If you’ve ever made a budget, you know just how hard it is to stick with it. You may fail month after month to meet your monthly goals, and you’re definitely not alone in that camp. Life will always throw a wrench into your plans no matter how good your intentions may be, but there are some reasons your budget might be failing time and time again. Below we highlight four of the most common reasons and how to troubleshoot them.
Setting an Unrealistic Target
Setting unrealistic budget guidelines is one of the surest ways for your budget to fail. Wishful spending targets are often the culprit when it comes to staying within your budget. The best way to design a realistic budget is to look at what you were spending in a month without imposing limitations and then start to trim each category where you can. Maybe it’s important to your lifestyle that you be able to go out with your friends on the weekend. Don’t plan to cut that out entirely since you likely won’t be able to stick to that pledge. Instead cut back on the amount of drinks you may have or find a cheaper option for a place to frequent. When you’re setting your goals for each category ask yourself just how much you’re willing to give up to get what you want.
Another way to ensure that your budget is realistic is to start with your social calendar each month. Look ahead and see if there are any birthdays, trips, or other expenses that may be occurring that month. It will help you think ahead and make room for expenses you know will arise by cutting back in other categories if you can. Each month is a new month in terms of budgeting. Just because you budgeted $100 for eating at restaurants last month, doesn’t mean you should budget $100 this month when you know that you will be taking your significant other out for a nice anniversary dinner.
Forgetting Why You’re Budgeting
The general spirit of budgeting is to make your money go farther. Whether it be to pay off debt, to save for a vacation, or to squirrel away money for retirement, the ultimate goal of budgeting is to do more with less. Since a budget is designed to reign in your spending, it’s important that you remember why you are budgeting in the first place. What is your ultimate goal? How is your budget set up to help you accomplish it? Write out your goals and put them somewhere visible so you can remind yourself each day why you are making certain sacrifices.
Letting Fear Take the Wheel
This is one of the biggest mistakes I see, and it’s one that doesn’t make much sense if you really stop to think about it. All too often budgets will fail because you’re afraid to look at your spending. The truth isn’t malleable. Whether you look at your spending now or later, the result will be the same. In fact, looking at your budget more frequently will just keep you from experiencing the shock you may feel after seeing a month worth of expenses accumulate. Force yourself to look at your budget regularly. Build it into your day as a habit. For example, you could check it at your lunch break everyday. Staying aware of your spending constantly and checking in regularly will help you avoid surprises while potentially motivating you to clamp down on your spending in certain areas if need be.
Being on Different Pages
Lastly, for those of you that share a budget with a significant other, there is an extra layer of difficulty you face when trying to stick to a budget. You have a whole other person involved who has his or her own ideas about how to spend money and how important staying on budget truly is. To stay on the same page, make sure you’re preparing your budget together at the beginning of each month. Your significant other may be expecting to have money in the budget for a specific item that you’re not yet aware of, so having that conversation in advance will allow you to build it into your budget. Additionally, make sure you are aligned on why your budget is important. Maybe you have been stressed about money and saving for a rainy day is feeling important to you… your partner should be aware of those feelings and why you want this budget to work. Check in with each other throughout the month to discuss how well you are doing on your budget and if there are any tweaks that must be made.
Written By: Lindsay Dell Cook
Lindsay Dell Cook is a CPA, finance writer, and founder of Budget Babble. She lives in Philadelphia with her uber supportive husband and adorable daughter. When she's not working, she enjoys spending time with her family, taking their lovable mutt for walks, or reading a good book while buried under a pile of cats.