*This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission that could help me on my debt-free journey —at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase using the links.
Budgets are bae! There is no way I could crush debt or save thousands without them. Once I tossed out the negative connotation of a budget, figured out my budgeting style and actually put one in place, my debt payoff kicked into high gear.
Through practice, I’ve learned that you can’t just slap numbers on a spreadsheet and go on about your day. You have to craft each month’s budget with care. If you can’t stick to your budget, see if any of these pain points hit home and try out the solutions to relieve the stress.
1. It’s not tailor-made for you.
Ladies, think of how you feel wearing that dress that fits every curve the right way. That dress that makes your ass look fabulous. Yeah, that one! You never get tired of it.
Well, that’s how your budget should feel. It should fit just right for you—not Suze Orman, not your mama, not that boss lady you follow on Instagram. These folks may offer you great tips and tools, but you have to use this budget, so make sure it’s your own.
Solution: Find a style that fits you and include budget lines you’d actually track.
There’s a variety of budgeting methods:
- the 50-30-20 budget (50% needs, 30% wants, 20% savings)
- the 80-20 budget (20% savings, 80% everything else)
- the anti-budget (My favorite. No percentages. Income – Core Expenses = Everything Else is left for guilt-free spending. Click here for details and a free printable.)
- the zero-sum budget (Accounted Income – Accounted Expenses = $0. It doesn’t mean you spend every dime and have $0 before your next pay period. It just means every dollar has a job in your budget. You can have money left over. All budgets could be a zero-sum budget.)
The budgets that look like spreadsheets on steroids give me the hives. I’m not gonna use a line item for “hair accessories.” That’s too granular, and I hate being micro-managed.
I like the anti-budget because you simply subtract savings, giving and essential expenses from your take-home pay. What’s leftover, a.k.a. the monthly nut, is yours to spend on whatever you want (hair accessories). And you don’t have to track every penny because you know bills, savings and giving are already taking care of. When that leftover money runs out, it just runs out. But that’s too loosey-goosy for me. I need a few more categories to track my spending.
I use a hybrid that allows me to track the details I want to track and nothing more. A line-item like “hair accessories” just goes into a bucket called “Entertainment and Everything Else.” It works for me. Find what works for you.
2. Your budget isn’t aligned with your values and goals.
Heck! You may not even have values and goals. We probably all have budgets we created a few years ago that never quite stuck. Why didn’t it work out? Maybe it’s because you didn’t have a strong enough reason or vision to stick to the plan. Start with your values and the rest will fall into place.
Solution: Find your why and budget according to your goals.
- Values: Independence and giving to others.
- Goal: Slay credit card debt of $5,000 by December 1, 2018.
- Budget: Allot $100 more than my minimum payment for my debt snowball each month.
Values. Goals. Budget. I can’t be independent and generous if I’m constantly giving my money to a credit card company. Therefore, my immediate goal is to eliminate credit card debt. I make sure that’s reflected in my budget each month so that money doesn’t go to shoes or restaurants—things I don’t really value.
I can stick to a budget when I see the bigger picture. I can stick to it when I keep my values in mind and see, feel and smell what it will be like to live those values out loud.
“Without values, goals are rarely accomplished,” said The Automatic Millionaire author David Bach. “Values are key. When you understand them correctly, they will pull you toward your dreams—which is a lot better than having to push yourself.”
3. You don’t use real numbers.
Do you get paid about $1,800 every two weeks or $1,785.13? Is your cable bill about $85 or is it $86.25?
You don’t get paid about anything. You get paid the exact number on your paystub. If you round up, you’re giving yourself a nearly $15 imaginary raise. You think you make more money than you do. Know what you make down to the cents.
And will the cable company give you pass on paying $85 or will it want the full $86.25? Did you answer B? Bingo! You’re right! They want that other $1.25!
The point is: If you don’t have an accurate account of where you are, then you can’t get to your final destination.
Solution: Track previous spending and income reports to find real numbers.
Find the real figures for everything you can. Finding figures for fixed expenses—like rent or mortgage, the car note, etc—should be easy because you probably pay those once a month. A quick search in your online bank system or emails will work.
If you don’t have a service like Mint that tracks and categorizes your electronic transactions, you may have to add up the cost of variable expenses that fluctuate—eating out, groceries, gas, clothes, etc.—from the previous month or get an average from the previous three months.
Track your spending for one month or sift through paper and online receipts to get an idea of what you really spend instead of creating a budget based on numbers out of thin air. When you bust your budget, you’ll most likely feel discouraged and want to quit. Include real numbers in your budget to get the most accurate picture of what’s going in and going out of your wallet, and reflects your true lifestyle.
4. You don’t look at your budget after you write it.
Would you make a blueprint, leave it in the truck and build a house without it? Mayheim! That’s essentially what happens if you write a budget and don’t review it throughout the month.
Solutions: Set reminders or create a ritual to revisit your budget.
Create a special time to review your budget, and track expenses and income. Make it a fun date with wine and movie if that floats your boat.
Why is this so important? You can plug spending leaks earlier if you track where your money’s going on a consistent basis. Plus, you can reallocate money from one category to another.
I track expenses as soon as I spend cash with the EveryDollar app. The app sends me a weekly reminder to add transactions so I won’t forget. Other folks use their credit and debit cards, and track their expenses with Mint or their bank app. Then they look at the app every week. Do what feels good to you.
5. You don’t take action steps to stick to your budget.
Budgeting doesn’t end with the budget. Success comes in everything you do after you scribble down the numbers. It’s in the meal plans, the cash clips system, the salary negotiations, the side hustling, the spending freezes, the automated savings on payday, the unsubscribing from Target emails, the delayed gratification, the chats with your accountability partner and the polite rejections of friends and relatives’ invitations.
I hope this doesn’t sound like deprivation. It should sound like prioritization. If aligning your spending with your values, goals and the big picture is the priority, then you must stay focused and take action to stick to the plan.
Solutions: Recognize your excessive spending triggers and plan ways to stop them.
Take concrete steps to meet your goals. You must work your budgeting muscle day in and day out to make it stronger.
If you can’t stick to your budget because Target sales keep calling out to you, then change your route so you don’t drive past Target and unsubscribe to their emails. Who needs daily temptation in their inbox?
If you constantly overspend on eating out, entertainment and groceries, then take a certain amount of cash out for those categories at the beginning of the month or every two weeks. Once those cash envelopes or cash clips dry up, then that’s it! No more spending!
“You will face obstacles,” writes Exponential Living author Sheri Riley. “If you mentally prepare for obstacles and have a plan in place for dealing with them, you’ll be able to remain engaged.”
6. This month’s budget is the same as last month’s.
“Every month is an unusual month,” says Your Money Or Life author Vicki Robin.
Numbers fluctuate. So if you simply copy July’s budget for August, you’re mistaken. Nana’s 90th birthday is August, not July. That trip to the beach is in August, not July. Feel free to use a rough template each month, but review each line-item to make sure it’s realistic for the month ahead.
Solution: Account for any special events each month.
Jot down all of the birthdays, holidays, trips and other special events that are on the horizon and work them into the budget ahead of time.
It’s better to voluntarily do a “No-Spend Week” at the beginning of the month to cut costs or do a side hustle to boost income than suffer through a Ramen noodle and Coke diet when you return from that beach trip sad and broke. That ain’t cute.
7. You save after you spend instead of spending after you save.
Does your budget include savings? No? Well, it would help. And I’m not just talking about just saving $100 a month in your “Emergency Fund.” I’m talking about saving for annual or semi-annual expenses like your car insurance, professional membership fees and Christmas. We know the due dates, so reverse engineer your savings.
Solution: Break your big goals into monthly savings goals.
If you want to spend $500 on Christmas gifts, then divide $500 by the number of months you have to save. If it’s July, then you must save $500 by Black Friday in November. Your monthly savings rate is $100 ($500/5 months). Add that to the budget.
Also, if you budget $100 a month for entertainment. Consider putting yourself on a $25 a week allowance.
8. There’s no fun!
If all you budgeted for is bills and food, you’re in for a sad existence. You can’t completely deprive yourself of joy. You have to plan to do some things, just not everything.
Solution: Put the fun in your budget—literally!
Think in terms of moderation. Have a fun fund so you don’t rebel and throw your goals off track.
9. You don’t leave room for error.
You budgeted to a tee and the vet bill is $50 more than you estimated. Don’t let that throw your whole budget off. It should be flexible. The budget is a living, breathing entity like you.
Solution: Have a budget item for a cash cushion.
Create a buffer of $50, $100 or so in case your calculations are off or something unexpected happens, which is to be expected. Or be willing to move money from one budget item to another one. There’s nothing wrong with shaving $100 from the clothing category if you need more cash for pet care.
Here are some solutions to fail-proof your budget:
Use a budgeting style that fits your needs and personality.
Find your why and budget according to your goals.
Use real numbers for income and expenses.
Set reminders or create a ritual to revisit your budget periodically.
Recognize your excessive spending triggers and implement ways to stop them.
Account for special events each month.
Break down big goals and annual expenses into smaller goals.
Put the fun in your budget.
Have a budget item for a cash cushion.
And if your first budget doesn’t work out the first month, then tweak it and try again the next month—and the next month after that. It takes a while to form the budgeting habit.
Don’t give up! Once you got it, your money will grow. Happy budgeting!