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!
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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:
- Vehicle registration
- Car repairs
- Medical expenses
- Pet expenses
- Association dues
- Home repairs
- 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.
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).