Budgeting for your monthly expenses is fairly easy. But sticking to a budget is hard. Sticking to a budget month after month is really hard. You might be asking, “how am I supposed to stick with this budgeting thing?” That’s a very common concern when you are first getting started with managing your finances. And for some, it may be a common question even after years of trying to budget. It can be frustrating. And many give up trying to budget because of this frustration.
Up front, let me just say that the point of budgeting isn’t so that you are 100% on budget, 100% of the time. No one is going to be perfect. The point of a budget is to create a standard for your spending. An expectation does wonders. Just like with raising your children, you should expect the best from your spending by creating guidelines to follow. That’s all that a budget is. So don’t think that you have to be perfect with this process. Just do it. Month after month. Eventually you will get better at it.
That said, here are a few tricks you can use to motivate yourself into sticking to your budget. They will at least help you look at your budgeting process differently to achieve the results you need.
Get Fancy with Your Budget
If you are working with difficult household budget spreadsheets or boring pen and paper, then you might want to try a different approach. Step into the 21st Century by using budgeting software to manage the process. Start with a free service like Mint.com or Budget Pulse. You could also try something like You Need a Budget or Quicken. Some swear by these premium budget software tools. A slick design and a small investment might be the motivation you need to come back to your budget each month.
The good thing about the tools I mentioned above is that they all have automatic reminder services to keep you engaged with your budgeting process. I get reminders all the time when I’ve exceeded my budget within a category in my Mint.com account. If you don’t use budgeting software, then create some type of automatic reminder for yourself to review the budget. Most cell phones have this feature nowadays. And if you are really anti-tech, write down your budget review days in your planner or on the household calendar. The hardest part of budgeting is remembering or wanting to come back to it. Make sure you don’t forget.
Move to a Weekly Review
If you are currently reviewing your budget once a month, consider moving to a weekly review. Fewer days between sessions means you might be more likely to stick with the process. Set aside a specific time each week (e.g. Sunday night) to review spending from the previous week and to plan spending for the week ahead. This may be micro managing for some, but it may just do the trick for you.
Find Accountability For Your Budget
If you have a spouse, make sure they are engaged in the process too. Two heads are better than one, and you are more likely to stick to your budget routines if your spouse is responsible for remembering to do it as well. If you aren’t married, find a trusted friend to hold you accountable. There are also plenty of financial forums online to find accountability. You could even contact me. I’ll check up on you once a month if you need me to.
Simplify Your Budget
Forget the fancy tools and numerous spending categories. Simplify your budget by focusing on those one or two spending categories that you know you have trouble with. If it’s shopping for clothes, focus on that. Set a simple limit for the week or month, write that down somewhere, set aside the cash if you want, and then review your spending a week or month later. This hyper-focus on the problem areas may be the only thing you need to reign in your spending to desired levels. It will certainly be easier.
Drop the Budget
Finally, understand that a budget isn’t necessarily meant to be followed month after month. Most people need a budget for just a few months to help them understand their spending habits, trim the excess, and reign in crazy spending. There is nothing wrong with doing the budget thing for a couple of months and then moving on if you feel like you’ve got a handle on things. Everyone’s situation is different. So the use of the budget is going to be different from person to person.
What are your tips for sticking to a budget? Do any of you do a rigid budget each and every month? What’s your secret for sticking with it?