to your budget. And I’m here to help you every step of the way.
2. Plan your budget with your spouse so that you can work together to stick to a budget.
If you are married, then you need to be on the same page financially with your spouse in order to stick to a budget and win with your money. So if you haven’t done so already, sit down with your spouse to create your first budget. Or if your sweetheart really isn’t into numbers, then you could create the budget, but then make sure that you go over and agree to it together. And make sure that your spouse gives input and even changes some of the allocated amounts. Because without true buy-in, your spouse will likely (intentionally or unintentionally) sabotage your efforts to stick to your budget.
3. Plan a (slightly) unique budget for each month.
You don’t have to re-create your budget from scratch every month, but you do need to adjust categories as needed to reflect the circumstances for each month. This will definitely help you be successful as you work to stick to your budget.
So, for example, your rent or mortgage payment, cell phone payment, and insurance premium will probably be the same every month, but your utilities and fuel costs will likely fluctuate somewhat from month to month. You’ll probably pay more for utilities in the summer and winter than you do in the spring and fall. So you’ll need to plan accordingly.
And if you have a wedding or birthday to attend next month or if it’s Christmas next month, you will need to plan for those kinds of things, as well.
4. Plan ahead for this month’s unique expenses in order to stick to a budget.
Going along with the point just above, make sure that you sit down a few days before each month begins, and have your calendar in hand. Look at upcoming events so that you can account for their associated costs in that month’s budget. If you’re going to be doing some traveling or going on vacation, plan for that. If you have a high school or college graduation, plan for that. If you know you want to replace an appliance or piece of furniture (and you have saved up the money to do so), make sure to account for that. Doing so will help you keep your budget balanced and avoid overspending.
5. Be willing to be flexible to help you stick to a budget.
Even though you are going to be creating a unique budget for each month, even then you still need to be flexible. Sometimes things come up later in the month that are outside of your control that you just can’t anticipate. So when that happens, take money from another category or categories, so that your budget still balances. Once you start saving for larger expenses and purchases, you could take the money from one of those savings accounts if needed. Or if it is a true emergency and you don’t have other money saved up yet and you can’t take the money from another budget category for the month, then take the money from your emergency fund.
6. Shoot for progress, not perfection as you work to stick to your budget.
As you are working to stick to a budget, realize that when you’re new to budgeting, it takes some time to get the kinks worked out. So give yourself some grace. It’s probably going to take you about three months of trial and error before your budget starts to really work. So don’t give up! Your budget is a key to your financial success. Hang in there, and if you have questions or need encouragement, visit our new Facebook group.
To help you stick to a budget, don’t try to change things too drastically with your spending right at first. If you’ve been spending $500 every month eating out, you probably shouldn’t drop that to $50 (unless you have a really strong motivation and strong will).
Similarly, if you haven’t been saving anything, you probably don’t want to budget to save $1,000 next month. Take reasonable steps as you work to improve your finances. Spend a little less eating out, and then a little less, and then a little less. Contribute a little more to your 401(k), and then a little more, and then a little more. It’s OK to take a few months (or maybe even longer, for really big changes) as you work to change old habits to better ones.
8. Automate your finances as much as possible to help you stick to your budget.
One thing that can really help you to make financial changes and stick to a budget is to automate your finances. That way, you’re not left so susceptible to temptation. Right after you get paid, transfer money directly to pay extra toward debt, into savings accounts, into your Roth IRA—take care of your financial goals by funding them automatically. And then live on what is left. The envelope system (discussed a little more below) is an excellent way to help you do this, especially if you are regularly tempted to overspend.
You should automate your finances in order to get paid (through direct deposit); save for emergencies, large purchases and expenses, and so forth; invest for retirement; pay bills; save for kids’ college; and more.
Read this article to learn more about automating your finances.
9. Use an envelope system, and pay for purchases with cash to help you stick to your budget.
One of the best things you can do to stick to a budget is to use the envelope system as you manage your money. The envelope system is where you take the money that you have allocated for a certain category in your budget and you put that amount of cash in an envelope. Then when you spend money in that category, you spend it from the envelope. And when the money is gone, it’s gone—no more spending in that category till you replenish the envelope from your next paycheck.
Some areas that you’ll probably want to use cash for in your budget include food (both groceries and eating out), entertainment, clothing, and personal fun money. You can use envelopes to keep your cash for the week or month or a wallet with different compartments.
10. Know how to avoid budget busters so you can stick to a budget.
A big part of sticking to your budget for many people is avoiding their spending triggers. And another crucial aspect of sticking to your budget is planning ahead. You can’t keep to your budget—or win with your money in general—if you don’t make a plan and then follow it. Here are some things you can do to avoid budget busters and stick to plans that help you spend less and save more.
- Skip Starbucks and stay out of restaurants (most of the time).
- Plan your meals and shop with a grocery list (and stick to it!).
- Reduce your number of shopping trips. Shop online (with a list, for the things you truly need) when possible.
- Pack your lunch for work.
- Stay out of department stores and avoid browsing online stores.
- Avoid watching commercials.
- Leave your kids home when you go shopping.
- Spend less on hobbies, memberships, and subscriptions. Cancel store catalogs.
- Avoid impulse buys.
For more ideas, read this article with more than 20 tips to reduce your spending.
11. Tell yourself “Not yet.” rather than no to help you stick to a budget.
If it helps you to not feel like you are depriving yourself so that you are better able to stick to your budget, when you are in a situation where you want to spend money on something that’s not in your budget, tell yourself “Not yet” rather than no. Tell yourself that you can write it down on a wish list, and if you still want it, you can work it into next month’s budget (or even in this month’s budget, if you adjust spending in other areas—but make yourself wait at least overnight).
12. Avoid commercials and other advertising as much as possible to help you stick to a budget.
I know I mentioned this in the bulleted list above, but I think it’s worth repeating here in a little more detail. You won’t buy what you don’t know exists or what you don’t think about, so avoid commercials and other advertising as much as possible. DVR your favorite shows so that you won’t have to watch the commercials, for example.
Or stop (or really reduce) watching TV altogether. (Do you really think you’ll miss that much? There are so many other wonderful things to do!) When we moved to our current home, it didn’t have a TV antenna, and since we didn’t watch much TV anyway and could watch the few things we do watch online, we have never gotten one.
And let me tell you—it’s much easier to avoid being tempted to go to a movie or buy a gadget or toy or go check out a new restaurant when you don’t even know they exist.
13. Keep your financial goals in mind to help you stick to your budget.
Remember those goals and dreams we talked about above? To help you stick to your budget, create ways to help yourselves remember them. Put up visual reminders, like a picture of your retirement beach house or your paid-for-with-cash bass boat or RV or luxury car. Put up construction paper loops representing the amount of debt you’re working to pay off.
Keep a copy of the last payment stub (or create one) for your vehicle or mortgage, and plan to burn it when you get it paid off. Write in a prominent place the name of your favorite charity or cause that you want to support or the charitable foundation you want to one day form. Put a picture up of your children that will help give you the motivation to make the changes needed to live on one income so you can stay home with them.
Whatever your family financial goals are, find ways to keep them firmly in the forefront of your mind so that you can continually work on them and so that you will have them to fall back on when you’re tempted to overspend or bust your budget.
If you need help to track your progress toward your financial goals and keep yourself accountable, it might help if you use a program such as You Need a Budget (YNAB.com). It’s a great, user-friendly budgeting tool with a lot of awesome features.
Or, especially if you have begun investing for retirement or intend to soon, you should sign up for my favorite money tracking app, Personal Capital. Personal Capital is a free app that not only tracks your spending for you and lets you see all of your bank accounts and credit card accounts but it also tracks your investment accounts, as well. So it provides a complete picture of your overall financial situation and helps you monitor your progress If you’re investing in a Roth 401(k) or IRA or have other investments, you should sign up for a free account.
I’m not going to lie and say that sticking to a budget is always easy for everyone. It takes diligence and practice and discipline. But I will tell you that it is completely worth it. Remember—you are the boss of your budget. You decide what you want to spend your money on. A budget just helps you to face the reality of your situation.
But by sticking to your budget, you can make serious, consistent progress toward reaching your goals. And over time, I promise you—the results are amazing! The financial peace you feel is incredible. The contentment you feel is awesome. So let’s do this! I’m here to help.
What questions do you have about how to stick to a budget? What tips or tricks have you found that have helped you stick to a budget? Leave a comment below and let me know! I would love to hear your thoughts!
Invitation to Share
Was there something in this article that inspired you to change something about your money? Are there ideas or tips that you feel could help others? Would you please take a minute to share this article via email or social media? I would love your help to share these principles of financial well-being. Thank you!
Join our closed Families for Financial Freedom Facebook group to get support and share ideas for how we can all improve our financial well-being by earning more, spending less, saving more, and investing more and reach our financial goals. You can do this! And we are here to help.