Sticking To Your Budget

For many people the hardest part of their finances isn’t keeping track of their money or determining their expenses - it’s just sticking to the budget once you have it all worked out. Why is it that we can sit down and be so resolved and disciplined about figuring out how much we have coming in and going out but then within just a couple of days we’ve lost the willpower to keep that budget in effect.

Part of it is simply being human - we have things we want, things we need. Sometimes we really really want that new pair of jeans. Other times we absolutely need a new vacuum. Whatever it is, it’s usually something that we didn’t budget for. Another part is life - you can’t always predict when the car is going to break or when you need an emergency dentist appointment. Those things are just part of life and can’t be controlled but you can definitely plan for them.

Another hard part of budgeting can come from when you’re actually creating your budget. A lot of times it’s tempting to be skimpy on your budget but ultimately this is a move that will only cause you stress and can even get you into debt. If you know you spend a certain amount on gas or groceries each month then put that amount - plus 10-15% extra just in case. Don’t budget half what you know you’re going to end up spending. Now if you need to be a bit more careful with your spending, perhaps you’re being wasteful in some area of your life - then that’s one thing, but if you just like the look of having a certain amount left over in your account then that’s not the wisest of budgeting moves.

Another way that budgeting can often go wrong is in the way of how much you set aside monthly to save or invest. Every few months or so I get really dedicated to my budget and very motivated to improve my financial situation. When that happens I usually rework my budget and put in some ridiculous amount that I’m going to save each month. Usually it’s far beyond what my budget can afford for savings and I end up not making it and then I get discouraged and stop saving for a few months which doesn’t do me any good. This was a bit of a cycle I was in until I recognized the pattern and came up with a better solution.

Instead of getting super motivated for a little while and then not being able to follow through because the numbers I set were unreasonable I decided to set smaller goals that I knew I could reach but were still a little bit of a stretch, just enough that I could continue to improve my financial situation rather than just keeping the status quo. So instead of a huge amount that I was trying to fit into my budget I had smaller manageable amounts that felt more realistic for how much I was making and spending each month.

This had the effect of keeping me on track with my savings and not overpowering my budget or getting me discouraged because I couldn’t keep up with the huge amounts I set as “savings” when I laid my budget out. This method has worked loads better for me than trying to save big chunks of money at a time. It’s also a big motivator if you apply it over time because you can see the steady progress of your savings increasing - and who doesn’t like seeing more money in the bank?

When it comes to unexpected purchases it’s wise to have a set amount put aside each month for those kinds of instances. I make a point to keep a certain amount in my account as a buffer for my savings so that they don’t get touched if I decide I desperately need a new pair of earrings or something. This buffer acts as a protective barrier to keep my from withdrawing savings (which are much harder to replace) and it helps catch any overflow of spending in my other categories. At the end of the month if I’ve stuck well to my budget and my “buffer” is still in place then I divide up the extra money into savings and paying down my car and the next month the same amount goes back to the buffer.

On the occasions I dip into that little bit of money for a purchase I don’t have to worry or feel bad about it because that’s exactly what I set aside that money to be used for. I also try to put extras from this bit of my budget into an emergency savings fund. I always maintain a specific amount for emergencies (new shoes are not an emergency) and only spend it when I absolutely have to. That savings account gets used before my actual savings account which provides some extra stability. This money is specifically for things like unexpected repairs, illness, emergencies when I have to take time off work (like a funeral or a sick family member) and other such events. I usually keep it at a set amount and no lower than that. I add money into it pretty regularly but I don’t put as much as I do into my larger savings account, as that one is more important to grow to me.

Now if everything in your budget works with your income and expenses and overall your expectations are reasonable for the financial plan you’ve set up then you only have to worry about the other aspect of budgeting that can send your plans awry: you.

Yep, unfortunately we are almost always the cause of our own budgets being unsuccessful. If it isn’t a factor of inappropriate set amounts or unrealistic expectations then it’s almost always a lack of discipline or will power. Self discipline can be a scary thing for some people, it sounds awfully hard and like it’s no fun at all but your budgeting definitely doesn’t have to become a big scary monster that you dread dealing with and your ability to develop self discipline will serve you in a lot of other areas of your life.

The key to self discipline is a combination of setting small achievable goals that stretch you (but not to the point where you get overwhelmed) and tricking yourself into accomplishing things for a certain number of time. By applying a few useful tips and techniques you can make it a lot easier on yourself to stick to your budget. Little things like making your bills and other payments automatic can prevent you from spending money that is meant for bills or from forgetting to pay them and incurring late fees and other charges.

By setting small goals that are within your range of achieving you don’t feel like your grasping at straws to stick to your budget but you’re still making progress and achieving financial goals which gives you a great feeling of accomplishment and makes you more determined. These small goals give you a measure of the level of success you’re having and can be very inspiring and encouraging to keep at it with your budget.

Another way to help you keep on track with your budget it to simply use a few little tricks. For example - test your budget out as a thirty day trial. You’ll stick to your budget for thirty days and then once those thirty days are up if your budget isn’t working for you or you feel like it’s too difficult to keep up with - you can give it. You only have to make it through thirty days. The odds are that by the time the thirty days are up you’ll be accustomed to your new budget and won’t find it difficult or scary at all anymore. You can also keep a small paper in your wallet or purse with your budget basics written on it so that every time you go to spend money you’ll remember what you’re working with - that way you have no excuse that you couldn’t remember, or anything like that.

There are lots of little ways to keep yourself within your budget but the very best ones all come from rearranging your mindset and keeping yourself motivated to stick with your budget and not give up before it’s had time to really become a part of your life. Set up your budget wisely, set money aside to make your budget flexible and workable, and remember that your budget is meant to improve your life - not make it more difficult. Stick with it and soon you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to stay within your budget while still having fun!