Following a budget may not seem like the most fun way to live. But actually, sticking to a budget can, to some extent, buy you financial freedom. If you're able to manage your money so that you're not forced to borrow in a pinch, you won't be shackled by debt payments like so many other Americans.
If you're new to budgeting, you may be wondering what it takes to do so successfully. Here are some of the habits budgeting all-stars uphold -- and how to emulate them.
1. They live below their means
Budgeters know that they're not supposed to spend all of their money, and to accomplish that, they need to make daily sacrifices. In fact, some of the best budgeters out there make a point of consistently living below their means -- not spending their entire paycheck on expenses, but rather, recognizing the difference between needs and wants and focusing on the former more than the latter. For you, that means identifying your expenses that are truly essential, like food and shelter, and cutting back on those that are discretionary, like clothing and entertainment.
2. They adapt to changing circumstances
The expenses you face today may not be the same expenses you're liable for in six months or a year from now. The people who succeed at budgeting know to keep tabs on their bills and make adjustments as they evolve. For example, if you get a notice that your rent is increasing, you can start allocating less money to entertainment to compensate. Similarly, if your income takes a hit, you'll need to reassess your spending, on the whole, and make choices that allow you to make the most of your new paycheck.
3. They build solid emergency savings
Unexpected expenses can throw even the tightest budget off course. That's why it's smart to have emergency savings -- money you can tap in a pinch when surprise bills arise that your regular paycheck can't cover.
A solid emergency fund is one with enough money to cover three to six months of living expenses, so if you're nowhere close, start cutting back on spending in a meaningful way to build cash reserves. Getting a side job to boost your income could also help you amass a respectable amount of savings sooner.
4. They automate the savings process
Perhaps the most important line item in any budget is savings -- but many people forget to factor that in, and instead spend their entire paycheck without socking away any of it. Rock-star budgeters, however, know better, and many automate their savings to ensure that they're meeting their goals.
If you need to build an emergency fund, you can arrange for a portion of each paycheck of yours to land in your savings account before you get a chance to spend it. And if you're good on near-term cash reserves, you can automate your retirement savings by signing up for your employer's 401(k) plan or by opening an IRA with an automatic transfer option and having money from each paycheck land directly in it.
Budgeting isn't an easy habit to uphold, but it's one that can lend to near- and long-term financial success. Now that you know the secrets to solid budgeting, you can aim to follow in the footsteps of those who are truly great at it.