The internet is full of articles on how to make a budget and save money. (I know, I’ve written several.) Reading about budgeting is great, and seeing how you can turn $5 into $1000 is motivating, but actually doing it is an entirely different story.
There always seems to be something that throws a wrench into the blissful budget plan. A car repair you weren’t planning on, a school fundraiser you didn’t know about, or a last minute trip to the pharmacy because everyone got the flu…again. It seems impossible to stick to a budget that actually works with the ups and downs of your everyday life. I’m here to tell you, it is very much possible, and I hope these tips will help keep your budget dreams a reality.
Budget for Each Month
It’s hard to stick to an “average” budget when the life insurance is due in March and the car registration is due in July, and the water softener bill is every 90 days. So how do you adequately plan for these extra expenses?
Instead of creating a monthly budget, create a “January” budget, “February” budget, and so on. This doesn’t solve all unexpected expenses, but it will help you plan to cut down the grocery bill in the months when you know the car registration is coming. Think ahead and plan for school supplies, birthdays, Christmas, and other holidays.
Live on Less Than You Make
Thirty-eight million American households live “hand to mouth”, spending all of each paycheck they make according to recent research from the Brookings Institution. This type of lifestyle is stressful at best and disastrous at worst because you’re never financially prepared for the future.
Any unforeseen circumstances rely on credit to pay for. You’re constantly behind the 8-ball, trying to catch up and keep yourself and your family from drowning in debt. In order to get out of this cycle, you have to live on less than you make. If your paycheck is $2,000 every two weeks, your monthly budget should be no more than $3,900 – which allows you to put $100 per month into savings. As your income increases, always increase your savings first.
Budget Every Dollar
Money is powerful, and with that power comes responsibility. Every penny should have a place to go, a purpose to fulfill. Some dollars are for groceries, others are for bills, some dollars should be responsible for building your savings account. Tell every single dollar where to go instead of wondering what happened to all your money at the end of the month.
The Envelope Method
This technique has been discussed time and time again. Why? Because it works. Whether you use actual cash envelopes or a digital system, it is a ridiculously simple way of sticking to a budget. When the cash runs out, and the envelope is empty, you stop spending.
This is one of the best ways to get out of credit card debt because credit cards are not an option in this method. It takes a lot of self control to teach yourself to go without at the end of the month, but you will learn to self-regulate so your money goes further.
Confusing Your Needs
When your shoes are broken, or worn out, you need new shoes. Or do you? Do you need the shoes you’ve always bought? Do you have other shoes you could wear? Are their second-hand options available? Too often, we buy things we need when in reality, we don’t need them at all. If you run out of milk, do you really need more milk? Will it kill you to wait a few days until the new budget cycle to buy milk?
Most of the time, you don’t really need the items you think you need. The peace of mind you get from staying on budget is worth getting creative to reevaluate what you really need.
Have a Goal
Being frugal is great, but is that the whole purpose for budgeting? Saving money is a worthy effort, but what is it for? Having a plan for the money you save is one of the biggest game changers in budgeting.
Pick a goal, write it down, and start working towards it. Having a purpose for your penny pinching makes it a lot easier. Maybe you want to get out of debt, build an emergency fund, or pay for college. Make a clear goal with a specific dollar amount so you’ll know when you get there. When you accomplish one goal, make another one.