Budgeting Tips

  • Lifestyle Creep: What It Is and How to Avoid It

    If you’re anything like me, then your first job out of high school or college wasn’t exactly lucrative. Like many people, I entered the workforce earning well below the average salary.

    The good news is that over time, most of us see our salaries gradually increase, which can open up a whole new world of opportunities.

    Unfortunately, it often feels like those pay increases disappear as quickly as they appeared. We struggle to save money and wonder where all that extra cash went.

    The answer? Lifestyle creep. 

    And while lifestyle creep can seriously cut into your salary increase, there’s good news. There are several ways to avoid it and even reverse it if it’s already a problem for you.



    What is lifestyle creep?

    Lifestyle creep — also known as lifestyle inflation — is the gradual increase in your discretionary spending as your income rises.

    Some lifestyle inflation is intentional. As we earn more, we choose to increase our standard of living as well. But plenty of lifestyle creep also happens without us even realizing it. We simply have additional money in our bank account, and so we spend it.

    While it’s natural to elevate your lifestyle as your income increases, it can also seriously derail your financial goals. When you increase your lifestyle in an amount equal to your pay increase, you aren’t allocating additional money to your emergency fund, retirement accounts, and other financial goals.

    Lifestyle creep may seem relatively harmless, but it can actually land us in a very precarious situation. Recent data shows that about 54% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, including 40% of those with income over $100,000. Unfortunately, that means there’s little left in the budget to cover financial emergencies or reach financial goals.


    Lifestyle creep examples

    Lifestyle creep can come in many different forms. In some cases, lifestyle inflation happens as the result of many small increased expenses that add up. For example, you might sign up for a new streaming service here and there, splurge for nicer clothes, or switch to organic groceries.

    It’s these small increases in spending across many categories that allow lifestyle creep to go unnoticed until you take a hard look at your budget.

    In other cases, lifestyle inflation is much easier to spot because it comes in the form of large purchases. You might elevate your lifestyle by upgrading your house or apartment, buying a new car, or taking extravagant vacations.


    How to avoid lifestyle inflation

    Lifestyle inflation often happens without us even realizing it, but there are several ways to help avoid it. Keep reading to learn five ways to avoid lifestyle creep.



    You’ve almost certainly heard that the best way to control your spending is to have a budget, but it’s worth repeating.

    When you have a budget, you’re telling your money where to go rather than simply spending the money that’s in your account.

    One of the best budgets to address lifestyle creep is the 50/30/20 budget. Using this budget method, 50% of your income goes toward needs, 30% goes toward wants, and 20% goes toward savings and debt.

    This budgeting method makes it easy to address pay increases because you use the same percentage to split up your budget no matter how much you’re making. When you have extra income, you can simply divide it up using this same framework.

    Need help starting your budget? Visit our complete guide to creating a budget (and actually sticking to it).



    Goal-setting requires making a clear plan for your money. For example, if I want to fund the down payment on a home in two years and it’s going to cost me $24,000, then I know I need to save roughly $1,000 per month for that goal.

    If I’m excited to become a homeowner and that goal is really important to me, I won’t be tempted to spend that $1,000 on unnecessary spending. Nope, I’ve already got a plan for that money.

    One thing I know about myself is that I’m far more motivated to save when I have a specific goal in mind versus when I’m saving just for the sake of saving.

    If you don’t currently have any short or long-term goals you’re working toward, now is the time to start. Visit the free guide I created on setting and reaching your financial goals.



    The situation when lifestyle creep is most dangerous is when we don’t actually earn a high enough income to cover it, which is, unfortunately, the case for many people,

    According to Bankrate, roughly 54% of Americans carry a balance on their credit cards. And data from Experian shows the average credit card balance is about $5,525.

    There are some situations where debt is hard to avoid. If a financial emergency comes up and you don’t have the cash to pay for it, it might be necessary to finance it with a credit card or loan. And for large purchases like cars, financing is the only option for some people.

    But often, credit card debt is the result of lifestyle inflation that gets ahead of our income. I say this from experience! When I got divorced at 27, I could no longer afford my lifestyle and ended up racking up some credit card debt before I got serious about my personal finances.

    If you want to avoid lifestyle creep, it’s time to set some serious boundaries with yourself as to when you are and aren’t okay with getting into debt.



    One of the reasons it’s so easy to increase our spending when our income goes up is that we simply have more money in our bank account. And when the money is there, it’s easy to spend.

    A great way to avoid that problem is by automating your savings.

    When I was ready to get serious with saving, I set an automatic transfer from my checking account to my savings account the day after I got paid each month. At first, it was only $50, but I gradually increased it over time.

    And you know what? I didn’t miss that money in my bank account. It was out of sight, out of mind. And because it wasn’t there to spend, I didn’t feel tempted.

    You can use this automatic savings technique when it comes to building your emergency fund, saving for a big financial goal, funding your investment accounts, and more.



    When you’ve gotten pay increases in the past, have you ever sat down and intentionally decided where that money would go? Most people don’t, but it’s actually the best way to avoid lifestyle creep.

    Let’s say you’ve just found out you’re getting a $3,000 raise (after taxes). When you break it down monthly, the extra $250 doesn’t seem like much. But when you look at the big picture, $3,000 is a decent chunk of money to put toward your savings and other financial goals.

    So rather than just increasing your spending by $250 when you get your pay increase, sit down ahead of time and decide exactly where that $250 will go. Maybe you’ll put it toward student loans, the down payment on a house, or your investments. 

    And remember, you can, of course, put some of that money toward lifestyle elevation (we’ll talk about that more later). It’s just important to be intentional.


    Can you reverse lifestyle inflation?

    Unfortunately, most of us have already fallen victim to lifestyle creep throughout our adult lives. So while it’s important to talk about ways to avoid inflating our lifestyles with each pay raise, it’s just as important that we talk about remedies for our existing lifestyle creep.

    Can you actually reverse lifestyle inflation?

    I’m not going to lie — it’s really hard to reverse lifestyle inflation. Once you’ve upgraded your living situation, your eating habits, or your wardrobe, it’s hard to go back to the more affordable version you once had. But that’s not to say it’s impossible to reverse lifestyle creep.

    I think the key to eliminating some of the lifestyle inflation that’s already worked its way into your budget is to get really clear on your values. Because when you get really clear on your values, it’s easier to spend money in ways that align with them.

    Here’s an example for you. I used to spend a lot of money on clothes. In college, I would hit the mall with a friend and drop a couple of hundred dollars, sometimes on things I only wore a few times. 

    Even later in my twenties, I would fall victim to emotional spending, buying clothes when I was anxious, depressed, and more. The difference is that because I earned more money than I did in college, I also bought nicer clothes.

    But here’s the wild thing: I don’t actually care about clothes that much. I typically wear the same few items in my closet, meaning there’s rarely a purpose for me to buy new clothing.

    On my own personal finance journey, I spent a lot of time identifying my values. I realized that nice clothes weren’t really something I valued, yet I was spending a lot of money on them. And because I had that clarity, I was able to reverse that lifestyle creep.

    I’ll also readily admit that there are some forms of lifestyle creep that I have no desire to reverse. My husband and I really value good food, and we love trying out local restaurants. Our food spending has increased over the years, but I’m not particularly interested in cutting it. 

    But I feel comfortable with that decision because I’ve identified my values, and I know it’s a form of spending that aligns with our values.


    When is lifestyle creep okay? What you need to know about lifestyle elevation

    Inflating your lifestyle in proportion to each salary increase will make it difficult to ever make meaningful progress toward your financial goals. 

    But that doesn’t mean lifestyle creep is never okay. After all, no one expects you to maintain the same standard of living you had in your early twenties when you earned minimum wage and shared an apartment with three roommates. 

    And frankly, cutting out lifestyle creep altogether will make it awfully hard to motivate yourself to earn more. What’s the point if you can’t enjoy any of it?

    The key to doing lifestyle inflation correctly is to be intentional about it. Decide what spending increases would add actual value to your life. This intentional lifestyle creep — we’ll call it lifestyle elevation — might look like upgrading to a nicer home, buying quality clothing that will last you longer, buying healthy groceries instead of whatever is cheapest, and more.

    One rule of thumb some experts recommend is allocation 50% of wage increases to lifestyle elevation, while the other 50% goes toward your financial goals of paying off debt, investing for retirement, etc.

    Another way to manage your lifestyle elevation is to use the 50/30/20 budget, as we discussed earlier. The benefit of the 50/30/20 budget is that you never have to think about the appropriate amount to spend — it’s all laid out in the budget structure.

    Ultimately, what you choose to do with future raises depends on your financial goals. While many people — me included — want to enjoy some of the fruits of their labor with a little lifestyle elevation, those that are seeking FIRE — or financial independence, retire early — often put nearly all of their pay increases toward investments for their big goal. You have to find what works for you.


    Final Thoughts

    Lifestyle creep may seem harmless, but it can seriously derail your financial goals and even result in you living paycheck to paycheck.

    The good news is that as long as you’re intentional about it, you can elevate your lifestyle while still making room in your budget for saving, investing, and taking care of your future self.

  • How to Pay Yourself First and Finally Start Saving Money

    Here’s how most people approach saving money:

    They tell themselves that they’ll save whatever is left at the end of the month. But someone there never seems to be anything left when the end of the month rolls around.

    I was stuck in this pattern for years, and I know how frustrating it can be.

    I finally learned the “pay yourself first” strategy, which has completely changed the way I budget and has helped me to save money consistently each month.

    In this article, I’m sharing how you can pay yourself first to pay off debt, build your emergency fund, and save for your biggest financial goals.


    How to Pay Yourself First and Finally Start Saving Money


    What does it mean to pay yourself first? 

    The concept of paying yourself first means that you set aside money in your budget for savings and financial goals before budgeting for anything else. You treat your savings just as you would any other bill, meaning its non-negotiable.

    The entire purpose of the “pay yourself first” strategy is to avoid the problem I talked about earlier, where you run out of money each month before you have a chance to save any. 

    When you pay yourself first, you transfer money out of your checking account as soon as you get paid each month before spending any. Then, you can only spend what’s left.

    Paying yourself first is an effective way to build your emergency fund or save for a financial goal. You can also use it to pay off debt by making extra debt payments as soon as you get paid.


    How to pay yourself first

    Follow these steps to implement pay yourself first in your own budget.



    First things first, write down your monthly income and expenses.

    If you’re a salaried employee, calculating your monthly income will be easy. If you have an irregular income because you’re self-employed or are an hourly or tipped employee, this will take a little more work. I recommend checking what your income has been for the past 3-6 months and taking the average amount.

    It should also be easy to figure out your fixed monthly expenses. These are the non-negotiable expenses you have to pay each month, like rent, insurance, and your student loan payment.

    Once you’ve calculated your fixed expenses, try to determine how much you spend on other expenses throughout the month. Your variable expenses will include things like groceries, dining out, transportation, clothing, etc. Your discretionary spending may change each month, but you can probably look back a few months and find the average.

    Read More: Creating a Monthly Budget: A Step-by-Step Guide



    One of the most important steps in paying yourself first (at least in my opinion) is setting financial goals.

    It’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll save money. But unless you really have a why behind your savings, it can be hard to stick with it. If you set a specific goal, you’ll have something to motivate you to follow through. 

    Savings goals you might save for include:

    • Building your emergency fund
    • Start saving for retirement
    • Saving for a new car
    • Saving for the downpayment on a home
    • Saving for a vacation
    • Renovate your home
    • Start a business
    • Reach financial independence

    You may have some short-term goals that you can reach in just a few months. On the other hand, some of your goals may be long-term goals that you won’t reach for several years. The method of paying yourself first can work for either type of goal.

    Read More: How to Set Financial Goals You Can Achieve



    Once you’ve calculated your income and expenses and figured out what you want to save for, decide how much you’ll save each month. You want to make sure you’re saving enough to make a real difference but not so much that you don’t have enough money for your monthly spending.

    An easy way to figure out how much to save is to divide the amount you want to save by the number of months before you want to have it saved.

    Let’s say you’re planning a vacation next summer, and you expect to spend around $2,000. If the trip is 12 months away, just divide $2,000 by 12. You’ll find that you need to save roughly $167 per month for the next year.

    Of course, the amount you can pay yourself is also limited by your income. While you might love to buy a house next year, if it requires that you save $5,000 per month and you don’t earn that much, that financial goal may simply not be a reality.

    And in the case that you have multiple financial goals you’re saving for, as many of us do, then you’ll have to decide how you can either prioritize one goal or split your savings between the two. For example, I have the goal of financial independence that I’m always saving for, but I simultaneously save for other smaller financial goals at the same time.

    If you’re new to paying yourself first, you might worry about overspending and running out of money. If you’re just getting started, begin with a small automatic transfer.

    When I first started using this strategy, I did an automatic transfer of $50 the first week of the month. As I adjusted to my new spending limitations, I increased my monthly savings.



    A great way to ensure you pay yourself first every month is to automate it. Set up an automatic transfer to go through a day or two after payday each month. That way, you’re saving regularly, and you don’t have to think about it.

    I can almost guarantee that if you don’t automatic it, you’ll often come up with an excuse for why you can’t save as much this month.

    And if you’re using the pay yourself first method to pay off debt, just set up an automatic payment each month for the amount you want to pay.

    The goal you’re working toward will determine where the automatic transfer is going. Depending on the goal, you might have your automatic transfer going to a savings account, a retirement fund, a taxable brokerage account, a debt account, or something else.

    Read More: 6 Easy Ways to Automate Your Finances

    As a quick tip, some employers allow you to set up your direct deposit so you can split your paycheck between multiple accounts. This strategy can be particularly useful in helping direct money to your savings account.


    Benefits of paying yourself first

    Paying yourself first is one of the best strategies to help you build your savings or pay off debt every month.

    Many individuals and families struggle to make progress on their savings. The most recent data shows that only about 39% of Americans would be able to cover a $1,000 emergency.

    Not only can paying yourself first help to prepare you for a financial emergency, but it can also help you make progress on your financial goals.

    The pay-yourself-first method is especially well-suited for people who struggle with spending. Think of it as a reverse budget. Rather than having to stick to your spending plan to save, you’ll be limited to spending what’s left after saving.


    Final Thoughts

    I know how frustrating it can feel to be so determined to save, and yet you somehow never manage to. Paying yourself first is one of the best ways to reach your financial goals, even if you’ve struggled to do so in the past. Trust me – your future self will thank you.

  • How to Use a Zero-Based Budget to Reach Your Goals

    When I started budgeting, I thought I was doing great.

    I had plenty of money left over in my budget after accounting for all my expenses, and I thought for sure I’d be able to save a lot and pay off my debt quickly.

    But somehow, the end of the month would roll around, and I never had any money left over.

    I just couldn’t figure out where all my money was going. Sure, I’d usually eat out more than I planned or make an impulse purchase here and there to buy new clothes. But surely it wasn’t enough to spend all of it.

    Why couldn’t I save when I knew I had wiggle room in my budget?

    It turned out that the key to changing my financial situation was zero-based budgeting. Rather than spending the extra money in my budget, a zero-based budget forced me to make a plan for each dollar I earned, including putting money toward savings and debt.

    In this article, I’m sharing what a zero-based budget is and how you can use one to reach your financial goals.


    How to Use a Zero-Based Budget to Reach Your Goals

    There are affiliate links in this post, meaning I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, see my full disclosure policy here.


    Zero-based budget definition

    Zero-based budgeting is a way of planning your spending where you make a plan for each dollar. When you use a zero-based budget, you budget down to zero every month, meaning your income minus your expenses always equals zero.

    It’s important to note that budgeting every dollar doesn’t mean you spend every dollar. The purpose of zero-based budgeting is to help you pay off debt and save for goals because you include them as a line item in your budget.


    Zero-based budget advantages and disadvantages

    The biggest advantage of zero-based budgeting is that it forces you to be intentional about your spending. Rather than have a large sum of money available to spend each money, you can only spend money that you’ve actually budgeted for that purpose. 

    For anyone paying off debt or trying to reach a big financial goal, a zero-based budget is the best way to ensure you actually make progress each month.

    The biggest downside of zero-based budgeting is that it requires more time than traditional budgeting. You have to make a detailed plan for your money and then track every expense throughout the month to make sure you’re sticking to it.


    How to make a zero-based budget

    1. Write down your monthly income. If you’re a salaried employee, this should be easy. For freelancers and other workers with irregular income, start with your average monthly income.
    2. Write down your monthly expenses. Be sure to include fixed monthly expenses like rent and insurance, as well as variable spending like groceries and entertainment.
    3. Set financial goals. A zero-based budget only works if you decide ahead of time where your money is going. You should have specific financial goals to send extra money to. Your goal can be anything from saving for a big expense to paying off debt.
    4. Give every dollar a job. When you finish your budget, your income minus expenses should equal zero. This doesn’t mean you spend every dollar! It simply means that every dollar is either budgeted for spending OR budgeting for debt payoff or a financial goal.
    5. Work on getting one-month ahead. The zero-based budget is easiest to use when you’re one month ahead on your budget. In other words, you’re using last month’s income to pay this month’s bills. This is important because it ensures you know at the start of the month exactly how much you have to budget.


    Zero-based budget example

    I promise that zero-based budgeting sounds more complicated than it is. I’ll use a real-life example to show you how this type of budget works in practice.

    Let’s say your monthly take-home pay is $3,500. Using a normal budget, it might look something like this:

    Expense CategoryAmount
    Student loan$250
    Cell phone$75
    Total spending$2,495

    As you can see, this budget leaves a lot of wiggle room. You’d have $1,000 left each month that you could use to build your emergency fund, fund your debt payoff plan, or save for your financial goals.

    Unfortunately, that’s not usually how it works. Often we tell ourselves that we’ll use whatever money we have left at the end of the month to reach our goals.

    But because we weren’t intentional with our spending and didn’t make a plan for that money ahead of time, we simply find other things to spend it on. And then you might be lucky to have $100 left to put toward saving, let alone the full $1,000 you should have left.

    Here’s what a zero-based budget might look like using the same income and expenses:

    Expense CategoryAmount
    Student loan$250
    Cell phone$75
    Sinking funds$250
    Debt snowball$250
    Total spending$3,500

    As you can see in the budget above, each budget is accounted for. You can’t impulse-spend a few hundred dollars on Amazon because you’ve already given that money a job.


    Zero-based budgeting with irregular income

    If you have irregular income, you might worry that zero-based budgeting won’t work for your situation. And it’s true that this budgeting style can be more difficult if you don’t know how much money you have available for the month.

    But I actually think this budget is perfect for those with irregular income.

    But here’s the catch.

    It really only works with irregular income if you get one month ahead on your budget. In that case, you can create a customized budget at the start of each month based on the money you earned the previous month.


    The best zero-based budget apps

    When it comes to planning out your zero-based budget, there are two different tools I’d recommend. You can choose the right tool for you based on your budgeting style.

    • You Need a Budget (YNAB): YNAB is hands-down my favorite budgeting app. With this zero-based budget app, you only budget with money you already have, and you give every dollar a job. It’s the app I personally use. It completely changes the way you think about budgeting, and really teaches you to be intentional about where your money is going.
    • Spreadsheet: Before I started using YNAB, I spent years using just a simple spreadsheet in Google Drive. It’s definitely more hands-on than an app, but perfect for someone really trying to turn their finances around.


    Final Thoughts

    I know how frustrating it can be to put a ton of work into a budget, only to have it fall apart halfway through the month. A zero-based budget is the best way to be intentional about where your money is going and help you reach your financial goals.

  • Creating a Monthly Budget: A Step by Step Guide

    I was in my mid-twenties before I created my first budget.

    I was out of college and had my first full-time job. I made decent money, but I never seemed to have any left at the end of each month. And I couldn’t seem to figure out where all my money was going.

    When I finally sat down to track my recent spending, it was an eye-opening experience.

    I realized I was spending way more than I wanted to on eating out and ordering take-out.

    That’s when I created my first budget. It hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing since then. But I can tell you that the times of my life I’ve been most diligent about monthly budgeting are the times when I’ve seen the most success!

    When I budget consistently, I reach my financial goals, feel confident in my financial situation, and have money left over at the end of each month.

    Creating and sticking to a budget does not have to be overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be scary. It is 100% doable.

    In this post, I’m walking you through how to create a monthly budget, even if you’re a beginner or hate budgeting.


    Creating a Monthly Budget: A Step by Step Guide


    Determine your income

    In order to create your monthly budget, you first need to figure out what your monthly income is.

    For some of you, this will be easy. Maybe you’re a salaried employee without any side income, in which case your income is the same every month.

    But if you’re an hourly employee, a tipped employee (such as a server or bartender), or are self-employed, this will be a little more difficult.

    If you have an irregular income, look at the average amount you bring home each month. This will help you identify which number to build your budget around.

    Read More: How to Budget With an Irregular Income

    If you’re married and have joint finances with your spouse, make sure to incorporate their monthly income into your calculation as well.


    Make a list of your fixed expenses

    Next up, make a list of your fixed monthly expenses. Fixed expenses are those that are the same every month. This would include rent or mortgage, insurance, cable and internet, student loan, car payment, etc.

    It’s important to plan for these expenses first because then you’ll have a better idea of how much money you have to allocate for the rest of your expenses.


    Track your spending for the past three (or six) months

    Once you’ve figured out your income and fixed expenses, you know how much money is left to put toward variable expenses.

    In order to really figure out how much you want to spend in each budget category, I think it first makes sense to figure out how much you’re currently spending in each category.

    Go through your bank statements for the past three months and track where your money has gone. I would break your spending up into categories and determine how much you’ve spent monthly in each category. Here are some categories you may want have:

    • Utilities
    • Transportation (gas, car maintenance)
    • Groceries
    • Eating Out
    • Shopping
    • Household Items
    • Personal Care
    • Entertainment
    • Hobbies

    These are just some examples of categories you might have in your budget. You can customize them to fit your lifestyle.

    By doing this, you’ll get a good idea of where your money has been going and which categories you spend the most on.

    I recommend going back at least three months to really get an idea of what an average month looks like.

    If you’re feeling really ambitious, go back even further. The first time I put together a monthly budget, I went back six months and it helped me put together a really good picture of my spending habits.


    Determine your spending goals

    Now that you know how much you are spending, it’s time to figure out how much you want to be spending.

    I’m guessing there are quite a few areas in your budget where you could be spending a lot less than you are.

    If you don’t normally track your spending, chances are that you’re going to be surprised at your spending in some areas, just like I was at my food spending.

    You might realize just how much those weekly Target trips are adding up and decide that you want to set some limits for yourself.

    You can also look for substitutions you can make, such as switching phone companies or getting rid of cable and sticking with Netflix or Hulu.

    I do think it’s important to be realistic when setting your spending goals. For example, if you’re currently spending $750 per month on food, I don’t think it’s realistic to set a spending goal of $250. However, you might start by aiming to spend $650 or $600 per month.

    Also, remember that setting spending goals doesn’t have to mean cutting out unnecessary spending. It’s okay to spend money on things you value, even if other people see them as unnecessary. For example, my husband and I love to eat out, so we leave a lot of room for that in our budget.


    Prioritize savings first

    There are a lot of people who wait to see how much money they have in the bank at the end of the month and then decide if they are able to throw a little in savings.

    The problem here is that there might be a lot of months where you aren’t putting any money in savings at all.

    Instead of just saving what you have left at the end of the month, start budgeting the money you’ll save and making that your first payment after you get paid. I have an automatic transfer from my checking account to my savings account the day after I get paid every single month.

    To make your saving even more effective, set specific goals to save for. You can start by building up your emergency fund. Then you can decide what other financial goals you want to save for.


    Decide on a debt-payoff plan

    While you’re creating your monthly budget, it’s important to factor in how much money you want to put toward debt.

    While it might be tempting just to pay your minimum monthly payments, it will take you a lot longer to pay off that debt, and you’ll be spending a LOT of interest.

    One debt payoff strategy a lot of people use is called the “snowball method.” This means paying your minimum payments on all but your smallest debt and you put as much money as you can into your smallest debt.

    Once that smallest debt is gone, you take all of that extra money and put it toward the new smallest debt. And then, ideally, once you’ve paid off most of the debts, you’ll be able to put really large payments on your largest debt.

    I actually prefer a method called the debt avalanche. Rather than targeting the debt with the lowest balance, you target the one with the highest interest rate.

    The debt snowball is the most cost effective in the long run, because you’re saving yourself money in interest.

    Read More: Debt Snowball vs. Debt Avalanche: Which Debt Payoff Plan is Right For You?


    Track your spending

    Once you’ve created your monthly budget, it’s important to track your spending to make sure you’re actually staying on track. Otherwise, the budget is useless!

    There are plenty of monthly budgeting apps you can connect to your bank account to track your spending. Many people use an app for this. For many years I just used a spreadsheet and tracked each transaction manually. This is definitely more work, and now I use an app to track my spending.

    You can check out my list of the best budgeting apps to help find the right tool for you.

    As you’re tracking your spending, check in often throughout the month to make sure you’re staying on track with your budget. That way, if you get off track with your budget, there’s still time to get back on track.


    Reevaluate your budget often

    Once you’ve set up your budget once, you’re not done. A lot can change with your finances. You might have new financial goals come up, such as wanting to splurge on a vacation or start saving for a house.

    You also might create a budget and then within a few months, realize there are certain categories that need some tweaking.


    Bonus Tip: Find the right budgeting app

    Some people are fine with a spreadsheet or plain or pen and paper for their budget. In fact, that’s how I started out. But I eventually found the value there is to be had from a budgeting app.

    One benefit of a budgeting app is that you can automatically import your bank and credit card transactions to track your spending. This allows you to see how well you’re sticking to your budget.

    There are also budgeting apps that have special features such as the ability to set up sinking funds, calculate your net worth, or calculate your progress toward debt payoff or your financial goals.

    Read More: The Best Budget Apps to Help You Manage Your Money


    Final thoughts

    Creating a monthly budget might seem overwhelming, but I promise it will get easier as you get the hang of it.

    And even more importantly, you will be SO glad you took the time to set up a budget, and you’ll love the financial benefits you start to see.

    Monthly budgeting will go a long way in helping you to start saving money, pay off your debts, and reach your long-term financial goals.

  • 11 Ways to Stick to a Budget Every Month

    I used to blow my budget almost every month. I’m not proud to admit it, but I’m guessing plenty of other people can relate.

    While I had the best of intentions, I was making a lot of mistakes with my budget. I wasn’t being realistic, I wasn’t planning ahead, and I wasn’t leaving any room in the budget for fun.

    And let’s be honest — budgets like that just don’t work. When you restrict yourself or create a budget that doesn’t fit your life, it’s nearly impossible to stick to it.

    Over the years, I’ve learned plenty of tricks on how to stick to a budget every month. Picking up just a few of these budgeting tips can seriously transform your finances!


    11 Ways to Stick to Your Budget Every Month

    There are affiliate links in this post, meaning I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, see my full disclosure policy here.


    Be realistic

    One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they set up their budget is that they simply aren’t realistic. They budget based on what they’d like to spend in a perfect world rather than what they’ll really be able to spend.

    People can get a little over-ambitious when it comes to their budget — trust me, I’ve been there! I would set an eating-out budget, and then my husband and I would go way over it every month.

    Finally, we sat down and admitted that the amount we were budgeting wasn’t realistic. We love eating out, and it’s something that we value. Our budget can and should reflect that.

    If you find that you have a hard time sticking to your monthly budget, go through and see if there are any categories where you aren’t being fully honest with yourself.


    Budget differently for every month

    People I talk to about this topic are almost always surprised to hear that their budgets should look different every month.

    Traditional budgeting apps like Mint give the impression that a budget is a set-it-and-forget-it tool. You create it once, and then you’re supposed to stick to it every month.

    But the fact is, no two months are the same. And as a result, no two monthly budgets should look the same.

    At the start of each month, sit down and look at the month ahead. What’s on your calendar? Look for special events, holidays, birthdays, etc., that might mean you’ll be spending a little extra money in one spending category. Then you can figure out where you can cut back this month to make up for it. 


    Use sinking funds

    You know those pesky expenses that you don’t budget for because they don’t come up every month? But then, when they do come up, they totally break your budget? It’s okay, we’ve all been there! I used to go over budget nearly every month because of an unforeseen expense that, honestly, I should have foreseen. 

    That’s where sinking funds come in. Sinking funds are a way of saving up for annual expenses all year long. Let’s say you spend $600 every year at Christmas. Instead of trying to find room for $600 in your December budget, you can set aside $50 per month all year long.

    You can use sinking funds for tons of different expenses, including:

    • Holidays
    • Birthdays
    • Vehicle registration
    • Car repairs
    • Medical expenses
    • Pet expenses
    • Association dues
    • Home repairs
    • Tuition
    • Annual subscriptions


    Budget fun money

    So many people avoid budgeting because they think it’s restrictive and prevents them from spending their money on things they enjoy.

    But that doesn’t have to be the case!

    Rather than looking at my budget as restrictive, I look at it as incredibly freeing. I can spend money on my hobbies without the slightest bit of guilt because I know I’ve budgeted for them.

    If there’s something that brings you joy and you enjoy spending money on, make room for it in the budget!

    You can even budget for spontaneous purchases. If you know that you and your partner love a last-minute Sunday brunch, set aside money every month for exactly that.


    Schedule your purchases in advance

    Impulse purchases can kill your budget faster than just about anything else. An easy way around that is to schedule your purchases in advance.

    Let’s say you’re at the store and you see an outfit that you absolutely must have. You can totally buy the outfit, but don’t buy it on the spot. Instead, go home and look at the budget. 

    Do you have room in your clothing spending category for this month? If not, schedule the purchase for next month.

    Even if you know you have the money in the budget, going home and scheduling the purchase for a future date is still a good idea since it prevents you from impulse purchasing. It forces you to really make thoughtful purchases.


    Identify your spending triggers and avoid them

    We all have our unique spending triggers. For some people, it’s sale emails in their inboxes. For others, it’s their favorite influencer rocking a new outfit or accessory on Instagram. Chances are, you know what your biggest triggers are.

    Once you know what your triggers are, you can work on avoiding them. Examples might include:

    • Unsubscribing from store emails
    • Unfollowing people on social media who make you want to spend money
    • Removing your credit card information from your favorite store’s website


    Use a zero-based budget

    The premise of a zero-based budget is that you give every dollar a job and budget down to zero.

    Let’s say you bring home $4,000 per month. You wouldn’t just budget for your monthly bills and then leave the rest as spending money. Instead, you’d decide exactly how much you plan to put toward discretionary spending, saving, and your debt payoff plan.

    Using a zero-based budget can help you stick to your budget because there simply isn’t extra money to work with. You’ve already allocated your excess money to debt or savings, so you can’t afford to impulse spend on food or clothes.

    The budgeting app You Need a Budget is hands-down the best app out there for zero-based budgeting!


    Plan your meals ahead of time

    I used to never meal plan. Instead, I’d head to the grocery store every week and just stock up on foods I liked. But then I’d either end up throwing food away at the end of the week, or I wouldn’t have enough for every meal and I’d end up eating out.

    Planning your meals ahead of time ensures that:

    • You only buy what you need
    • You’ve accounted for every meal
    • You can estimate the budget ahead of time


    Pay yourself first

    It’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll transfer whatever money you have left at the end of each month to savings. But inevitably, the end of the month rolls around, and there’s nothing else.

    That’s where the concept of paying yourself first comes in. When you pay yourself first, you decide how much you want to save each month. Then, you transfer that money to savings as soon as you get paid. And you only have what’s left over to spend the rest of the month.

    Paying yourself first can be used for literally any financial goal, including building your emergency fund, saving for a specific purchase, or paying off debt.


    Track your expenses

    I’m embarrassed to say that I was in my mid-twenties before I ever tracked my expenses. My partner at the time and I made a decent amount of money but never seemed to have any left. Finally, I decided to start tracking where our money was going.

    If I’m being honest, I was a little horrified. I couldn’t believe how much we were spending on takeout each month!

    Once I knew where my money was going, I could decide where I wanted my money to be going instead. And tracking my expenses throughout the month helps me to make sure I’m sticking to my plan.

    I use the budgeting app You Need a Budget to track my expenses throughout the month.


    Figure out your “worth-it” expenses

    One trick I recommend to people is to keep a spreadsheet of their expenses and then go through it later and decide whether each expense was worth it to them. In other words, are they glad they made that purchase, and would they make it again?

    A really good example of this comes into play with eating out. My husband and I love eating out, and our date nights are sacred to us. They’re always a worth-it expense.

    But we really don’t eat at chain restaurants or fast food often. So when we impulsively grab a quick dinner because we don’t feel like cooking, it’s less likely to feel worth it. I remember that when we’re feeling the urge to spend, it helps us to save unless it’s a worth-it expense.

    You can use this tool for so many things. Another example for me is makeup. I don’t wear makeup every day, and I’m fine with the drugstore stuff. Therefore, expensive makeup just wouldn’t be worth it for me. But there are plenty of other areas in my budget where I’m happy to splurge for the nicer stuff. For example, I will never pass on seeing my favorite bands in concert, no matter the cost of the tickets.


    Final Thoughts

    We’ve all gone over budget — don’t beat yourself up over it! There are plenty of easy tricks that you can start implementing in your budget and your life to help you stick to a budget every month (or at least almost every month).

  • How to Get One Month Ahead on Your Budget

    For my first seven years out of college, I got paid on the first day of each month. It made budgeting ridiculously easy. I could pay all of my bills right away, and then I knew how much I had available to spend the rest of the month.

    Then Brandon and I got married and combined our finances, and suddenly budgeting was a little more complicated. Brandon got paid twice a month, meaning we had to time his paychecks to our bills.

    Not too long after that, I quit my job to run my business full-time. And unlike my government job, self-employment doesn’t come with the same consistency, such as a paycheck once a month.

    I knew I had to figure out a different budgeting system before leaving my full-time job.

    Then I learned the concept of getting one month ahead in your budget (aka spending last month’s income). This system has completely changed the way I budget and has eliminated so much of the stress I used to have around my finances!


    How to Get One Month Ahead on Your Budget

    There are affiliate links in this post, meaning I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, see my full disclosure policy here.


    What does it mean to get one month ahead in your budget?

    Most people budget each month with the income they’ll get that month. For example, someone would pay all of their November bills with the income they’ll earn in November.

    Getting one month ahead in your budget means you’re always living off of last month’s income. So instead of paying November’s bills with November’s income, you’d pay November’s bills with October’s income. Then you’d use your November income to pay your December bills, and so on.


    The benefits of getting one month ahead in your budget


    For people who get paid biweekly or twice per month, budgeting can be a huge hassle. You have to make sure that for each of your bills, you’ll have the money in your paycheck to cover it.

    Let’s say you get paid on the 1st and the 15th of each month. But what if most of your bills are due in the first half of the month? You’ve barely got enough to cover your bills, and then you’re pinching pennies and waiting to buy groceries until your next paycheck comes in.

    When you budget a month ahead, all of the money is in your bank account on the first of the month, so you don’t have to worry about when exactly each of your bills is due.



    You probably already know that saving up an emergency fund is critical to getting ahead with your finances. The general rule of thumb is to save 3-6 months of expenses, but the minimum you should have is one month’s worth.

    When you’re budgeting one month ahead, you’ve already got that small emergency fund built into your budget. If any emergencies happen, you know you’re covered for at least the next month.



    Many people get into a pattern where they put all of their expenses onto a credit card and then use their income from the following month to pay off their credit card. 

    The problem with this is that you’re spending money you haven’t even earned yet. First, it’s just not a good habit to get into. Second, if you lose your job and don’t have the income you expected, you may not be able to pay for those purchases at all. Rather than always being one month ahead on bills, you’re always one month behind.

    When you budget one month ahead, you know you’re only spending money you already have.



    I can say from personal experience that my financial stress decreased in a big way when I started using this budgeting system. I didn’t have to monitor my budget quite as closely. 

    It’s also been a life-saver as Brandon and I have been traveling full-time. First, we have to pay for many of our RV park reservations ahead of time. If we weren’t ahead on our budget, we wouldn’t be able to do that.

    It’s also helped us to navigate through the small emergencies that have popped up since we’ve been on the road, such as having to replace all of our RV tires or buy a new car while on the road.

    Edit: Now that we’re done traveling and we own a home, budgeting one month ahead is just as beneficial! This budgeting style definitely isn’t just for those in unique circumstances.


    How do you get a month ahead?


    The first step to getting one month ahead is to create a monthly budget. For this system to work, you need to know exactly how much you’re spending each month and where your money is going!

    Here’s how to create your budget:

    1. Determine your monthly income
    2. Make a list of your monthly fixed expenses
    3. Track your spending for the past 3-6 months to determine your variable expenses
    4. Decide on spending goals (use how much you’ve been spending to figure out how much you WANT to be spending)
    5. Don’t forget to make room for debt payoff and savings goals!
    6. Make sure your spending is less than your income



    Ideally, you won’t be spending exactly as much as you earn each month — there should be some left over. Then, you can start using that extra each month to build your one-month buffer.

    The idea is that every month, your buffer will get a little bit bigger until you’ve saved enough for the entire month of expenses.

    Let’s say you have $3,000 per month of income. You currently spend or save $2,750 each month, which leaves you with $250 left over. You can put that $250 toward the following month’s budget. A month later, you can roll over another $250 for a total buffer of $500. Each month, the buffer will grow a bit until it reaches enough to cover your entire budget.


    What if you’re living paycheck to paycheck?

    This budgeting system is even more beneficial for people living paycheck to paycheck, for whom any financial emergency would throw them off.

    Unfortunately, living paycheck to paycheck makes it especially hard to get one month ahead on bills. Here are a few ways you can start saving money, even if you’re on a tight budget:

    • Use cashback apps like Fetch, Ibotta, and Rakuten. These tools allow you to earn a little extra money on purchases you’re already making.
    • Negotiate your monthly bills. You can try negotiating bills such as your car insurance and internet to reduce your monthly payments.
    • Pick up a side hustle. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, every little bit helps!
    • Sell stuff on Facebook Marketplace. You’d be surprised how much you can make by selling clothes or household items you aren’t using.



    In addition to using the extra money in your budget to build your one-month buffer, you can use any cash windfalls you have. Common examples include:

    • Tax returns
    • Gifts
    • Extra paychecks (if you get paid every other week, then two months of the year you’ll get three paychecks instead of three)
    • Side hustle income



    Once you save the full month of expenses, you’ll start using this to budget for each month’s expenses. Rather than creating your budget using the amount you’ll earn in the current month, you’ll use the amount you earned last month.

    This budgeting system is really great for self-employed people. With irregular income, it can be hard to know how much to budget. But with this system, you’re budgeting with last month’s income.

    It’s also worth noting that you aren’t limited to just getting one month ahead. There have been times when my income was less certain, so I budgeted two months ahead for added security.



    Tracking your finances when you budget one month ahead can be tricky because you can’t just spend what you have in your bank account. Because of that, I recommend using a budgeting tool to help you stay on track. The budgeting app You Need a Budget is specifically designed to help you budget this way.

    In fact, YNAB is how I first learned about this concept of budgeting one month ahead. I could talk more about the many ways this budgeting app has improved my finances, but I’ll save that for another article.


    Getting one month ahead while paying off debt

    One of the most common questions I get from people is about whether they should prioritize saving or paying off debt. The answer is both…sort of.

    If you don’t have any sort of emergency fund in place, then saving one month’s worth of expenses should be your first priority. Once you’ve got that in place, you can start putting extra money toward debt using either the debt snowball or debt avalanche.

    Of course, everyone has a different comfort level and financial situation. If you have a job where you’re at higher risk of losing your income or you have a family who depends on your income, it may be worth pulling back on debt payoff to build your emergency fund even larger.

    And don’t forget that while you’re paying off debt, you can still save for other financial goals!


    Final Thoughts

    I’m not exaggerating when I say that getting one month ahead with my budget has totally changed my finances. Not only does it create a lot of peace of mind, but the financial habits I learned getting there changed everything. I credit those habits with us being able to travel the country for a year, buy a home, save for a baby, and pay off large amounts of debt.

  • 9 Steps to Help You Get Back on Track With Your Finances

    Despite our best intentions, we all inevitably seem to go through financial setbacks that catch us off-guard and throw off our financial progress.

    Mine came in 2017 when my ex-husband and I decided to end our marriage. Between the discrepancy in our incomes (I made way less than he did), the costs associated with the divorce, and my lack of financial safety net, it was a struggle for a while.

    Once I finally got back on my feet and started to regain some balance in my life, I had to get my finances back on track.

    I’m not going to lie – it was an uphill battle. There was a lot of work that went into figuring out where my finances were, making a plan to get them back on track, and actually following through on it. 

    Throughout the pandemic, plenty of people have gone through financial setbacks of their own. Whether you were laid off from a job or just let your spending get away from you, it’s time to get a plan in place to get back on course. 

    In this post, you’ll learn the nine steps to follow to get you get back on track with your finances and lessen the blow of future financial setbacks.


    9 Steps to Help You Get Back on Track With Your Finances


    Evaluate your current financial situation

    The first thing you have to do to get back on track financially is to figure out where you are now. As with any journey, you have to know where you’re starting to map out the route to your final destination. 

    As you’re evaluating your financial situation, determine the following:

    • Your current income and expenses
    • Your net worth
    • How much money you have in savings
    • How much debt you owe
    • Any outstanding bills


    Figure out where you went off course

    Once you figure out where you’re at with your finances, determine how you got there. Really narrow down what caused you to get off-track with your finances.

    In some cases, it wasn’t anything you did. Cases of unemployment, especially during COVID, were unavoidable. It wasn’t a scenario any of us ever expected, and as a result, most of us weren’t financially prepared.

    But in other cases, you might look back and realize your own actions caused you to get off course with your finances. For example, maybe you stopped tracking your spending a few months ago or took on a debt you couldn’t really afford. 

    Identifying the root cause of the problem can help you to avoid getting off-track for the same reason again. 


    Create a new budget from scratch

    I’m constantly tweaking my budget to make sure it’s still working for where I’m currently at in life. But some circumstances call for a full overhaul.

    Anytime I’m going through a major life change or find that I’ve gotten completely off-track with my finances, I like to start fresh with a brand new budget. 

    Think of it like Marie Kondo-ing your budget. Instead of going through your existing budget and deciding what stays, throw everything out and only put back those things that really belong there.

    Starting fresh with a new budget is especially helpful if your income or expenses have changed at all since the last time you put together your budget. 

    Read More: How to Create a Monthly Budget That Really Works


    Start with any outstanding bills

    Before you dive into any new financial goals, make sure you’re up-to-date on any outstanding bills you have. When you go through a time of unemployment or another financial struggle, you may end up falling behind on one or more of your expenses.

    Once you start getting things back in order, settling up any outstanding bills should be the first thing on your to-do list. 


    Create a long-term plan for debt and financial goals

    One of the most valuable lessons I learned on my own financial journey is the importance of having a plan in place. And when it comes to your finances, there are two plans you absolutely have to have.

    First, make sure you have a plan in place to pay off your debt. Ideally, you’d be able to make extra payments to pay your debt off ahead of schedule. But even if you can only swing the minimum payments right now, knowing when you can expect to be debt-free is critical. 

    The other plan you should have in place is one for your financial goals. How many times have you found yourself dreaming of a future home or a dream vacation but never actually taking steps to get there?

    When you don’t have a plan in place, you’re far less likely to take action. By creating a written plan, you’re exponentially increasing the odds of actually reaching your goals!


    Track your spending

    I always think tracking your spending is important to financial success. But when you’re working on getting your finances back on track, this becomes even more important.

    Tracking your spending allows you to know exactly where each dollar is going. This ensures you’re being super intentional about your spending. Doing so can also avoid being caught off-guard when an unexpected bill hits or you go over budget without realizing it. 

    There are plenty of budgeting apps that can help you to track your spending. I also recommend a good old-fashioned spreadsheet, as it forces you to personally check in with your finances on a regular basis. 


    Look for ways to increase your income

    In many cases, we realize that our financial troubles stem from the fact that our current income isn’t sufficient to help us pay our monthly bills and reach all of our financial goals. In that case, you might consider looking for ways to increase your income.

    There are a few different ways you can go about making more money:

    1. Negotiate a pay increase: Perhaps the simplest way to increase your income is to negotiate a salary increase at your current job. This strategy allows you to make more money without taking on a second job.
    2. Get a part-time job: If negotiating a raise isn’t in the cards, you might consider a part-time job. When Brandon and I were paying off debt and saving for our RV, he worked a few nights per week at a bar in town to bring in some extra money. Meanwhile, I worked on my freelance writing business while working at my government job.
    3. Join the gig economy: If working specific hours at a part-time job doesn’t work with your schedule, you can join the gig economy. Options include rideshare apps such as Uber, grocery delivery apps such as Instacart, or pet-sitting and dog-walking opportunities through a service like Rover. These opportunities allow you to pick up jobs only when you’ve got some time available.
    4. Start a business: If you want more of a long-game solution to increase your income, you might consider starting a business. Know that this option usually won’t result in making money right away. In fact, you’ll probably have to put in a lot of work before you’re profitable. But in the long run, this option can result in the most amount of money. The good news is that technology makes it fairly easy and extremely low-cost for anyone to start a business!


    Put a safety net in place

    Once you start getting back on track financially, it’s time to put a safety net in place for the next time things don’t go as planned. 

    There are two key strategies to help you avoid or lessen financial struggles in the future:

    • Emergency fund: Your emergency fund is a pool of money that can help you with a one-time financial emergency, such as home or car repairs. Even more importantly, your emergency fund serves as an income replacement in case you lose your jobs. In 2020, COVID caused people to be laid off from work for far longer than anyone would have expected. This taught us all the importance of an emergency fund that can cover your bills for several months. 
    • Sinking funds: While your emergency fund helps you cover any unexpected financial emergencies, sinking funds help you to plan for expected but irregular financial obligations. With sinking funds, you set aside money each month for an expense that comes around less often. For example, let’s say you spend $600 on Christmas each year. Instead of taking $500 out of your December budget, you’d set aside $50 per month all year. Sinking funds can also be used for costs such as:
      • Car insurance
      • Home and vehicle repairs
      • Property taxes
      • Holidays
      • Annual subscriptions
      • Financial goals


    Have regular money dates

    If you share finances with a partner, or even if you share a life with a partner without having joint finances, communication around money is key.

    Regardless of whether you’re just coming back from a financial setback, money dates are critical to making sure you and your partner are on the same page and that you both have a seat at the table. 

    These check-ins become even more important when you’re working on getting back on track after a setback.


    Final Thoughts

    No one expects financial setbacks to come, but they inevitably seem to pop up once in a while. By following these steps, not only can you get your finances back on track, but you can also prevent future setbacks from being quite as painful.

  • How to Budget With an Irregular Income

    When I first started budgeting, I had a regular full-time job and knew exactly how much would be on each paycheck. I loved the sense of control that came with it. I knew exactly how much I made and how much I spent. 

    But within a few years, things looked very different. I had started freelancing, which brought in an inconsistent income. Then I met and married my current husband, who had an irregular income that relied heavily on tips.

    Not long after that, I quit my job to run my business full-time. Now my income is more irregular than ever, and there are no guarantees like there were in my government job. 

    Over the past few years, I’ve learned how much more challenging it can be to budget when you have an irregular income. 

    If you’re dealing with income that doesn’t look the same from one month to the next, I know these tips will help you too.


    How to Budget With an Irregular Income


    Determine your bare minimum budget

    The first step to budgeting with an irregular income is to figure out your bare minimum budget. In other words, how much money do you actually need to live on each month?

    This number should include necessary fixed expenses such as rent, a car payment, student loans, insurance, utilities, and groceries.

    Your bare minimum budget shouldn’t include discretionary spending, such as excessive eating out, travel, or entertainment. 

    What good is knowing this number?

    First, it’ll give you an idea as to whether you actually make enough money. If your irregular income doesn’t allow you to pay all of your bills, it’s time to figure out how to make more money (or change your spending habits). 

    Your bare minimum budget also gives you an idea of how much you should have in savings. In other words, how much do you need to have set aside in case you stop earning income? 

    Finally, your bare minimum budget tells you when (and how much) you can spend on discretionary expenses. If you have $2,000 per month in expenses and make $4,000 per month, you know you can probably afford to spend some money on fun.

    Read More: How to Create a Monthly Budget That Really Works


    Give yourself a regular paycheck

    I like the idea of taking away some of the irregularity of an inconsistent income by giving yourself a steady paycheck. 

    So how does that actually work?

    Let’s say you are a freelancer who makes anywhere between $3,000 and $6,000 per month after taxes, depending on the season. That money goes into your business checking account. Your monthly expenses are about $3,000. 

    Rather than transferring all of the money from your business checking to your personal checking each month, give yourself a monthly paycheck of $3,000. 

    By doing this, you are no longer budgeting on an irregular income. You know exactly how much will be hitting your bank accounts each month. You’re also able to start building a bit of a buffer in the months you make more than $3,000.

    If you have a variable income but don’t have a separate account for a business, open a checking or savings account to deposit your income into that is separate from the one you use to pay your bills. 

    If you aren’t sure how much to pay yourself each month, aim for your average monthly income. That way, the good months will be enough to supplement the months you make less.


    Move extra money into a savings account

    So if you’re making between $3,000 and $6,000 per month and only paying yourself $3,000 per month, you’re going to have some money left over. 

    In the months when you make more than $3,000, you can set that money aside in a separate savings account. Then, if there’s ever a month where you don’t make $3,000, you can supplement your income to still give yourself that $3,000 paycheck.

    Another nice thing about this savings strategy is that once you have enough set aside that you feel comfortable you’ll be able to cover any low-income months, you can start using that money for other things! You can put it toward debt or use it to reach your other savings goals.

    Pro tip: You can also add to this buffer with any cash windfalls you get, such as tax refunds, Christmas or birthday gifts, and other random influxes of cash.


    Live on last month’s income

    One of the best pieces of advice I can give to anyone with a fluctuating income is to live on your income from the previous month. Actually, this is great advice for anyone, regardless of if you have a regular income or not! 

    So how does this actually work?

    Most people living on the income they earn each month. So the paychecks they get in September are what they use to pay September’s bills. 

    But for someone who doesn’t know exactly how much they’ll earn this month, this type of budgeting is a bit of a gamble. After all, you may not know how much you’ll earn until the end of the month and may not have the income in time to pay for that month’s expenses.

    Instead, I like to always budget one month ahead. So the money that goes into my bank account in September doesn’t get transferred to my personal checking as my “paycheck” until the next month. 

    That way, before October hits, I know exactly how much money I have available. 


    When necessary, dip into your savings account to supplement your income

    One of the downsides of variable income is that in some months, your pay is a lot lower than in others. In the time I’ve been freelancing, I’ve learned that my income can vary drastically. 

    In a perfect world, I would make at least enough each month to cover my bare minimum budget. But just in case that doesn’t happen, I want to be prepared. During those months where your income is lower than normal, you can dip into your savings account (the one you funded with your excess income) to help pay your bills. 


    Have a large emergency fund

    Separate from your buffer account, you should also have a hefty emergency fund. 3-6 months is a good size savings account, but I think closer to 9-12 months is ideal for someone who is self-employed and has an irregular i

    That buffer account is to help pay the bills during any months when you earn less than normal. But the emergency fund is to help with any crazy expenses (like home repairs that cost thousands of dollars).

    More importantly, your emergency fund is there to replace your income in the event that you lose your job. 


    Keep ideas on-hand to increase your income

    One thing I’ve learned since becoming self-employed is that I have to be prepared to increase my income at any time. 

    I never know when I might lose a freelance client or when a client might start sending me less work. And if that happens, I have to be prepared to immediately replace that income.

    The same goes for other types of workers with irregular income. In 2020, the food service industry took a huge hit. Even as restaurants started to re-open, fewer people were going out to eat right away. This meant fewer tips for those employees.

    That’s a situation in which you might want to have some ideas in your back pocket for increasing your income when things head south quickly. 


    Use a budgeting app to stay organized

    Keeping track of your budget when you have an irregular income (or even when you don’t) can be a lot to manage. And especially when you’re just getting started, you might want to use an app to help you stay organized.

    I think You Need a Budget (YNAB) is the absolute best budgeting app, especially for those who don’t bring in a consistent income. It’s specifically designed to help you get one month ahead on your budget so that you’re using last month’s income to pay your bills. 

    I actually use YNAB for both my business and my personal budget! First, I keep a separate business budget to track my business income and expenses. Taking my own advice, I budget a month or two ahead for my business expenses and set money aside for taxes.

    Then, I pay myself a monthly paycheck, which I use to budget ahead on my bills.

    Using YNAB has gotten me so into budgeting ahead that I actually try to budget ahead two months at a time rather than one. This single habit has made the cost of YNAB more than worth it! 

    Read More: The Best Budget Apps to Help You Manage Your Money


    Final Thoughts

    Budgeting is stressful enough for most of us. And when you add on the extra layer of an irregular income, it can quickly seem like too much to handle. 

    After years of learning the ropes of budgeting with irregular income, I’ve streamlined my process and hope you find it useful for your own budget! 

  • 9 Reasons Your Budget Isn’t Working

    Like many people, my first attempts at budgeting were a complete failure.

    I would get really motivated to get my finances on track and spend a ton of time putting together a budget. 

    But then, one thing would go wrong, and I’d completely abandon the entire thing. It was an endless cycle that repeated itself every few months. 

    When I finally started getting serious about personal finance, I was able to look at my budget through a more holistic lens and figure out why it had failed in the past. 

    In this post, I’m sharing some of the mistakes I made in my own budgets and some of the reasons your budget might not be working.  


    9 Reasons Your Budget Isn’t Working


    You aren’t being realistic with your expenses

    One of the most common reasons that budgets fail is that people just aren’t realistic when they’re making a plan for their money. 

    Here’s what happens most often. Suppose I start tracking my expenses and realize my husband and I have been spending $750 per month eating out. I panic and start budgeting $50 per month for eating out. 

    Do you see the problem here? For a couple who spends a lot of money on eating out, cutting out almost all of it at once just isn’t realistic. 

    Another area I see people make an unrealistic budget is when it comes to groceries. People try to drastically cut their grocery spending but budget too little. And then they end up not being able to stick to it. 

    Instead of planning your budget around what you wish you spent, start by planning it around what you actually spend. Then you can slowly start cutting back in the areas you want to.

    Read More: How to Create a Monthly Budget That Really Works


    You aren’t budgeting for fun money

    If you aren’t leaving room for fun in your budget, you’re going to have a hard time sticking to it. 

    I know plenty of personal finance experts who push people to cut back in every area possible, especially when they’re paying off debt.

    But time and time again, I talk to people who have tried that kind of budgeting and have burned out. 

    Leaving some room for fun money in your budget will help to make sure the process isn’t a miserable one for you and will make budgeting a lot more sustainable in the long run.


    You aren’t planning for occasional expenses

    Have you ever had a month where you’re totally rocking your budget, and then your annual Amazon Prime membership comes due, or its time to renew your vehicle registration? 

    Because it’s not a regular expense, you totally forgot to budget for it. Now it’s thrown off your budget for the entire month.

    It’s easy to remember to account for the things you spend money on every month, but far too easy to forget those irregular expenses. 

    So what’s the best way to deal with those expenses?

    Sinking funds. Rather than budgeting for your entire Amazon Prime subscription in a single month, divide the entire amount by 12, and set aside money for it every month. Then, by the time it’s time to pay, the money is budgeted. 

    Sinking funds are great for so much more than just annual subscriptions. Here are some expenses you might have sinking funds for:

    • Vehicle registration
    • Car repairs
    • Car insurance
    • Home repairs
    • Christmas
    • Medical bills
    • Pet expenses
    • Vacation
    • Association dues
    • Clothing
    • Car replacement
    • Weddings
    • Tuition
    • Annual subscriptions


    You aren’t tracking your spending

    Making a budget is a great first step. But if you don’t actually track your expenses to make sure you’re sticking to it, then it really doesn’t do a whole lot of good.

    This is the problem with a lot of budgeting apps out there. You spend a ton of time setting up your budget. You get excited about finally getting on track with your finances. 

    But then, if you’re not proactive about tracking your expenses, you have no idea if the budget is actually working. 

    This step is most people’s least favorite part of budgeting. But it’s also a critical step to make sure you are sticking to your budget.


    You spend more than you make

    Budgeting is a great way to take get control of your spending and be intentional about where your money is going. But things can go off the rails if your budget includes spending more money than you actually make. 

    This leads to an endless cycle. You get paid but then end up spending all of the money and more. Because you don’t have enough money to cover your expenses, you end up putting some of them on a credit card.

    Now in the future, you’ve got to budget for your existing expenses, as well as your credit card bill.

    In reality, there are only two ways to fix this problem: decrease your spending or increase your income.

    There are a number of ways you can reduce your spending when you’re on a tight budget. You also might consider picking up a side hustle to help you make some extra money to cover your extra spending.


    You’re struggling with impulse or emotional spending

    Even the most well-planned and well-intentioned budget will go off the rails if you can’t get your impulse spending in check.

    For some people, impulse spending is simply a result of a lack of dedication to their budget. For others, it’s far more than that. 

    If you’re struggling with emotional spending, a budget alone probably won’t help you to get back on track. Instead, it’s time to get to the root of why you’re spending. 

    During and shortly after my first marriage, I spent a lot of money. Seriously, I could not stop shopping. Every time I felt lonely, anxious, sad, or any other myriad of emotions, I would shop. 

    And while learning more about money helped me make progress in other areas of my finances, it wasn’t until I dealt with the feelings that were causing me to shop that I was able to stick to my budget.


    You and your partner aren’t on the same page

    If you share your finances with a partner, then your budget is dependent on both people being committed. And if you and your partner aren’t on the same page, then it’s easy for things to get off-course.

    When you share finances with a partner, communication is critical. You and your partner have to get on the same page if you’re going to have a successful budget. 

    If you’re the budgeter in the relationship, talk to your partner to make sure they feel included in the process. If one of you is overspending, work together to come up with some strategies to get back on track. 

    Finding the right budgeting app that the two of you can use together is a great step in getting on the same page and making sure you’re both included!


    You don’t have an emergency fund

    Failing to have an emergency fund is one of the quickest ways for your budget to get off track.

    In a perfect world, emergency expenses wouldn’t happen. Unfortunately, they’re something that we all have to deal with from time to time. 

    And if you don’t have an emergency fund, then you’re forced to find room in your budget to cover the expenses in the month they come up. 

    Because most of us don’t have wiggle room in our budget for an emergency, this can throw your budget off not just for one month but for many.

    If you don’t currently have an emergency fund, make this your first financial priority for the next few months. At the very least, set aside enough money to cover a month of expenses. 


    You aren’t being flexible

    Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes I see people make is expecting their budgets to look exactly the same every month and then giving up when they overspend in one category. 

    First, know that your budget doesn’t have to be the same every month. One of the biggest problems with many budgeting apps is that you create your budget and then are expected to use it every month. 

    I don’t know about you, but every month is different for me. In a month when several friends have birthdays, I might spend more money on eating out. But in a month where I’m staying home most nights, my grocery budget might go up. 

    Just know that it’s okay for your budget to adapt to whatever is going on in your life at the time.

    The other problem people have is that when they go over budget in one category, they think their whole budget is shot. That’s not the case at all!

    Listen, we all have a finite amount of money to spend each month. But it’s okay if you don’t end up spending it exactly as you thought you would on the first of the month. 

    Did you go over budget on eating out? No problem. Just find a different spending category that you can cut back on a little bit. 

    As long as you spend within your means, your budget is working. The mark of a successful budget doesn’t have to be that you stuck to your original plan 100%.


    Final Thoughts

    Getting started with budgeting is one of the biggest hurdles you have to jump when it comes to getting your finances on track. Unfortunately, it’s also one that people most often give up on. 

    The good news is that if you can figure out why your budgets have failed in the past, you can avoid making those same mistakes again.

  • The Best Budgeting Apps for Couples to Manage Money Together

    Before Brandon and I got married, we struggled to find a budgeting solution that really offered everything we needed. 

    We weren’t quite ready to merge our finances yet. But we knew we were getting married, we had shared financial goals, and we wanted to be able to budget collaboratively. Now that we’re married and have shared finances, we have entirely different financial needs. 

    At different points in our relationship, we need different tools and strategies to help us manage our finances together. Luckily we were able to find the perfect apps to help us do that. 

    In this post, I’m sharing 6 of the best budget apps for couples. Some are specifically designed for couples with separate bank accounts, while others are better suited for those who share finances. 


    There are affiliate links in this post, meaning I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, see my full disclosure policy here.


    Why couples should budget together

    Study after study shows that finances are one of the biggest sticking points in a relationship and that disagreements over money are one of the leading causes of divorce. 

    There are so many different reasons why couples fight about money. Plenty of millennial and Gen Z couples these days are entering into a marriage where one or both partners has student loan debt. 

    For example, see my article here about how my husband and I made a plan to pay off our six figures of student debt.

    Couples also argue about money when you’ve got one partner who is a saver and another who’s a spender. Financial emergencies like job loss or unplanned expenses can also place a major burden on a relationship.

    Even if you’re not married, budgeting together can be a great way to get on the same page with your finances and get into the practice of peacefully resolving money disputes that might pop up.


    What to consider when choosing a couples budgeting app

    There are many apps out there that can help couples to manage their household budgets, whether they’ve merged their finances or only rock separate bank accounts. 

    Choosing the right app for you can be daunting, especially when many budgeting apps operate as a paid service. What if you pay the fee and hate the app? Here are a few factors to keep in mind:

    • Are you willing to pay for an app, or will you only consider free apps? If you’re okay with a paid app, look for one that offers a free trial.
    • Do you want a service that has both app and desktop functionality? Some companies offer budgeting apps, but not a desktop version. I really enjoy the option of a desktop version!
    • Do you want to sync the app to your bank accounts and credit cards, or are you okay with manually recording transactions?
    • Are you a hands-on budgeter or a more passive one? Some apps really require you to make a plan for each dollar, while others allow you to monitor your spending passively.


    What if we don’t share finances?

    I know that not all married couples choose to merge their finances. And plenty of couples who haven’t yet merged their finances still want a way to budget collaboratively and set shared financial goals. This was exactly the case for my husband and me before we were married. 

    The good news is that each of these budgeting apps can still be effective if you don’t have shared finances. In fact, some of the apps are specifically suited for couples who don’t share a bank account.

    If you and your partner don’t share finances, you may not want to budget all of your money together, and that’s okay. When Brandon and I were dating, we made a budget for our joint bills and financial goals, but each tackled our personal spending individually.


    The best budgeting apps for couples


    Zeta is a budgeting app for couples with either shared or separate finances who want to budget together. It’s specially designed for those with separate bank accounts. 

    Zeta allows you and your partner to upload your bank accounts and credit cards and control what the other person can see. You can create a joint budget and track your spending together while keeping some expenses private. Zeta also allows you to set joint financial goals and track your progress.

    A feature that makes Zeta ideal for those with separate finances is that you can keep a running tab on who has paid for certain expenses and tag your partner when it’s time to settle up.

    Zeta has awesome features like the ability to keep a running financial to-do list and well-designed financial dashboards. 

    I didn’t know about Zeta when Brandon and I were budgeting with separate bank accounts. Otherwise, I probably would have used it! 

    Cost: Free

    Who It’s For: Zeta is perfect for couples who have separate finances and want to budget together. 



    Honeydue is a budgeting app that allows couples to add separate bank accounts and track spending together. When you add your account, you can control how much of your information your partner can see. Couples can set a joint budget and share financial goals.

    Another great feature is that you can set up reminders for you or your partner when it’s time to pay a bill. You can also message within the app to keep all of your money conversations in one place.

    One feature of Honeydue that really sold me (and the reason Brandon and I used it when we had separate finances) is that it allows you to track who paid for what and who owes you. 

    If I paid the rent bill, I would enter it and indicate that Brandon owed me for half. Honeydue keeps a running tab based on all transactions and allows either partner to settle up at any time. 

    This feature really addressed one of the more complicated parts of living with a partner and sharing expenses when you have separate finances.

    Cost: Free

    Who It’s For: Honeydue is perfect for couples who have separate finances and want to budget together. 



    Let me preface this by saying that You Need a Budget (YNAB) is my favorite budgeting app. It’s the one I personally use and recommend the most. 

    YNAB is a budgeting app that really allows you to make a plan for your money. Unlike more passive money apps that tell you where you spent your money that month, YNAB allows you to decide proactively where you’ll spend your money. 

    I also love YNAB for its tracking and reporting. When you add your debt and investment accounts, you’ll be able to see an accurate report of your net worth.

    YNAB is definitely pricier than some of the other options, but I’ve saved that at least ten-fold by using this budgeting method.

    Cost: $99 per year with a 34-day free trial

    Who It’s For: YNAB is ideal for those who prefer to take a hands-on approach to budgeting. If you’re inclined to track all your expenses in a spreadsheet, YNAB is a simpler solution for you. YNAB works for couples with either joint or separate bank accounts.



    Personal Capital is a financial planning app that allows you to monitor your budget while also keeping tabs on your investment and retirement accounts. For couples planning their financial futures together, Personal Capital is a great way to keep an eye on your progress. 

    Personal Capital is a great tool for seeing your entire financial picture in one place. But unlike some of the other apps, it doesn’t really allow you to intentionally create a plan for your money every month. 

    Personal Capital also offers more advanced features, such as wealth management services and financial advisor sessions at an extra cost.

    Cost: Free

    Who It’s For: Personal Capital is ideal for couples who want to monitor their investment and their progress toward reaching specific financial goals such as saving for a home. This app isn’t ideal for hands-on budgeters.



    Mint is a budgeting app that allows you to sync all of your bank accounts and track your spending throughout the month. 

    Mint is especially adept at automatically categorizing your transactions based on where you’re spending money. So for those who prefer to be more passive when it comes to your budgeting, Mint is a great option for you. Mint also has features that allow you to set and track financial goals. 

    If you’re looking for a low-maintenance app that you can set up once and then use check passively throughout the money, Mint might be right for you.

    Cost: Free

    Who It’s For: Mint is the perfect app for couples who want a low-maintenance budgeting solution. You can use this app for shared bank accounts, or separately add your individual accounts. 



    Tiller is a spreadsheet-based budgeting app that allows you to track your spending, income, and account balances in spreadsheets.

    One of the major advantages of Tiller — and something spreadsheet lovers will particularly enjoy — is that just about everything is customizable, from your spending categories to the reports you see. You can even add your favorite spreadsheet formulas and functions to the program.

    Cost: $79 per year with a 30-day free trial

    Who It’s For: Tiller is the perfect budgeting app for couples who love spreadsheets and customization.


    So what’s the verdict?

    If you read through this entire post, you might still be stumped as to which budgeting app is right for you. I’ve chosen my winners based on whether you and your couple have shared or separate finances.

    The best budgeting app for couples with separate finances: Zeta

    The best budgeting app for couples with shared finances: You Need a Budget


    Final Thoughts

    Dealing with finances in your relationship can be challenging, there’s no doubt about it. I truly believe that having an effective tool can help to ease some of the frustration. 

    I’ve used more than my fair share of paid and free budgeting apps, some of which have been better suited for couples than others. Whether you share a bank account with your partner or not, there’s definitely an app on this list to meet your needs.