If you have trouble sticking to a monthly budget, you are not alone. Many people find that it’s difficult to start and then keep going with a monthly cash budget.
But the benefits of doing a budget are huge. It is the best thing you can do to improve your finances, as well as reduce your stress around money. It’s how you tell your money what to do, instead of the other way around.
As a seasoned budgeter, and believer that budgeting can truly make your life much more simple, here are my tips on how to stick to a budget.
- Give It Time – You really need to budget for at least 3 months before it will work. When you first start out, you are going to be learning how much money you actually do spend, and consequently, will need to budget in future months. It also takes time to build the habit of using your budget in your everyday life.
- Use Actual Money – Most budgeting programs have you “forecasting” your income and making a monthly budget off of what you should earn. However, I strongly recommend doing a zero-based budget. This means budgeting actual money that you have in your bank account and assigning jobs for every dollar you have.
- Be Realistic – You need to budget enough money in each category for the month. Don’t try to be overly optimistic about how little you could theoretically spend, especially when first starting out. Treat your budget as a spending plan and be realistic with how much you’ll need.
- Do It Together – For the married folk out there, your budget should be done together. Working as a team allows you to control your finances as a household. You’ll have a built-in accountability partner, as well as have more focused financial effort.
- Think Short Term – Each month’s budget should be unique and address your immediate obligations. As you sit down and do your budget, think “what’s going on this month?” Maybe it’s a party you are going to, an extra grocery day, etc.
- Think Long Term – Your budget should also address your longer-term spending obligations. These are the things that are predictably going to happen throughout the year: oil changes, insurance renewals, vacations, holidays, etc. Letting cash build up in long term categories will help reduce your financial stress.
- Be Flexible – You budget will need to change throughout the month. You will go a little over on one category, and come in a little under on others. Just re-allocate the money and try to refine your understanding for the next month.
- Check-In Before Purchases – As a spending plan for the month, your budget should always be your guide before buying things. Check-in with your budget before you decide to go shopping. To reinforce checking, I recommend manually recording transactions instead of automatically syncing your bank and budget.
- Fund A Buffer – To help lubricate the wheels of your financial life, you should make it a goal to fund a buffer in your budget. This means having enough cash in your budget to not only pay for the current month’s obligations but a few months in the future as well. Having that cushion is an important step in building financial security.