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Your problem is not creating a budget, but actually sticking to your budget, right?
You have good intentions and you can make a killer plan but as soon as you “misstep”, it all goes downhill.
I feel you, mama. This one is for you.
It’s frustrating when you set up your spending plan, only to “fail” the first week into it.
I know, I’ve been there too.
And I understand the struggle when you’ve have a long day with the kids at home, or you’re in a bad mood, or you’ve had a rough day at work. The last thing you want to think about is your budget.
The reality is that most people can create a budget, but sticking to it is the absolute hardest part. We aren’t robots, and we can’t predict the future.
So what can you do to make sure you stick to your budget this time?
Here are my top 14 tips to help you stick to your budget.
Before we get started, I’d like to invite you to download a free tool to use when creating your budget. It’s my Yearly Expense Tracker. Here, you will list every single bill that you have in the coming year. This includes monthly, quarterly, and yearly expenses so that you won’t forget to budget them when the time comes. Grab it here!
Got it? Awesome! Let’s get started.
Find Your “Why” and Create a Vision
Motivation is a very powerful thing. It is the psychological force that allows us to take action.
At some point, the pain of NOT doing something becomes greater than the pain of doing it.Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Often times the bounced check, the declining credit score, or the maxed-out credit card becomes more painful than actually making a plan to stick to your budget.
Unfortunately, when you reach this point, you’ve already dug a hole.
But knowing this ahead of time will prevent it from happening again.
Think about WHY you want to budget, WHY you want to become debt-free, or WHY you want to save money.
Create a vision of what it would be like if you were debt-free, if you stayed on budget, and if you were able to save some money.
Write it down.
For me, I envisioned a life without worry. I envisioned being able to go to the grocery store and telling my kids, “sure, you can have that bag of candy” without holding my breath.
I envisioned a safety net where I would be able to handle any emergency, and I envisioned a spontaneous road trip, just because we could without regret.
Find something that breathes fire deep inside you. Write it down, draw it out, or take a picture and keep it visible for you to see every day.
Track and Analyze Your Spending
One of the first things I always suggest before actually creating a budget is to track and analyze your spending for 3 months.
Not only will it provide you with data and practical analysis, it will give you a dose of reality.
It will bring to light your bad spending habits and your problem areas.
Nothing is like a slap in the face than those Amazon charges surfacing. The numbers won’t lie. And yes, you will have to face them.
Once you can identify your problem areas, you can then make a plan to work on it.
Find Your Triggers and Eliminate Them
What do I mean by trigger? A trigger is something that propels you perform an unwanted action.
For example, if you are a spender, what do you love spending money on?
Clothes, shoes, baby stuff?
If you don’t know, start tracking your spending to see where you like to spend most of your money.
When I was paying off my debt, my trigger was buying baby stuff. New baby toys, educational toys, subscriptions.
Once you find your trigger, challenge yourself and commit to not spending in that area for one paycheck. Then challenge yourself for a month, then another. Once you get the hang of it, find another trigger and do it again.
You’ll soon be wondering where all the extra cash in your account is coming from. It’s a good feeling, I know.
Talk About It
Talking about money openly isn’t the easiest thing to do.
Admitting that you have a bad habit, or announcing that you are officially living paycheck to paycheck can be a tough pill to swallow.
But the thing is, many people are generally understanding when you tell them you are on a budget.
And if they aren’t understanding and try to force you to pay for things you can’t afford or continue to invite you to places that are way out of your budget, then maybe they aren’t the type of people that you need to be hanging around with, right now.
Talking about money shouldn’t be taboo. The more we talk about our finances, the easier we can be at managing it.
Learn to Say “No”
Easier said than done right?
I know, I still struggle with this too. And there are times when I tell myself that I need to say “no” more often.
I am a people-pleaser, and I generally don’t like to make people feel uncomfortable, upset, or worried. So when it comes time to do something on the fly, I typically go with it, even if my budget says otherwise.
However, if I have time to think about an event before it happens, I can generally come up with a witty response to something I really don’t want to do or have the budget for.
I’m going to challenge myself to say “no” more often this month. Care to join me?
So what I mean by this one is make a plan before THE plan. Get all your ideas out of your head before you make your budget.
Review Your Budget Before Payday
Think about what you want your budget to look like. For me, I sit down with my calendar and think about all of the things going on that month or that paycheck.
Is there a niece’s birthday? School picture day? Sports picture day? Your turn for snacks? In-laws coming for dinner this week?
These are things that are not going to be in your budget and are the things that will blow your budget.
So take the time to think about all the things you might spend money on.
Even if it is the Chik-fil-A meal while you wait for your car to be maintenanced.
Look at a Year in Advance
In addition to looking a few weeks into the future, keep the distant future in mind too.
If you know that your yearly car registration and tags are due, then make sure to include that.
My favorite tool to keep track of these yearly expenses is my Yearly Expense Tracker. Grab your download here!
When you create roadblocks, the goal is to make it easier for you to avoid bad habits.
Are you addicted to Amazon? Get rid of the app, disconnect your PayPal or debit card from the platform, and cancel your subscription if you really have to.
Love buying Groupon deals? Delete the app.
Can’t ditch the Target addiction? Hide your RedCard. Commit to completing one task every time you think of making a “Target run”.
Can’t save for the life of you? Make sure to save first, then spend what’s left. Keep your savings in an account that isn’t easy to get to so you aren’t tempted to touch it.
Is using a card way too easy? Use cash.
The roadblocks are there to make it inconvenient for you to make a bad financial decision so that you can start making good ones.
Seriously. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen families of 5 or 6 try to squeeze their grocery budget to $200 per month or less.
It’s just not going to happen.
There is a budgeting percentage graph by Dave Ramsey that I believe is so unrealistic for the modern-day family that many people continue to share.
First off, Dave recommends allocating just 25% of your budget toward housing. If you make $3,000 per month, this means that your housing should be no more than $750 per month.
What I suggest is to take a sheet of paper and write down what you currently pay.
Now, take another sheet of paper and write down the very minimum you could pay given your family size, your location, your income, opportunity for growth and willingness to downsize.
If the cheapest apartment in your area is $1,250 per month and you are not willing you move to an area with a lower cost of living, than use that as your lowest housing cost.
If you currently spend $500 on groceries as a family of 5 and everyone is fed, you don’t waste food, you use coupons, and your family has home-cooked meals more often than not, than $500 is probably right where you need to be.
Trying to cut your grocery bill down to $200 is unrealistic and will only dampen your spirits.
After all, this is YOUR budget, not someone else’s.
Write It Down
Research has shown that when you write down your goals and plans, you are more likely to achieve them than if you didn’t.
Choose a method to document your budget. If a plain piece of paper works for you, then go for it. If a planner works best for you, then keep doing what you are doing.
I find that it is best to stay organized. When I’m organized, I stay on track.
If you were to lose your piece of paper with your budget on it, you are more likely to forget what you planned and more likely to spend outside of your budget.
I personally use a mix of my Happy Planner and my Paycheck Budgeting Template along with a few other printables. I have found that this system works best for me.
Create a Buffer, Cushion, or Wiggle Room
I am a huge fan of flexibility. I know that I make mistakes. The mom fog acts up and I forget the lunch money is due. It happens.
I needed a way to account for my mistakes that were bound to happen and I also needed to account for occasional increases in utilities outside of my control.
For example, the rates went up on our electricity bill. There is a new “fee” added to your sewer bill. Or the new service charge for local sports shows up on your cable bill.
Having a Budget Buffer will account for these random fluctuations. It’s like having a small cushion or an “oopsie” fund as I like to call it.
If you know that things just tend to come up, or if you know that you are forgetful, give yourself some wiggle as you hone in on your expenses.
Use Sinking Funds to Break Up Large Expenses
Sometimes, it is the large expenses like birthday parties, last-minute Holiday gatherings, and Christmas that tend to throw people off guard.
When you don’t plan ahead (going back to planning ahead), large expenses such as the ones mentioned above can force you to use your credit card, go back into debt, or deplete your savings.
The best thing to combat this is to break up the large expense into smaller, manageable goals. This year, I decided to set a sinking fund for Christmas.
Instead of cram-saving (is that a word?) a few months before the event, I decided to save monthly over the entire year.
Let me just tell you, as October is here and Christmas is just around the corner, it feels 10x less stressful knowing I already have close to $900 saved up.
Focus on Being Creative
If you like to be creative, this is right up your ally.
Numbers aren’t visually appealing and budgets are exactly fun to most people.
But if you make it into a game, make it visually appealing, make it pretty, then I guarantee you will be more apt to opening your planner to color in your savings chart or checking off another paid-off debt collector.
Another way I like to think of creativity in my budget is to find ways to save more money. For me, this means a lot of DIY.
I love DIY and the whole purpose of DIY for me is to save money.
Focus on creative parts. Design your own cash envelopes, make a fun savings chart, or just download one for free if you don’t have the time.
When you make it fun and visually appealing, you will enjoy the process and you will be more likely to stick to your budget.
Review Your Budget Frequently
Your budget isn’t going to be the same every single month and it’s very important to know that.
Things change all the time so you need to review your budget frequently to make sure that you stay on track.
When I first started actively paying off my debt, I opened my bank app every single day to make sure I knew how much money I had in my account each day.
I watched and made mental notes as to which payments went through and which payments still needed to be processed.
Even now, I open my bank app several times per week.
Every time I spend money on something that wasn’t in the budget, I open my app and calculate what’s left again. This way, I know exactly how much I can actually spend.
In the beginning, when you are desperately trying to stick to your budget, I suggest looking at your numbers every day.
As you become seasoned and as you carve a little more leeway, you can give yourself a little more grace.
Be Persistent and Flexible
Don’t give up just because you went over budget this week. Keep your head in the game (sports mom here) and your eye on the ball.
Money grows on the tree of persistenceJapanese Proverb
If you went over budget in one area, there’s still time. See if you can adjust your budget to decrease an expense in another area to make up for it.
Don’t blow the budget because there is no use.
Give yourself some flexibility to be able to make changes on the fly. That is the magic of the budget by paycheck method.
Keep in mind that it will take time to perfect your budget but you will get there, mama!