Avoiding these pitfalls is key to making your budget stick.
I have a confession: I hate budgeting.
Back in my younger days, I would just hoard as much of my paychecks in my savings account as I could. That way, I didn't have to bother figuring out where my money was going or how much I could afford to spend on stuff I wanted.
But fast forward to a husband, a mortgage, three dogs, and a baby, and that strategy no longer cuts it.
So whether I liked it or not, I had to learn to budget. In doing so, I really focused on how to make that budget stick. And since I'm not the only one who struggles with this, I've put together this brief guide to beating the biggest budget killers. Hopefully, it will help all the budget-haters out there.
Here are the three common budget-killing habits and how you can beat them.
1. Not keeping track of your expenses
Probably the worst part about budgeting is the maintenance involved. Deciding how much you're going to spend on certain things only takes a little bit of time. But depending on your budgeting method, you then have to track where every penny goes to make sure you're sticking to it. Thankfully, we live in a digital world.
These days, there are lots of great budgeting apps available. Many of them connect to your credit cards and bank accounts to pull in transaction data automatically. Some also let you set up automatic savings transfers and even give you alerts if you're overspending in a certain category.
If you're always forgetting to keep up with your handwritten budget or budgeting spreadsheet, I highly recommend making the jump to a budgeting app, as it streamlines the whole process. But as with any company you hand your financial information to, do your research first. Make sure it's a legitimate company and not a scammer trying to gain access to your bank accounts.
2. Rebelling against your budget
Budgets that are too restrictive can easily lead to anti-budget binges. You get so tired of focusing on bills and debt and savings that you just can't take it anymore. When that happens, you may decide to have some very expensive fun. And then once you've got that out of your system, you have to figure out how to tape your tattered budget back together and move forward.
Stop torturing yourself. Budgets should have room for fun. Without that, they may not work. So after figuring out how much you need to set aside for bills, decide how you want to divide the rest between savings and discretionary spending. If you can afford to do so, you should aim for at least 20% of the leftover amount to go to savings.
Of course, this begs the question of what to do if you don't have any wiggle room left in your budget after paying your bills. There's not an easy answer to that one. You might have to look at making some bigger lifestyle changes, like downsizing your home or canceling services you use infrequently. You could also look into programs that are designed to bring some of your essential costs down, like SNAP benefits for groceries. Once you've trimmed your budget as much as you can, revisit it and see if you can't find a little room for fun.
3. Giving up because you're not seeing the progress you want
One of the main reasons for budgeting is to help you achieve your long-term goals, such as getting out of credit card debt, saving for a new house, or saving for retirement. A budget can help you decide how much to put toward each goal every month as well as a realistic timeline for completion. But if that progress seems slow or you find you're having a hard time adhering to the budget you've designed, it can discourage you from sticking with it.
Some budgeting apps can help you track progress to your savings goals. This is helpful if you need that extra reinforcement to know that you're making progress. You could also design rewards for yourself after you hit certain savings milestones, such as being 25% of the way to your goal. It could be an extra dessert or an extra $50 to spend at your favorite store -- whatever works for you.
If you're having trouble sticking to your budget despite your best efforts, you may have to re-evaluate. Maybe you're overspending on food because you didn't budget enough for it the first time around. After a few months with your budget, you should have a better idea of whether or not the amounts you allotted for each category are actually realistic. Then, you can make adjustments as needed.
I'm not saying budgeting is ever going to be your favorite activity. But if you can avoid the three pitfalls listed above, sticking to your budget could be relatively painless. Once you get into a routine, you shouldn't have to pay too much attention to it unless you face a major life change or a big upcoming expense. Then, with some positive budgeting experience under your belt, crafting a new one won't feel so overwhelming.
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