How to Stick to Your Budget
So, now you have a budget, but how’s it working for you?
Are you able to stick to it?
Do you dread the thought of itemizing all your spending every month?
And, even worse, seeing where you failed and having to promise yourself that you’ll do better next month?
I used to be there too. What started out as an exercise in freedom and enlightenment turned into a frustrating, time-consuming chore that I put off as long as possible.
I had to find a better way, and after a lot of experimenting, I discovered what worked for our family and what doesn’t.
Here are some tips I’ve learned to keep your budget working for you, instead of the other way around.
Use an Online Budgeting Tool
Tracking your spending online is a great alternative to waiting till the end of the month and adding up what you’ve spent. Or keeping a box of receipts to enter in a spreadsheet. Done right, it saves time and gives you real-time feedback to keep you on track.
- It’s FREE
- Syncs with all your accounts (bank, mortgage, investing, credit cards, you name it) to keep all your financial “stuff” in one place
- Mobile app to keep you on track
- Lots of personalization options (categories, budget goals, savings goals, etc.)
- Automatically categorizes your spending for you
- Many people use and love Mint. I’ve used Mint in the past and it was a great way to get started. If you’re looking for an awesome, FREE resource, Mint is fantastic.
- For some reason it just doesn’t work for me any more. Maybe because I have to go to the site and login to use it? I’m not sure why, but I tend to forget about it.
- Auto-categorizing takes some tweaking. The categories Mint chooses for my spending don’t always make sense to me and have to be manually adjusted.
- Security protocols for syncing accounts can make it difficult to keep everything up to date. I’m often notified of accounts that “won’t sync” and I’m not always sure why. Remembering multiple security question answers is great for security, but not for mommy-brain.
- It’s free, so don’t be surprised if you see advertisements for financial products
- As you can see, my cons are more personal preferences…like I said, Mint is a great, free way begin budgeting online.
- Lots of user-friendly tutorials to get you started
- Mobile app allows on-the-go spending entries for multiple family members
- Syncs with bank accounts
- Easy to copy budgets from one month to the next
- Reporting capabilities are phenomenal
- Easy adjustments, edits, etc.
- Lots of helpful resources and articles to support your money management goals
- Cost: Free for 34 days, then $5/month or $50/year
- YNAB has a specific methodology to budgeting, so the platform is built to support their method. So there are some restrictions on how you use the tool (i.e. You can’t carry over negative category balances from one month to the next because YNAB wants you to start every month with a zero or positive balance)
- A bit of a learning curve to get started
Use Stores as Categories
Part of my problem sticking to a budget was the tedious task of dividing up all my spending into too many categories. I was trying too hard to micro-manage every single penny, and made myself crazy in the process.
Even using generic categories like “clothing” and “groceries” can be frustrating because these days we all tend to shop at places like Walmart or Target, where you can pick up light bulbs (home maintenance), shoes for the kids (clothing), milk, bread, and grapes (groceries), and a birthday present (gifts) all in one trip. And don’t even get me started on Amazon.
Who wants to take the time to slice up individual receipts to make sure every dollar gets put in the right spending category? Trust me, I’ve done it and, while it makes sense from a budgeting perspective, from the sanity side of things, it’s completely nuts!
So last year, I tried a different method and it made things SO MUCH SIMPLER. Instead of those generic categories like groceries and gifts, I turned my most used stores into their own categories.
I went back to basics and tracked my spending (using my YNAB reports this time – much faster than printing bank statements). Then Walmart got a category and so did Amazon, ALDI, and Target (plus an Other category as a catchall for less frequented stores). These all go under the broad category of “Household Expenses.”
Next I thought about all the purchases I typically make at these establishments, and I eliminated these redundant categories: Gifts, Groceries, Clothing, Home Maintenance, Decorating, Holidays, School, Diapers, and Baby.
Whew! See how this is so much easier? Granted, I still have to stay on top of my spending and know that if I’m consistently spending more than I’ve budgeted at Target, then something needs to change. But now I feel like I’m actually in control of the budget again, instead of enslaved to all those little categories.
If you are struggling to stick to your budget, or it feels like too much work to keep up with it, I encourage you to try one or both of these methods to get back in control. Simplify the process so that it works for your, instead of the other way around.