According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly 2/3 of all Americans do not have a budget. The reasons why vary from not knowing where to start to being scared to put it all in writing. Several years ago, our family was among the 2/3 who did not have one.
We had what we thought was a budget. In hindsight, it was just a list of the bills we had to pay each month. Our budget did not include proper savings or take into consideration how we spent our money each month. It was not working. Something had to change.
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My husband and I had a long chat about what we wanted financially, and we both agreed we wanted to be debt-free. That was when our journey began.
One of the first things we learned was that we had to put together a real budget. It needed to account for every penny coming into our home in some way. In essence, we needed to give every penny a job. Once we created our budget, we felt so much better. Contrary to what we thought, it didn’t cause us more stress, it alleviated it.
Of course, creating the budget was only step one. The next hurdle was sticking to it and making it work. I’ll admit that at first, we were not very successful. However, as time went on, we were in more control. We learned strategic ways to make sure we always stuck to our budget. These days, we own our budget like bosses.
Many people who have a budget find themselves in this same situation. It is in writing and it makes sense, but sticking to it is something entirely different. This requires finding strategies that help you stick to your budget.
Strategies for Sticking to a Budget
Keep It Visible
All too often, a budget is written down and put away. You think about it only when you get paid or when you otherwise need to. And, that is usually when you realized you’ve overspent again.
When starting out, your budget needs to be visible. It needs to be where you can see it every single morning. Use it as a reminder to spend only on what you should and not on what you want. When your budget is staring you in the face, it is difficult to ignore it.
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Stick With Cash
A simple way to never overspend and blow your budget is to put away the plastic and stick with cash. When using cash, you can never spend more than you should, because you can’t. If you have $20, you can’t spend $21. It’s impossible. Create a cash envelope system that works for you and put the worry of overspending to rest.
Turn It into a Game
Games are fun because they challenge us in some way and most of us want to win. So, try turning your budget into a challenge. For instance, if your budget allows you to spend $200 on groceries over the next two weeks, try to spend only $175. See if you can beat your budget by cutting back on things you don’t really need or finding the best deals and pairing them with coupons for the ultimate score. You may find that you not only reduce your spending by $25, but you even have the ability to save significantly more.
If you are in a relationship, you have a spouse or partner to whom you can be accountable. The two of you can work together to make sure you both spend only as you should. However, if you don’t have such a person in your life, find someone who could use the same from you. Check with your best friend or a sibling. Make sure you hold one another accountable for spending — and, if you go over your budget, be prepared for a long chat.
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Automate What You Can
An easy way to make sure you save what you need is to set up automated transfers. That way, you won’t be tempted to spend the money on something you shouldn’t and will be on track to achieve your savings goals.
This also works with your regular monthly bills. When they are automated, you pay them on time, which helps you stay in control of your money.
One of the easiest ways to spend more than you want is by going out to dinner. It’s convenient, yes, but a few extra meals out a month and you’ve totally blown your budget. Take time to meal plan and create a shopping list to use at the grocery store. You’ll not only save money, you’ll often eat healthier meals too.
When setting up your budget, you need to make sure you are honest with yourself. If you usually spend $200 a month dining out, a budget that only allows for $75 a month will never work. Make sure the numbers you use to create your budget align with the way you spend your money.
A budget is your road map to financial success. Follow it to get where you want to go and don’t allow forks in the road to take you down a path you don’t want.