Sticking to a budget is about as fun as sticking to a diet. Amiright?! #nojudgements
With that being said, you’re here because you know that something has to give and in order to succeed with your money you need to give this whole budget thing your full attention and that doesn’t just mean writing it, but following through with that plan you made for your money.
When I first started being responsible for myself and my money– many, many years ago– I would sit down with my check register and my bank statement and go through it and see how things were going.
Then I’d look at my little piece of notebook paper that I sat and lovingly made at the beginning of each money.
From there, I’d sit and wonder at how I got the numbers from that piece of notebook paper to my check register and things weren’t magically working out the way I needed them to.
Don’t let that be you, dear friend. Don’t let that be you!
Instead, let’s dig into what happens after you write your budget.
This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Please see my full disclosure policy for details.
Table of Contents
Why Do You Need a Budget?
Chances are, if you are here reading this, you already have a budget– because you are here to learn tricks to stick to it. If that’s you, go ahead and skip down to the next section, but before you do that, highest of fives to you for making a plan for your money!
However, in case you don’t have a budget (if that’s you, please start with my Budgeting 101 post), here are a few reasons that you definitely should.
No matter how much money you make, you need a budget. Budgeting is the financial roadmap for your life.
Here are a few financial situations where a budget would be handy:
- If you are trying to pay off credit card debt or pay off any debt for that matter!
- If you are trying to cut back on spending money.
- If your living expenses are out of control and you need a better way to manage them.
- If you need help trying to figure out how to best spend your paycheck every month.
- If you want help tracking your bills.
Bottom Line: Budgeting helps to ensure you reach your financial goals!
How to Set a Realistic Budget
A budget is only as good as the follow through. If you are one of those serial budgeters who fills out some worksheet and think you are making progress, spoiler alert!! You aren’t.
So what do you need to be successful?
A realistic budget aka a budget that has a chance at you being able to stick to it.
How do you create a realistic budget?
Step One: Decide What Budgeting Method Works for You
There are many different types of budgets and ways to budget your money. If you aren’t sure which one is right for you, check out my Cliff’s Notes version of a few of the most popular.
Probably one of the most tedious forms of budgeting, but the traditional method to budgeting is probably what you would consider as the “classic” form of budgeting.
With line item budgeting, you are going to categorize all your spending and really get down into the nitty-gritty details of your spending.
Developed by Elizabeth Warren, the 50/30/20 is a much simpler approach to budgeting.
The premise is simple: You set 50% of your after-tax income on your needs, 30% on wants, and 20% goes towards savings or debt repayment.
Cash Envelope Budgeting, made popular by Dave Ramsey, is developing a cash only budget to help minimize overspending and stay on budget.
You still have budgeting categories, but these categories are set up in envelopes with the corresponding amount of cash inside.
Simply put, a zero based budget is when your income minus expenses equal zero. The big difference between this budgeting method and other methods, however, is that you budget based on last months income.
One important distinction: Zero-based budgets do not mean you have zero dollars in the bank at the end of every month. It means that you have given every dollar a job. You aren’t leaving money on the table.
DIY BUDGETING METHOD
None of the budgeting methods sound like a perfect fit? Why not take the parts that work and put them together to make them work for you?
As I mentioned before, budgeting is very individualized, do what works for you! If you aren’t sure what that looks like, trial and error will not lead you astray.
And to be honest, any budgeting system, even if its not right for you, will still be better to start with than winging it from month to month.
So mix and match or make your own. The important thing is to have a plan for your money.
Step Two: Use Budget Spreadsheets
I love Spreadsheets! Whether it’s in Google Sheets or Excel, I am always creating spreadsheets to organize my life and my money is no exception.
Spreadsheets are an easy way to organize your finances and create a budget that you can copy and modify each month.
It does all the calculations for you (math is hard!), you can easily save them, you can customize them and so much more.
Spreadsheets for the win!
Step Three: Write Out a Quick Look at Annual Expenses
Every December, I sit down at my computer and start working out my next year’s expenses.
Following that sheet, I create a separate budget sheet for each month of the year. I save those pages as one workbook together and save the file with a super original name like: “Year Long Budget”.
I review my money goals. I take a look at what irregular expenses I have coming up. Season expenses, holidays. birthdays, etc.
Then I make sure to add those to the appropriate month (or months) budget to make sure I’m accounting for everything and can fine tune my plan for my money for the year.
Step Four: Budget for Each Month
For most families every month will look a little different. While you can start with a basic budgeting outline, each month needs to be examined and budgeted on its own.
In our house, I’m sure summer months look very different than February and February looks mighty different than December.
If you want to increase your chances of success with your budget– start by creating a new budget for each month.
As I mentioned above, I want to make sure I’m not just tracking fixed monthly expenses or discretionary spending, but I’m also including irregular expenses, specific saving goals, etc.
Step Four & a Half: Being Realistic with Your Budgeting Categories
I think this point warrants it’s on section, but its really apart of step 4, so here we are– step 4.5.
No one wins when you lie to yourself and write down that you are only going to spend $100 a month on groceries for your family of 4.
It is SO EASY to make the math work on paper, but hard to make those dollars stretch to match the math on your budgeting spreadsheet.
So be honest with yourself about what you really need to spend, because let me tell you. It is far easier to switch to a pre-paid cheaper cell phone plan that saves you $100/month than it is to cut your grocery bill down from $700/month to $200 for your family.
You will see better success with your budget and your ability to stick to it, if you make the hard cuts (less fun money, getting rid of Netflix, etc) on paper first. Let me tell you why– because your instinct to budget for less gas money or money for food– well, what do you think is going to happen when you keep those other fun categories and you are out of food on week 3???
Yuuuuup. You are going to buy yourself food AND guess what you already spent the money on those other categories, so where do you find yourself??
Hands to Jesus, this was my life the first year I had moved out of my parents house and had to budget for myself! Every month I’d give myself a pep talk. ” OK, I’m really going to do it this month.” Then inevitably, I’d find myself right back in the same position.
Finally, one day I was reading something for one of my classes and the gist of the quote was,
“If you do the same thing over and over and expect different results– you are going to always be disappointed. If you want different results, you need to do something different.”
So friends, try something different instead of beating your head against a brick wall.
Check out my post on costs to cut to save money ever month if you are looking for a little inspiration.
Bottom Line: Write a realistic budget. Don’t defeat yourself before the month even starts.
Step 5: Avoid Your Spending Triggers
Everyone has spending triggers. Maybe yours is a certain store (Hey, Target. I’m looking at you.)
Maybe you are a tired Momma and you don’t feel like cooking so you eat out or order delivery (#nojudgements).
Whatever triggers your spending, the only way to overcome it, is to identify and then avoid those behaviors and triggers.
Maybe that is hitting the unsubscribe button to Old Navy. Maybe it’s limiting your trips to your favorite store.
Maybe it’s buying a little better coffee to avoid your Starbucks habit.
Step 6: Track Your Spending As You Go
Writing out your budget and having financial goals in place is fantastic. BUT if you aren’t tracking what you are spending, how in the world are you going to know if you are indeed sticking to your budget??
I know I will get some eye rolls BUT this is one of the reasons I really like Dave Ramsey’s Envelope System. You have a set amount of money, you are tracking your spending from specific category envelopes as you go and when the money is gone– it’s gone.
If you are not a fan of the Envelope Method, here are a few other options to track spending:
- Mint, You Need A Budget, Every Dollar, or other similar online sites.
- Budgeting software like Quicken
- The ever reliable pen and paper. Inexpensive and still effective.
Step 7: Take a Budgeting Course
Consider taking a course to take a deeper look at budgeting. I’ve been a long time budgeter, but recently took Jordan Page’s Budget Bootcamp and loved it!
If you’ve been following along with Mom Managing Chaos, you know that I adore her and all her awesome frugal living tips.
She and her husband were able to pay off about $15,000 of debt with an annual salary of $31,000. I was honestly inspired. If you are looking for more about her families debt free story you can check it out on her page.
Her course is incredibly easy to follow and it works!
If you are looking for a soup to nuts course on Budgeting, I really enjoyed her effective, no non-sense approach.
How to Stay Motivated to Stay on Budget
It can be hard to stay motivated when you are trying to stick to your budget, but here are a few ways that have helped me with staying motivated.
Read Money Books
In no particular order, here are a few of my favorite money books. They aren’t all about budgeting specifically, but are a great place to start changing how you think about your money!
- The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach
- Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
- Financial Freedom by Grant Sabatier
- Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin
Listen to Money Podcasts
Other Amazing Money Bloggers that I Love to Follow
- Bobby at The Millennial Money Man
- Jordan at Fun Cheap or Free
- Tracie at Penny Pinchin’ Mom
- Jeff, Ben and Megan at The Dollar Sprout
- Mr. Money Mustache at Mr. Money Mustache
I am such an avid reader– there are tons more that I read consistently, but these are some of my absolute favorites!
Find an Accountability Partner
Accountability is such a huge part of finding at success with anything that is difficult. Whether it’s working out, eating better or taking more care with your finances, it can really help to have someone to be an encourager…. and a kick in the pants when necessary.
For me, that’s my sister. She’s been checking receipts and saving every penny since she knew pennies had value. So when I need someone to talk me out of something, to give good advice, or just tell me to get it together.
So if you have a family member, a friend, or maybe you have a favorite budgeting group you are apart of– don’t be shy, reach out and see if they’d be willing.
A word of caution: Find someone who’s values regarding money align with what you are trying to accomplish. I have a friend who has never met a sale she didn’t like. That would probably not be “my person” when trying to be more frugal in my life.
Simple Budget Hacks
What would this post be without some simple budget hacks?! Here are a few ways to help with budgeting your money.
- Automate your money! Hit the easy button on paying bills and saving money.
- Keep your savings in a separate account from the rest of your money. Give yourself a speed bump when it comes to spending your money.
- Implement the 30-day rule on large purchases. (30 day rule: wait 30 days to make the purchase so you have time to make a well researched, unemotional decision).
- Check your bank balances and what you have left to spend at least once a week, but more often would be better!
- Don’t keep your credit/debit card numbers saved in your computer or phone, making it easier for you to shop online. Make it painful to spend that money!
- Know what you have to spend each week in your budgeting categories. This will allow you to course correct if you go way off the rails one week versus finding out about it at the end of the month when you have no time to do anything about it.
- Regularly review “the why” you are budgeting to help keep you focused and motivated to stay on track.
- Sinking funds. I am going to preach until the cows come home about how amazing sinking funds are and all the reasons you need these in your life. One of my favorite sinking funds is called, “Oops, Life Happened“. If you don’t know what sinking funds are, go check out my post with the entire explanation. If you know what they are, but haven’t yet embraced their awesomeness. Be like Nike and just do it! You won’t regret it. Sinking funds are another layer of protection for sticking to your budget!
Final Notes on How to Stick to Your Budget
This is a process. Give yourself a little grace when you are working through your budget every month. Do the absolute best you can and learn from your mistakes– but I assure you, those will happen.
Sometimes life happens and sometimes you simply had a brain fart and made a mistake.
Either way, the absolute best thing is to just keep going with it.
If you blow your budget the first week into the month– do the best you can to manage the rest of the month and learn from your mistakes.
Be honest. Be real. Be persistent.
I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to drop a comment in the section below with any suggestions or questions!