It can be difficult to stick to a budget – budgeting is not an easy task. For most, budgeting doesn’t come naturally – it’s a skill and habit that takes time to develop. You may even have a bad month which can get discouraging. But remember, even the best budgeters and savers struggle to stay on track.
The reality is that budgeting does help you reach your financial goals. There is no magic trick to budgeting but staying consistent. Budgeting is basically telling your money that you are in charge. Keeping it simple will help you reach your goals.
Sticking to a budget that works for you is a road to financial success. Here are 13 free ways to help you stay on track with your budget and get yourself out of debt:
1. Know Your Why
Knowing the reasons why you want to budget will help you set your goals. The goal could be any that is personal to you – this could be buying a home, setting up your kids for college, paying off debt, or just simply going on a nice vacation.
The whole point is to stay focused on your why – it will be your motivator to keep you going. A budget will help you reach financial freedom and allow you to do anything you want and deserve.
2. Pay Yourself First On Your Budget
You have worked hard for your money. If anyone deserves recognition is YOU! There is no better feeling than knowing that you are worth it above anything else.
Although this can be unusual for most, paying yourself first is important and will help you stay motivated. Make yourself the priority!
When you pay yourself first you feel like you are winning. Set yourself up on an auto-withdrawal into an account you do not touch. Even the little bit you pay yourself will grow into something larger.
3. Use a “Cheat” Category
Let’s face it, we all want to get something that we “want” and not necessarily need from time to time. By creating a “cheat” category on your budget will eliminate pulling from other sources that are needed. A cheat category on your budget will give you the much-needed flexibility to spend when you didn’t necessarily include in your budget.
4. Budget Weekly or Every Paycheck
While monthly budget is the norm, budgeting weekly or every paycheck will help you save and cover the expense for the month. The easiest way to budget weekly or every pay period is to write down on your calendar when your expenses are actually due. So when you get paid you will need to cover the expenses on your calendar for that particular period until the next pay period.
BUT be realistic with your budget! Weekly or pay period budgeting does not give you room to spend freely with any money left over from a specific pay period. Remember, some expenses may be higher than others for the following pay period which you may need to carry over the excess left over.
Also, make sure to include even the small expense like going to Starbucks™ or Dunkin’ for your favorite coffee. A few times a week is not a bad thing if it is included in your budget. Including an expense on your budget will give you the permission to spend.
5. How to Reduce Your Monthly Bills
Do you really need all those membership fees you are paying every month? Have you even realized how much you are paying? Are the fees necessary and do you use them all every month? When was the last time you searched for a more affordable option? These are some questions you need to ask yourself in order to help you cut down your monthly expenses.
Have you done comparison shopping or negotiated to help you save on your insurance, cable expense, auto loan or credit card, etc.? Truth is, every company has wiggle room to allow for negotiations. If they can’t offer you a better deal, call somewhere else to get other quotes. You will be surprised how others want to earn your business. Remember, no company is loyal to you. If they want to drop your coverage for any reason they can do so! So, why would you stick with them if they can’t offer you a good deal?
Reducing your monthly bills will free up a lot of money in your budget. These small monthly fees add up! Stop paying fees if you are not using the service.
6. Create Your Own Budget Category
Don’t look at someone’s budget and tries to fit yours into it. Everyone’s budget is different! No budget is going to be exactly like yours. In order for budgeting to work for YOU, you will need to create your own category for your real-life financial situation.
Most budgeting apps will automatically categorize your transaction which may work as a starting point. However, creating a custom category for your own personal needs will align more with your spending and savings goals.
7. The Right Budgeting Tools For Free
Are you a digital or a written-down planner type of person? Whatever your choice maybe there are tons of options for you to stay on track with your budget.
There are several budgeting apps online to choose from. Take advantage of the free trial to see what would be best for you. One app we recommend is the Every Dollar App (the free version) which allows you to create your own category to fit your budget needs.
If you are more of a written down, pen and paper type of budgeter, we highly recommend the Day Designer planner. These planners allow you to track monthly and daily which is perfect for budgeting weekly or by paycheck.
8. Track Your Emergency Fund
An emergency fund is exactly THAT – for emergencies ONLY! An emergency fund helps you be ready for those unexpected large expenses. Depending on your family size and needs your emergency fund will be different.
If you are in the process of paying off debt, we highly recommend at least $1,000 in your emergency fund. If you don’t have the initial funds, create a category on your weekly or per paycheck budget until you have enough that you are conformable with for emergencies only. Remember, the emergency fund category is not to be used for a trip to see your favorite family member, it’s for unexpected emergencies only!
If you are debt-free, we recommend 3-6 months of household expenses as an emergency fund. This will cover all household expenses for the period of time in case of a true emergency.
9. Wait Before Buying / Sleep on Big Purchases
Impulse buying, without having saved for it, will most likely ruin your budget. The biggest reason why most people are in debt is because of impulse buying! Impulse buying keeps you from sticking to your budget and delay your financial goals.
The best thing to do is to add the items to your cart and wait a day or so before purchasing, especially those big-ticket items that you “want” and do not necessarily need. Often, retailers will send you an abandoned cart coupon, online discounts, or cash-back opportunities that you can take advantage of instead of paying full price.
10. Never Spend More Than You Have
Have you heard to never spend more than you make? Well having a budget and tracking your expenses will help with that! A budget will show you how much you make and how much you can spend.
If you can’t afford to purchase based on your budget – WAIT and save for it. Don’t spend more than you make because that will only get you into debt and keep you in debt. Debt is a vicious cycle that is hard to get out of. So don’t put yourself in a situation where you are spending more than you make – have a budget and track your expenses.
11. Budget to Zero
Keep it simple – budget to zero! Budgeting to zero means that you deduct your income minus your expenses (and savings) to net $0 at the bottom line.
Income – Expenses (and Savings) = $0 Net Budget
When you budget to zero, you tell your money where to go. This does not mean to spend every penny you earn but you assign a category for where the money needs to be. This is the fastest way to take control of your finances.
12. Plan Your Meals On A Budget and Grocery Shop Online
Plan, plan, and plan!!! Do NOT go grocery shopping without a meal plan and creating a grocery list first. If you don’t plan or grocery shop without a list, you will most likely throw off your budget faster than you can expect.
A great way to stay on track and avoid temptations is to do your grocery shopping online. Many grocery stores now allow for online shopping and curb-side pick up while others deliver directly to you. BUT, don’t be fooled, it is easy to get sucked into those apps that pick up and deliver for you. If you can, avoid the extra delivery fee because after all, they will eat up your budget too!
Another option to help you stay on track is to compare your brand. Many stores will offer the store brand which is cheaper than a recognizable name brand item. Let’s be real, sometimes store brand items taste better than the actual brand name! If you are shopping online the price is easy to compare. If you are shopping in a store, keep in mind that for “marketing” purposes, the brand name items will be eye level versus the store brand will be tucked in all the way on the bottom shelf – lonely, waiting for you to find them.
Oh yeah, and don’t grocery shop hungry either! That will definitely make you buy extra that you don’t need or want!
13. Treat Yourself When You Reach Your Financial Goals
There is nothing better than feeling accomplished. Budgeting and paying off debt can be emotionally exhausting. One way to keep it fun and help you to stay on track is to reward yourself. Even if it is a small reward, it will make a difference, keeps you motivated and help you stay focused.
We highly recommend setting up smaller goals – for example, if you decide you want to payoff a credit card but it may take you a few paychecks to do that – then after you pay it off, plan a small reward for yourself – maybe go get your nails done or get yourself a massage.
Keep it fun! Budget for your reward as well or maybe use the “cheat category” without feeling guilty or tapping into your weekly budget.
After all, budgeting is a mental game. Being consistent and making it a habit will soon allow this to become second nature. Things will come up and sometimes it is out of your control but trying to be as realistic as possible will only help you in the long run.