With a new year comes a new attitude and approach to budgeting. And for many people, January 1st marked a chance to finally get their budget in order. But without a plan, and a few budgeting tips, many people may find themselves slipping. Here’s how to make sure your budget is in tip-top shape in 2021 with these budgeting tips.
Top Budgeting Tips Of 2021
Some of these tips may seem simple or easy, but others will be newer or harder to do. Whatever you decide to take from this article, know that personal finance is just that, personal. Take the budgeting tips you need, leave the ones you don’t. And the better you get at managing your money (no matter what tips you follow), the more money you can keep.
1) Start With 1%
Finance experts are always throwing around 4%, 10%, and 20%, but let’s just start with 1%.
For many people, suddenly saving 40% of their income or investing 20% of their paycheck just isn’t feasible. But you know what is? Improving by 1%.
Think about it. You go from saving nothing at all to saving 1% of your paycheck.
- This may not seem like much, but before you know it, you have a bit of an emergency fund.
- Then, you start applying that 1% to the rest of your live.
- You start investing 1%.
- You try to cut down your budget categories by 1%. Before you know it, you’ve made a bigger dent in your debt pay-off, have been able to save more, have started investing, and more!
This isn’t a competition though. You’re trying to build money management skills that will last you a lifetime, and this is one of the easiest budgeting tips to start with. So start with just 1%.
2) Set SMART Goals
With the new year comes new resolutions. But this year, vow to actually accomplish those resolutions by setting SMART goals. It works like this:
S – Specific. Why do you want to accomplish this goal? Who will this affect? How will it affect you and others?
M – Measurable. When will you accomplish this goal? Don’t be afraid to set a date!
A – Achievable. It’s okay to make a stretch goal, but don’t make it too hard to reach. You want to strive to reach it, not get discouraged.
R – Relevant. Does this goal make sense for you financially? For example, there’s no point in paying off your student loans first if your credit card is maxed out and has 22% interest.
T – Time Bound. What can you accomplish within the time frame you set for yourself? Do you need to break down your payment dates?
While this may all seem time-consuming, it’s much better than throwing money away because you don’t have SMART goals and a better understanding of what you want to achieve.
Let’s be honest, budgeting isn’t always fun.
Spreadsheets, notes, and seeing your finances right in front of you can be exhausting. So try to make it fun.
How do you like to budget? There are a ton of different methods.
- Do you prefer paper and pen or a spreadsheet?
- Can an app make it better?
- Are you goal oriented or do you go with the flow?
By asking yourself these questions, you can find a better budgeting system that works for you and doesn’t cause you to quit.
4) Budget For Fun
Speaking of fun, one of the top budgeting tips is to budget in some fun money! Even just $10 a month can be better than not treating yourself at all.
As a person who got herself out of thousands of debt, I know what it’s like to feel guilty when treating yourself. But you shouldn’t. Just keep it simple and don’t go overboard. Plus, there are plenty of ways to budget in fun and self-care that don’t cost a ton of money!
5) Set Short-Term AND Long-Term Goals
Yes, long-term goals like buying a house are great, and they give you something to work towards. But if you’re anything like me, short-term goals keep you more motivated.
For example, paying off a $500 loan may not seem all that impressive to some, but for you it may be a huge deal, and that’s okay! $500 paid off means $500 you never have to pay off again.
And, when you meet those smaller or shorter term goals, those tend to fuel you to reach your more long-term goals too. (It’s called momentum, and it can be a great thing!!)
6) Budget More For Food (At First)
One of the biggest mistakes I see new budgeters make is trying to slash their grocery bill by 50% or more their first month. But I can tell you right now, that’s a failure waiting to happen.
Instead, track your budget for a month. How much did you spend?
Then, the next month, try to get just $50 under that budget. Keep that going and see how much you can slash your grocery budget, but take your time.
- Find better deals,
- sign up for coupons, and
- shop smart…
…but don’t think you have to figure that all out in one month. It’s not sustainable in the long run, trust me on that.
7) Budget Before The New Month
Don’t wait until the 1st of the month to start your new budget! Plan at least a week in advance. And make sure to include any dates, special events, gifts, or anything else you may need to buy. That way you don’t forget when the 1st of the month comes up.
I check my spending once a week. I just pull up my bank app and check my spending, adding it to my transactions list so I can close out my budget at the end of the month.
By reviewing my spending more often, I’m able to:
- catch and reel in impulse spending,
- see if my budget needs to be re-adjusted, and
- check on subscriptions and other habits.
If I only checked once a month, it would be easy to be overwhelmed and skip it all together, thus continuing on my spending pattern (even if it’s not healthy). But by checking once a week, I can keep my budget in order.
9) Start A Challenge
There are a ton of money challenges you can try when budgeting. If you’re competitive, I highly suggest a debt payoff challenge or emergency fund challenge. These can make a huge difference in your monthly budget, plus they’re incredibly fun when you win.
10) Track Your Irregular Expenses Too
One of the best budgeting tips here that people often miss…
- Christmas doesn’t happen every month.
- Birthday’s are only one day a year.
- Car insurance usually rolls around every 6 months.
While these aren’t regular monthly expenses, you spend money on them, so they should be tracked too. Take a moment to sit and write down any expenses you come across throughout the year, and make a plan for how you’ll pay them.
11) Don’t Budget Down To Zero
This may be controversial for some, but I don’t budget my entire paycheck, and I never have. While a zero-sum budget works for some, it doesn’t work for all of us.
I’m a business owner, a wife, and mother. Things happen that aren’t always in my control. So if I just budgeted all of my money, and something happened, I’d be stuck dipping into my emergency fund or swiping my credit card.
Instead, I have a buffer in my budget planning and in my account. I like to keep around $500 in my checking account for emergencies or unplanned spending (like when I had to pay an unplanned vet bill for my dog).
Murphy shows up when you least expect, so plan for it by keeping a buffer.
12) Reduce Your Interest Rates (If Possible)
I know that this may not work for everyone, but there are ways to negotiate your interest rates on car loans, credit cards, and even personal loans. Refinancing may also be an option.
By reducing your interest rates, you’ll be able to pay off your loans and debts faster.
It’s one of those solid budgeting tips that people don’t always think of. But it can certainly help!
Trying to build your credit, but don’t want to get in debt to do it?
And this is why I wanted to give you one of my favorite budgeting tips for building credit. I’m now debt-free, but I still like trying to keep a decent credit score (because you never know what could happen).
So how do I keep my credit score healthy?
Besides two open credit cards (with no balances), I will also loan myself money from time to time. And you can do it too! Just make sure to pay no interest or very little interest. Don’t loan yourself money that you can’t pay back.
14) Build A Bigger Emergency Fund
If the 2020 pandemic taught us anything, it taught us that $1,000 just isn’t enough money to live on. And many people who lost their jobs would say the same. Sure, $1,000 saved is better than nothing, but if you can save more, I always recommend it.
I have a 12 month emergency fund.
This was important to me as the breadwinner of the household and a business owner. Should anything happen, my family is safe for 12 months while I figure out other things. And I can’t be more grateful for that. But you don’t have to save for a full 12 months. Experts say 3-6 months is quite safe as well.
15) Automate Your Savings
Again, this goes back to making budgeting more fun and keeping you from going off track. And, it’s one of my favorite budgeting tips of these 20.
Because doing just this can make you a millionaire!!
I’m not saying you have to save 40% of each paycheck, but try to save at least $5-$10 dollars from it. Every bit helps and counts, and if you don’t see it, chances are you won’t miss it either.
Bonus points if you save it in an account you can’t easily touch (and overspend on)!
You’ve got a budget and you want to stick to it…but things break. And you know what? Repair men are expensive!
First of all, there are a ton of things that you can DIY on your own:
- under-sink plumbing
- sump pumps
- car brakes
- hinge repair
- window blind repair
- wobbly tables and chairs
…the list could go on and on.
There are just so many simple things that you could fix on your own, AND there’s an endless supply of resources out there on the web and on YouTube!
By doing projects yourself, you can save sooo much money. After all, it costs $75 just to have someone come over and LOOK at your issue, let alone fix it. With each simple repair you make on your own, I bet you save $150 or more.
Second, you don’t NEED to repair everything that breaks
Our dishwasher stopped working a few months ago. It’s old and we’ll likely replace all the appliances in the near future, so we just left it broken and have been hand-washing the dishes ever since. No big deal. And, the non-repair was FREE! 🙂 Lol.
17) Focus On Retirement
Unfortunately for my generation and the generations to come, we may not have social security to fall back on. And a few savings and budgeting tips won’t help if we don’t have money in the bank. So it’s important for us to focus on protecting ourselves and paying our way in retirement.
The earlier you start, the better, but don’t get discouraged if you can’t invest and save a lot right now.
Times are hard, and I understand that for many people, retirement seems far away enough to not worry about it right now. But as someone who has gone from 18 to almost 27 in almost the blink of an eye, I realize time passes by faster than we think.
As usual, budget what you can afford. But some money invested is better than nothing at all.
18) Make A Difference and Save Money
Did you know being eco-friendly, sustainable, and more minimal doesn’t have to be hard or expensive? I wrote a whole blog post on how my family saves hundreds (if not thousands at this point) of dollars by being eco-friendly. Plus, you can feel good knowing that you made a difference on our planet, no matter how small!
Our country has a bad habit of thinking you have to constantly be going, and going, and going. Not only is that completely unsustainable (and a breeding ground for mental and physical health issues), but it actually encourages us to spend more.
Think about this…
You’re rushing to work. So you pick up food because you didn’t have time to eat breakfast.
Then, you get to work and realize you left your lunch behind. “No biggie” you think, as you spend $15 on a salad that you literally could have gotten for $3 (pre-made!) at a grocery store. Or worse, you eat fast food, and often, which then causes you to have high cholesterol and blood pressure.
So now you have to spend hundreds of dollars on medications to get those under control. Then, you get home, and you just have SO many projects to do because you didn’t have time to do them during the day, so you swear that you will this weekend.
And then the weekend comes and you find yourself spending a bunch of money on stuff you didn’t really need, to do projects you hate, to impress your neighbors (whom you also hate).
This Stuff REALLY Happens!
You may be reading that thinking I am being extreme, but the example I just gave you was my own father in law. So not as extreme as you may think.
And even if you don’t do all of the above, I can almost guarantee you that our obsession with constantly being “on” is costing you more money than you may have thought.
Don’t be afraid to slow down. We only have one life, and you shouldn’t let others make you feel guilty for wanting to smell the roses (and take care of yourself).
Remember, no one ever really got praised for working themselves into the ground. Instead, they got replaced quickly by a system that just needed a warm body. And I don’t want that for you.
20) Give Yourself Grace
I know times get hard sometimes. And I also know that some Americans can be really judge-y when you mess up or make mistakes, especially when it comes to money (I’m looking at you, Dave Ramsey! Lol.). But, it’s important to extend grace and forgiveness to yourself.
We all make mistakes. Even me, someone who has been budgeting since she was 16 years old. My life isn’t perfect, and I don’t expect anyone else’s to be either.
If you make a mistake, acknowledge it, find a way to make it better, and learn from it so you can do better next time. And most importantly, forgive yourself, because you’re only human after all.
Budgeting Tips – Now It’s Time For Action!
Now is the perfect time to start your budgeting journey again. So what are you waiting for? We’ve given you the tips! Now it’s time for you to take action!
Are you ready to put these budgeting tips to work! Which ones are your favorite? Tell us in the comments below!
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.