For many of us, keeping a budget is like a trip to the dentist. You dread it, you think of ways to get out of it, and you convince yourself it’s not necessary. Then you go to the dentist, you’re in and out in an hour, you feel so much better, and you wonder why you put it off for so long. So how can you get yourself to budget and actually stick with it? Here are some tips I share with my clients to help keep them on board.
FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
Part of the reason I see my clients avoid budgeting is that it’s time consuming. While I agree that it does take more time to set a budget than to avoid it all together, the results of budgeting are often worth the effort and then some. In order to get yourself to commit a little time to budgeting, think about a way that would work for you. For instance, if most of your spending is done with a credit card, try budgeting with an online aggregator like Mint or YNAB. On the other hand, if cash spending is your norm, think about exploring the envelope system in which you assign different categories in your budget an individual envelope with the amount of cash available for spending that month. In addition to that is the old excel standby budget or even just a small notebook in which you track your daily spending and tally up the results on a regular basis. Any method you choose is a good way to start, so why not start today?
A GOOD BUDGET STARTS WITH YOUR CALENDAR
There’s one to-do that is on my list at the start of every month… Make a budget. Make your budget before the month gets going and use your calendar as a guide. Your calendar holds the key to a successful budget because it allows you to estimate what a realistic month might look like for you. For instance, June in our household means I will likely be doing something special for my daughter’s birthday, but also buying a father’s day present for my husband. As a result, I increased the gift allowance, but will likely have to make a cut to the dining out budget to compensate. Think about where extra expenses might crop up for you this month and where you can make up the difference.
LOOK AT YOUR BUDGET EVERY DAY
This one may be my biggest budget tip and yet I feel like it’s where a lot of my clients stop following me. You may think, “Every day?! That seems unnecessary,” but let me explain why. There are a couple great things that your budget can do for you when you check it every day. First, you will never again feel nervous to check your budget because you’re afraid to see what you did and face your “mistakes”. When you never go more than a day without checking your budget, you still remember those mistakes from yesterday so when you see your budget, it won’t come as a shock. Secondly, if reframes your mindset. Being aware of your budget and how your month is going in relation to how you expected can help you to take action. For example, if you’re midway through the month and notice that your dining out budget is almost maxed out, maybe it’s time to start packing some lunches.
SET UP ACCOUNTABILITY CHECKS
It’s all about accountability, right? For some people that may mean holding yourself accountable for staying on budget, but for most people that is not a simple task. If you need some form of external accountability, try the buddy system. Find a friend of family member that also could benefit from keeping a budget (i.e. EVERYONE!) and just have check-in’s daily to make sure you are both keeping up with your budget. You don’t even need to share what your budget looks like, just a reminder to keep up with it may be enough. If that doesn’t seem to work, engage a professional. Most of my personal finance consultations happen at the beginning and end of the month so that I can review my clients budgets with them. It helps us to find the areas where they could do better, and it holds them accountable for completing their monthly budget because they know I will be looking at it.
Are you feeling inspired? Go get started today… you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!
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.