Tips on How to (Actually) Stick to Your Budget
Reading time: 4 Minutes
March 29th, 2021
So here you are; you've taken the time to write down your bigger picture, gave yourself mighty mini SMART goals to help achieve it, rounded up all of your financial paperwork, and created a budget on our interactive spreadsheet, but now you might be a few weeks in, your discipline is starting to falter, and you begin to have a tough time sticking to your budgeting plan.
Sure, it all looks great on paper, but the reality of personal money management can be incredibly challenging. And that's ok! Staying motivated is rarely constant; it ebbs and flows (hence, every weight loss plan you've ever tried). The answer to 'how to stick to a budget,' is to recognize when your motivation begins to drop, take accountability, and course correct to get back on track.
Here are 9 tips to help you do just that.
1. Consistent check-ins
Your spending can quickly get out of control if you forget to monitor it. Taking a few minutes to review your budget each day, can help you stay on track. To make it easier, try to include this activity in something you already do every day. Add 15 minutes to your morning coffee and news review routine. Or take a few minutes from your bedtime social media fix to review your spending that day. Apps like Mint.com or YouNeedABudget.com can also send monitor reminders to help manage your budget.
2. Control temptations
Whether you love to shop online or pop into the grocery store to 'just pick up a few things,' be aware of when and where you're tempted to overspend. Knowing the triggers that can derail your budget, will help you identify ways and create a plan to manage those situations. An easy recommendation to controlling temptations is to avoid them all together, but we know that can be unrealistic.
- Setting spending limits on groceries, take out, or recreational activities
- Using cash to avoid going over your spending limit
- Stocking your freezer with easy meals to avoid ordering out too often. Need some inspiration? Here's 150 of them.
- Swapping clothes with friends instead of buying new clothes
3. Watch for warning signs
While an occasional instance of overspending happens to everyone, if you find yourself constantly deviating from your budget (mindlessly shopping online, ordering that extra drink or dessert that pushes you over your dinner budget, or downplaying your overspending), that can be an indication you need to take a hard look at your motivation and budget. If you're deviating too much or too often from your budget, it may be too restrictive. If you review your budget and it seems reasonable, then you need to revisit your goals to remind yourself of your “Ultimate Why."
4. Have an accountability partner
According to Dave Ramsey, personal finance is 80% behavior and 20% knowledge. Being accountable and having focused intent are two of the most import behaviors to have when sticking to your budget. And this is where an accountability partner comes in. This is someone you trust who can motivate you, keep you focused, and provide honest feedback when you are faltering or want to give up. Chances are, in an expensive housing market like Hawaii, you're living with a spouse, partner, parent, grandparent, sibling, or roommate who can be yours. Whether you do your budget planning together or separately, make sure your accountability partner is an active participant in your plan. Share your 'bigger picture,' mighty mini SMART goals, and budget. Have a weekly touch base to review your progress. Experts say, knowing there is someone else involved in this process will help keep you accountable.
5. Automate everything
A simple money management tool is to take decisions out of your own hands as much as possible. Automate your savings with a direct transfer from your checking account and schedule your online bill paying so you're committed to paying down debt. Automation keeps your bills paid on time, so you avoid late fees and improve your credit score, which adds to your long-term financial security.
6. Use credit responsibly
There are many benefits to having credit cards. However, for many people, a credit card is an invitation to overspend. If that's a temptation for you, don't carry a credit card with you. Try putting it in water and freeze it, so the card is available for a true emergency. Commit to using cash or a debit card.
7. Control your impulses
If impulse spending is hurting your budget plan, try the 48-hour or the 30-day rule. Depending on what you're tempted to buy, wait either two days (for smaller purchases like a new clothing item) or a month (for larger purchases like the latest tech gadget) and then go back online or in person to see if this is something you truly need. You can also avoid control your impulses by not storing payment information on the websites you shop because it can be easy to click “buy" without considering the cost.
8. Celebrate your successes
One of the best ways to stay motivated is to acknowledge your milestones as you achieve them. Establish small goals so you have wins to celebrate, such as paying off a credit card or spending less than you budgeted one month. Consistently tracking your budget gives you the opportunity to have a glass of champagne or allow yourself a special dinner.
9. Indulge yourself – carefully
Setting aside a little money for fun is a great way to keep yourself motivated and to stick to your budget. If you're so strict that you can't enjoy yourself, you're more likely to quit budgeting entirely. For some people, a “cheat day" where you pamper yourself with something like a pedicure or a restaurant meal can be helpful. But for others, a cheat day can turn into a spending spree. In that case, it may be better to try what some dieters call “conscious indulgence," which is a more frequent but smaller treat such as an occasional ice cream cone or a drink with a friend.
So often sticking to your budget is more about mentality than it is about math. Meaning, if you've taken the steps to create a budget, chances are when faced with a decision, you know which one makes the most financial sense. However, always making those financially sensible decisions can be really challenging. Finding ways to stay motivated, take accountability, and correct your actions when you go off course can go a long way towards sticking to your budget and reaching your financial goals. Reviewing and revising your budget can go even further. Read on to learn how to review and revise your budget to get the most from your budget plan.
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