It’s happened again. You started the month with the best intentions, you put together a realistic budget, spent the first week packing your lunches, and were feeling good about things. Then life happened. Between work and family, you lost track of time and lost track of your budget. Oh, well… You’ll try again next month. Might as well enjoy this month without stressing about your budget that you’ve already blown! Not so fast. Here are a few things you can do to get through the mid-month budget fatigue and salvage what’s left of your month.
Face Your Fears
If you’ve lost track of your spending this month, chances are that finally looking at the damage you’ve done against the sharp contrast of your budget is giving you anxiety. First know that this is totally normal. We’re so afraid of failing and looking at our spending will confirm what we already know: we are not slaying our budget this month. Time to suck up our pride and move on with it. Whether you keep a paper budget, or use an online tool like Mint or YNAB, before you can start to mitigate the damage that you’ve done, you need to know what you’re working with.
Cut Back Where You Can
Now that you have all the facts it’s time to course correct where you can. In my family we typically go over budget with take-out food. For a busy family with a baby in the house, cooking seems impossible on most weeknights, so the result is Chinese food on Tuesday, pizza on Wednesday and so on. By the end of the month our budget line item for restaurants is maxed out, but we usually have more than enough money left in the grocery category. This is one place where we can buckle down and try to balance out our restaurant spending. It can give us a little extra push to know that we may still be able to meet our budget if we plan our meals wisely for the remainder of the month and cook ahead where we can.
Another common offense I see is spending too much on clothes versus the allotted budget amount. If shopping for clothes is one of your main offenders, try to freeze your clothing purchases for the rest of the month. You can even make a countdown to the end of the month to help motivate you. Also, keep a list of wants with you. Anytime you see something you really want to buy, but don’t need, add it to your list of wants. At the end of the month take a look at the items on that list and remove any items you no longer want, or carry those items on into the next month as motivation to save enough in your other categories to treat yourself to one of those wants.
Make A Habit of It
If you’re anything like me, you like to celebrate your successes. When I was in elementary school I was always the kid that would do extra chores if I could negotiate to turn them into more gold stars. Nowadays, I do something similar, but just for me. I track my habits so that I can view my progress and my shortcomings and correct myself when I go off course. Personally I use the app “Habit List” but there are several other apps that do similar jobs. Find the one that works for you and list your habits out to encourage you to complete them all. While you’re at it, make sure to add a line item for checking your budget daily. This is one habit that could save you thousands upon thousands of dollars per year.
Looking Forward Instead of Backward
It’s so easy to continue to beat yourself up for getting off course in any given month, but remember that budgeting is hard work. It can have its ups and downs and sometimes it’s downright painful, so just the fact that you’re trying is more than most people can say. Take an objective look at your budget to see if it really is realistic. If you’re busting your budget every month, you may need to tweak the categories to better reflect your reality and work from there.
Keep up the hard work and remind yourself of why you’re doing this. Are you working towards buying a house, retirement, or even a well-deserved vacation? Keep that goal front and center for the rest of the month and into the coming months, and remind yourself that it often takes a bunch of small wins to add up to a much larger win. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about being better than before.
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.