Sticking to a budget is no easy task, but when you can get this part of your life under control you’ll be amazed at how satisfied – and relieved – you feel. Putting every dollar you earn to work for you helps you to have a great sense of being in control, so you can get out of reactive mode and take a proactive approach to your finances. When you learn ways to stick to your budget without feeling deprived, you’re more likely to stay on track and develop other financial habits to drive a healthy lifestyle.
Why Your Family Needs a Budget
If you already have a budget, that’s great! Regardless of your financial goals or dreams, setting up a budget is a necessary first step. A budget is a crucial tool for an overall healthy quality of life, and having a budget allows you to:
- Focus on your family’s goals and priorities
- Plan for the future
- Track your income and expenses; know where everything is going
- Avoid being sideswiped by unexpected emergencies
- Avoid accumulating debt, or adding to it
- Enjoy experiences together without paying for them after-the-fact
- Get discounts or better rates by being able to “pay in full”
- And many others.
How to Stick To Your Budget Without Feeling Deprived
Let’s clear one thing up before I go any further. This is more than a budget; it’s a mindset. The way you view money management may indicate the way you view other areas of life.
Having a budget does not mean your family will be deprived or have to “do without” things you love and enjoy. Actually, your budget will be the tool that allows – or as I prefer to say, empowers – you to have more and do more. Ironic right? But it’s very true. If you approach your budget from a perspective of “missing out on things” you’re likely to revolt against your budget. So knowing that your budget is a way for you to reach financial freedom will help you to stick to your budget without feeling deprived.
If there are things you absolutely enjoy and want to keep doing, you can still do these with your budget. For example, if you have a slight addiction to specialty coffee? Indulge yourself! As long as it’s in your budget. Want to buy new sporting equipment or supplies for your crafts projects. Go ahead! Once again, as long as your budget has this allocated.
But I know that creating a budget doesn’t happen overnight. When I started using my little Excel spreadsheet to do my budgeting I had no idea how important this would become for my financial future. Although it wasn’t fancy, it was a system that worked for me. And this was before the age of budgeting apps. So I had to use the tools that were at my disposal at the time. And that was Microsoft Excel. With my very simple spreadsheet, I was able to track all my income, bills, savings, emergency fund, fun money, and more!
If you’re visual and like to see things laid out in black and white, a budget worksheet may be the perfect tool for you too.
If you embrace the idea of a budget and want to move forward, you may need ideas on how to stay on track with your budget. Let’s dive in and look at some of the strategies that will help you remain focused on your budget when life throws temptations your way.
5 Ways to Stick to Your Budget
1. Develop a SMART Budget
Your budget should add clarity to your financial situation, not make it more confusing. When you’re creating a budget, you’re essentially creating goals. And the best formula for goal-setting (and budget-creation) is the SMART format. This means that when you write up your budget you want it to have 5 distinct elements. Your budget needs to be:
Using these elements as a guide when you develop your budget will help you create a budget that is crystal clear and easy to follow.
2. Go on a Spending Freeze – Yikes!
Every little thing we spend money on does add up. Every time you pull in to the drive-thru for a latte, stop at the grocery store to “pick up a few things” or even go to the salon and upgrade to a “deluxe” pedicure – it all adds up!
What if you could put a freeze on spending for a day? A few days? For instance, maybe instead of grocery shopping this week, you eat the food that is currently in your pantry and refrigerator. Or you could make your own coffee for a week rather than stopping at Starbucks every morning. What other ideas can you think of?
Just as the small everyday purchases add up to steal the thunder from your financial future, your everyday decisions to eliminate one expense or another can add up to move you towards it.
Get a handle on your finances with this strategy by scheduling a spending freeze every week or month. You’ll see what a big difference this small trick can make in how much you retain in your bank account.
3. Find an Accountability Partner
When you are working on budgeting or other goals, it really does help to have a partner, someone who is on the same page or pursuing the same goals. For you, this may be your partner, spouse, another family member, your best friend, or even a support group. If you’re getting serious about your finances it’s critical to have the support to stay on track.
Be sure that both you and your accountability partner know each others’ goals and agree on how you will hold each other accountable. Will you check in with a quick phone call every week? Or will you skype for a brief chat, send a text, or email each other. Maybe your partner lives locally and you’ll meet to talk in person. However, you set it up, make sure you have a plan that you both can follow.
Having the encouragement of another person is a great motivator and a way of staying focused on your budget goals.
4. Make it Fun
I may be an oddball but I actually enjoy budgeting. And yes, I still use a spreadsheet to do my budgeting although recently I have been checking out some of the budgeting apps that everyone’s talking about. When I review my budget every week, I always know where I stand – and where I’m going.
But for most people budgeting is the least favorite part of the week, so it’s no surprise that most of us tend to avoid it. If you don’t get excited about budgeting maybe it’s time to revise the way you’re doing it.
Try to do something fun while you’re budgeting. Instead of sitting at the kitchen table with your pen and paper staring at the refrigerator, go outside to a nice scenic spot and work on your budget. Play music while you update your budget or enjoy a nice green smoothie as you comb through the numbers! Get creative and build in little rewards for yourself to complete your budget every week. Making budgeting fun will make you more likely to stick with it!
5. Use an Accordion File
Do you ever “steal” money from one area of your budget for another area? It happens to all of us. You might see something at Target that you absolutely have to have, and so you “borrow” from your “utilities” area to increase your “household purchases” area. Sounds okay in theory right but the problem is… you never repay it!
If you have been moving your money around and losing track of where it’s all going, you may need to start using a new method to track every dollar of your spending. This is where using cash comes in. Yup, good old fashioned green. Going on a cash-only budget can help to avoid the “buy it now – deal with it later” trap.
To do this you’ll need a small accordion file like this one or purchase one at a dollar store.
Label each section of your accordion file with the areas of your budget (eg. groceries, water bill, clothing, gas, etc). Every week, put your budgeted amount (in cash) into each section. Once the money in that area is gone, it’s gone! Resist the urge to “borrow” money from other areas to make impulse buys. If you really want something, keep filling up that area – and not spending from it – until you have enough “saved” in that area to buy that “thing” that you want. Or you can move your leftover money to your emergency fund or savings. Your choice! Remember, budgets are meant to give you choice and freedom, not limit you.
It’s a pretty basic system, but you know what? It works! And having a system where you visually track your money might be the key to sticking to your budget without feeling deprived.
When you have a healthy approach to managing your money and other areas of your life, you’ll realize that having a healthy lifestyle – and budget – don’t have to be hard after all.
Resources Mentioned in This Post
Microsoft Excel. Check it out here.
Accordion File System. Check it out here.
Alicia Hyatte is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Family Wellness Expert, and Health Educator. She creates impactful, evidence-based health and wellness content and programs for individuals, families, and communities.