How To Budget, Part 3
Making A Budget And Sticking To It
So, you have worked out what your personal values are, the things it is important for you to spend money on. And you have worked at writing an honest budget, one that prioritises the things you value, covers the things you urgently have to pay for, and doesn’t go over what you actually have to spend. What next?
Your budget is just words and numbers on a screen/page/scrap of paper. It becomes real when you actually live it. Sounds obvious, right? But I know for a fact that I am not the only person to sail through the month with a budget somewhere that bears no relationship whatsoever to what I am actually spending. So once you know what you are planning to spend you need strategies for making sure you stick to that.
Why Don’t I Have Enough Willpower To Stick To A Budget?
Willpower is not an effective strategy because you can only use it when you are paying attention to your spending – sometimes you will be using your brain for other stuff while you spend. Plus, using willpower takes mental energy and that fluctuates wildly from day to day and even from hour to hour. So some of your spending will happen, inevitably, when your willpower is low. And willpower is needed for other things too – if you use it all up on your spending you are going to have less of it for other important areas of your life. No, you need something other than willpower to make sure you really live your budget. Here are the strategies that work for me – try them and see which work for you too.
Eight Easy Strategies To Help You Stick To Your Budget
- Write it down and put it somewhere you will see it every day. Whether it’s a sheet of paper stuck above your kitchen sink, or an app on your phone, make sure it is right in front of you at least once a day every day or you will lose track of it. Do not just have a budget in your head. Your head is very good at conveniently mislaying your budget when it wants to go shopping.
- Link checking your budget to something else you do every day to trigger you to check it. Tuck it behind your bathroom mirror and check it whenever you brush your teeth. Or put it beside the cooker and check it over while you are stirring your evening meal. Or go over it when you are stuck in traffic on your daily commute… Tick off everything you spent money on that day and add the amount you spent.
- Keep it real. Budgets are an idea – they are not real money. Try to deal with real money as much as you can. Don’t use plastic unless you are very good at checking your balance daily. Lift hard cash and spend your budget that way. We are generally more realistic about how much we can spend when it is actual physical money.
- Tweak your budget as you go along. Your budget is just a prediction and sometimes your prediction of how much something will cost will turn out to be inaccurate. That’s OK as long as you make up the shortfall somewhere else in your budget. Make sure you adjust an area of your budget that can take it. If you have a bill to pay, you can’t spend less on that, but you could cut what you planned to spend on treats, for example.
- Never let other people run your budget. If your budget for outings is low don’t let a friend talk you into a pricey night out. If your food budget is running low don’t let your kids badger you into buying expensive treat food. Just keep coming back to what you planned to do with your money and stick to your guns.
- Hide your surplus. If you are hoping to have a surplus – even just a few pounds – by the end of the month, hide it away at the start of the month. Put it in a separate account or in a separate purse. You are less likely to spend it that way. If your budget doesn’t work out and you have to spend that money then you can easily get it. But you won’t just spend it without even noticing.
- Set aside spending money. By all means have money just for dipping into if you can afford it. But keep the money you can afford to spend without thinking about it in a totally separate place from the money you have budgeted for other things. If you don’t, you will start to treat all your money as pocket money and suddenly it will all have vanished. Trust me on this one – I have been there.
- Put money straight into separate savings accounts on pay-day. We have different accounts for long-term savings, short term things like holidays or Christmas, and an emergency fund. Sometimes the amount we are able to put into each is microscopic but putting money into these accounts right away makes sure that these few pounds were still there at the end of the month. I use standing orders to do this so I don’t even have to use a tiny amount of willpower to make myself do it.