When you’re trying to stick to a budget, it can be hard, especially if you’re not used to having one. But, if you truly want to reach your money goals, having a budget is super important. Here’s how to actually stick to your budget, without feeling like you’re sacrificing your lifestyle.
1) Make It Realistic
Let’s be honest, a bare-bones budget is not realistic long-term. Sure, it’s great to have in case you lose a job or your income is slashed. But overall, your budget should reflect your lifestyle and what you want out of it. So make it realistic!
For example, my husband and I are foodies. We love trying local spots and having different cuisines at our fingertips. So instead of saying “We will NEVER eat out because it’s too expensive” we say “We can eat out twice a month, but we should learn how to make certain dishes at home”. We still enjoy the freedom of eating out twice a month, but we also aren’t sacrificing our budget to enjoy our favorite foods.
2) Set Up Auto-Pay
You can’t overspend or get off track with your budget if you’re paying your bills right away. While setting up auto-pay doesn’t work for everyone, it’s worth the try. I set up auto-pay for the bills that don’t fluctuate. For me, that includes my:
- phone bill (we have a prepaid plan),
- car insurance, and
- health insurance.
This saves me SO much time each month because I don’t have to go in and pay these bills myself, plus I know that every single month those bills are being paid on time. Also, some companies give discounts for auto-pay, which means more money in your pocket.
Let’s be honest, companies send way too many emails to entice people to buy their stuff. So, if you find yourself spending more than you should, on items you don’t really need, now is the time to unsubscribe.
If you just can’t do that for your favorite places, at least create a new email that you only use when signing up for marketing emails. And only check it once a week, so you’re not tempted to overspend!
4) Plan, Plan, Plan
One of the best ways to stick to a budget? Plan everything.
- What bills need to be paid?
- What meals are you eating this week?
- Do you have any holidays, birthdays, or special occasions coming up this month?
By planning ahead, you can adjust your budget accordingly and plan for these events, tasks, and costs that you’ll need to pay for.
For example, I plan my meals each week. Not only has it cut our grocery budget almost in half, but it also means we eat what we have (yay, zero food waste!). I also plan yearly on birthdays and holidays (plus occasions like my wedding anniversary), and save money in sinking funds so I can pay when needed.
5) Break Down Your Budget
Okay, so you know how much money you spend each month. But do you know your weekly costs?
For me, the biggest chunk of my budget comes out at the beginning of the month. That’s because most of my bills are due between the 1st and the 5th of each month. Knowing that, I plan ahead so I always have enough cash to pay my bills during those dates.
But during the middle and end of the month, I only have two bills that need to be paid, and both are typically under $50. So instead of blowing my money during the middle of the month, I save it for the first of the month because I know expenses will be higher.
If you break your budget down weekly, you may see similar patterns. Then, you can plan for the weeks that are more expensive, and save during the weeks that you don’t have much to pay for.
Studies have shown that paying with cash vs. a debit or credit card “hurts” us and makes us not want to spend as much. Now, paying with cash will not work for everyone (it doesn’t work for me). However, if you need to reel in your spending, it could be a great way to learn how to stick to a budget.
7) Say No
I get it, many of us have FOMO (fear of missing out) or want to splurge from time to time when we’re with family and friends. But, if it’s going to cause stress on your finances, or if you’re really trying to stick to a budget, now is the time to learn to say no.
You don’t have to say no to important things, like your child’s birthday or your best friend’s wedding. But by saying no to things that aren’t important to you, or that you’d rather not blow money on, you can save a lot in the long run. And no, you do not need to give a reason for saying no either. No is a complete sentence.
8) Freeze The Credit Card
Now, I don’t mean that you should actually freeze your credit card (although you could, I guess…). But, see if you can go a month without using it. Unfortunately, many people get credit cards and spend more than they intend, leaving them with a bill, and interest, that they can’t afford.
And yes, sometimes you may have to spend on a credit card for emergencies or if you can’t pay your bills. But really try not to spend on the card, and see how much of a difference it makes, not only in your wallet, but also your well-being.
If you’ve planned out your budget, impulse buys and large purchases shouldn’t be an issue. But let’s be honest, we’re all human and we all make mistakes. Even I have been swindled by some new product right as I’m checking out. And the next thing you know, I’ve spent $10-$20 more than I thought I would.
But the best way to decrease your spending is to think about a purchase before you actually make it.
- Do you really need a new sofa?
- Can you save for it instead?
- Do you really need yet another tube of lipstick?
- Is it really necessary to go to Dunkin every morning when you hate the coffee half of the time?
Instead of continuing habits that cost you money, start thinking before you purchase. If you still want the item after thinking about it and running through possible scenarios and budgets in your head, go for it! But usually, we don’t really want or need the item, so put it back.
10) Try A No-Spend Challenge
If all else fails, you can always choose to have a no-spend challenge. You can set this up for a week, month, few months, or even a year. But basically, a no-spend challenge means not spending money on anything non-essential.
I’ve tried a no-spend challenge a few times, and even for an expert budgeter myself, I was still able to save a few hundred dollars! That’s not chump change. If you set the challenge up for yourself, also find a buddy or partner that will hold you accountable for achieving your goal. It helps, I promise.
It’s Time to Actually Stick to a Budget
Well there you have it, 10 ways to actually stick to a budget. And the best part is that most of these don’t mean sacrificing your quality of life or making really big changes. But, these changes sure do add up and can mean hundreds of dollars (or even thousands) back into your pocket each year.
Are you ready to commit to stick to a budget? Which of the above tips is your favorite?
AUTHOR Kimberly Studdard
Kim Studdard is a project manager for online entrepreneurs and small businesses. When she isn't spending time with her daughter and husband, or reading her growing pile of horror books, you'll find her working on her HR degree and working towards FIRE.