Sticking to a budget is no easy task, but it is an enormously satisfying one. Telling your money where to go each month gives you a feeling of control and helps you plan for the future. No matter what your financial dream is, a budget is the first step toward getting there. It allows you to create a master plan for your money that reflects your goals and priorities, whatever they may be.
But that doesn’t mean you need to deprive yourself of the things you love. If you want to go out for sushi every week or enjoy getting a massage every now and again, that’s totally fine! As long as you budget responsibly for those things (i.e., they don’t interfere with paying your rent), why not? Budgeting gives you permission to enjoy your money without worrying about it because it’s all part of your highly individualized plan.
However, sticking to the plan isn’t always easy, even when you’ve drawn up a great budget. You might be tempted to dip into your vacation savings to buy a great new pair of fall boots when you reach the end of your clothing budget. The “I want” part of your brain can be very persuasive, but here are a few things that will help you stick to a budget, even when your willpower is feeling weak.
Find an Accountability Partner
It really helps to have someone who is on the same team as you when it comes to your budget. This might be a family member or your spouse, though that’s certainly not my case. My husband is a serious spender, and I’m a compulsive saver. So our money views don’t match up well.
Instead, I prefer weekly budget check-ins with a friend via Facebook. We hash out our goals, run our numbers, and admit where we’ve messed up. Having her encouragement and support helps keep me on track and stay focused.
Designate a No-Spend Day
Spending a little bit here and there each day really adds up fast. Those daily trips to the nearest grocery store for forgotten items, or swinging by Starbucks for your favorite cappuccino, or going into Target for one thing and coming out with a cartload of must-haves? These actions all have the potential to derail your budget.
Curb the death-by-a-thousand-small-purchases by designating a no-spend day (or two or three!) each week. If you don’t have exactly the right ingredients, improvise. Need paper towels? Use a regular towel for just one day. You will survive.
If you want to trim some areas in your budget so you can pay down debt or save for an upcoming vacation, good for you. However, it’s important to make sure your budget is still realistic. Don’t cut back your grocery budget so much that you’re eating rice and beans every night or throw out your whole entertainment budget and resign yourself to life as a hermit.
Feeling deprived will put you on the fast track to budget rebellion. Cut back within reason, but don’t cut out everything you love.
Pair It With Something Fun
I love budgeting and look forward to doing it every day, but I know I am in a very weird minority. For everyone who is not thrilled by the idea of sitting down with a budgeting spreadsheet each day, try pairing it with something fun. If it’s not going to destroy your diet, you can save a nice chocolate bar to eat only when you are working on your budget.
Don’t want to reward yourself with food? Take yourself on a walk or go to a favorite bookstore when your weekly budgeting duties are complete. By coupling budgeting with something enjoyable, you won’t dread it so much — or put it off.
I am the worst when it comes to “borrowing” money from one section of my budget and using it somewhere else. When I’m working out my budget on a spreadsheet, it’s easy to fudge the numbers a little bit to suit my impulsive need to buy fancy cheese at Costco. I’ll shop with a spend-now, fix-it-later mentality, which wreaks havoc on my budget.
One thing I’ve found tremendously useful for curbing my bad budget habit is using an envelope system. You put cash in an envelope weekly or monthly for certain spending categories (like clothing, food, etc.), and once the money’s gone, it’s gone. No borrowing here and there. No cash advance for the next week or month. You can’t overspend if the money’s not there!