In personal finance, learning how to stick to a budget is one of the most important things you can do.
But let’s be honest, that’s a lot easier said than done.
I mean, you can plan your spending to absolute perfection, but in the end, if you don’t operate your finances within the boundaries of your budget, then all that effort was pretty much pointless.
The good news is, if you find yourself struggling to stick to a budget, there are all sorts of things you can do to simplify the process and improve your consistency.
In the rest of this post, I am going to reveal 21 tried-and-true tips to help you stick to a budget. So, if you’re ready to take your budget to the next level, and make the most of every last penny you earn, keep reading.
Let’s get to it!
1. Write Everything Down
It might seem obvious, but one of the most critical components of successful budgeting, is actually writing everything down (or typing it into a computer). I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone talk about the fact that they are on a budget, only to find out that the budget they speak of, only exists in their head.
To be completely honest, before I learned how to budget properly, I tried to do the same. And let me tell you, it does not work.
I don’t care if you are a math genius, or how good your memory is, you can’t (and shouldn’t) operate your entire financial life in your head. There’s just too much to keep track of. Additionally, without a concrete budget, there is nothing to hold you accountable should you ever to overspend.
So, whether you choose to use a spreadsheet, a hand-written budget, or a budgeting app, just get everything out of your brain, and write it down. With a written budget, you are much less likely to let expenses slip through the cracks, and you will have a much easier time sticking to your budget.
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2. Create A Budgeting Schedule
If you want to finally stick to your budget, then you need to carve a little time out of each day to sit down, log expenses, and actually work on your budget. And when I say little, I’m talking about 5 to 10 minutes. That’s all it takes.
If you are a morning person, then set an appointment with yourself each morning to go over your budget. Or, if you are a night person, schedule some time right before bed. Just make your budget a priority by putting it in your calendar.
The more consistent you are about checking in with your budget, the easier it is, and the more likely you will be to stick to it.
3. Set Reminders For Yourself
You and I both know that life can get pretty busy sometimes. And when given the choice between budgeting and other priorities, it’s easy to let your budget fall down your list. But, that is a sure way to lose track of expenses, and eventually your budget altogether.
So, once you’ve scheduled your budget into your daily to-do list, then be sure to set some reminders for yourself. This one, seemingly insignificant step can make all the difference in budgeting.
4. Ditch The Credit Cards
The more I get into budgeting, the more I realize how important simplicity is in the process of sticking to a budget. And one thing is for sure, the more accounts you have to check when logging your expenses into your budget, the more of a pain budgeting becomes.
So, if you want to simplify your budget, and thus, have an easier time sticking to it, then you should stop spending money on credit cards as soon as you possibly can.
Now, I realize that some people will read that previous statement, and want to punch me in the face. But, seriously, this is one of the best things you can do if you’re struggling to stick to a budget.
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5. Set Bite-Sized Goals
When you first start budgeting, it’s fun to set big, inspiring goals for your financial future. And while I am a big believer in setting long-term goals, you should also set some smaller, bite-sized goals. You see, if you want to stick to your budget, it’s important to experience some wins along the way.
For instance, my wife and I have a goal to buy a house in cash. However, that goal is going to take us years. And if reaching that goal is the only reason we will ever have to celebrate all our hard budgeting work, then things are bound to get a little boring and overwhelming. So, along the way, we set monthly, quarterly and annual goals. That way, we can experience and celebrate some quicker wins, which will keep us motivated, and help us stick to our budget for a very long time.
6. Identify And Avoid Your Spending Triggers
One of the most difficult things in personal finance is practicing self-control; and the more tempting the situation, the harder it is. So, if you want to give yourself the highest likelihood of living within the boundaries of your budget, then you should try to avoid the situations that tempt you the most.
For example, I don’t have any trouble staying on budget when I walk into a clothing store. For whatever reason, I just don’t love buying clothes. However, if you put me in the middle of The Home Depot, surrounded by the smell of lumber and fresh-out-of-the-box power tools, then my budget is as good as blown.
Therefore, in an effort to protect our finances, if I ever need to make a trip to Home Depot, I will either ask my wife to tag along, or I will leave my debit card at home and bring just enough cash to buy what I need. It might sound silly, but one of the best way to practice self-control is to avoid putting yourself in tempting situations.
If you identify and avoid your spending triggers, you will have a much easier time sticking to your budget.
7. Use Cashback Apps
I am a huge fan of cashback apps. And of all the cashback apps I have ever used, my favorite is Rakuten. With this little gem of an app, you can get cash back from most of the places you probably already shop. For instance, my wife and I use Rakuten whenever we need to buy something from Amazon, Walmart, Target, and well, most of the other major online retailers!
Cashback apps are a great way to squeeze a little bit of extra juice out of your budget, which is why I recommend you use them whenever possible.
P.S. If you sign up for Rakuten through any of the links in this post, they will give you a $10 bonus once you make your first qualifying purchase. Pretty sweet, eh?
8. Save Before You Spend
You want to know the secret to saving more money and getting the most out of your budget? Well here it is: save before you spend. In other words, every time you earn money, take whatever portion you want to save, and actually put it into your savings account. Then, use whatever money remains to pay your bills and cover any other expenses that come up.
Now, if you have never heard of this method of handling your finances, then it might seem a little weird to you. I mean, how are you supposed to save money before you have paid for all your monthly expenses? Well, that’s where your budget comes in.
If you have a well-defined budget, then you should know exactly how much money you need in order to cover your monthly expenses. And with that knowledge, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to move the money you planned to save into your savings account.
This is often called the ‘pay yourself first’ method, and it just places saving at the top of your financial priority list; which makes you much more likely to accomplish it.
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9. Stop Dining Out
Of all the expenses that have a way of blowing up your budget, dining out is one of the worst. And if you are struggling to live within your budget each month, there is a good chance this is the culprit.
But don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Above any other area of budgeting, this is where my wife and I struggle the most. I mean, there are times when we just can’t resist the temptation of a pepperoni pizza, or a juicy burger. But I can honestly say that whenever we find ourselves getting off-track in our budget, it is because we are spending too much money at restaurants.
So, what’s the moral of the story? Be intentional with your grocery shopping and cook more meals. When you reduce your restaurant spending, it is much easier to stick to a budget.
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10. Use The 30-Day Rule
Along the same lines as dining out too often, if you are the kind of person that makes a lot of impulse purchases, then you might want to consider instituting the 30-day rule in your spending habits.
What’s the 30-day rule?
It’s simple. Every time you want to buy something that doesn’t fit into your budget, you have to wait 30 days. This will give you plenty of time to assess whether you really need it, or if it’s something you can live without.
Most of the time, if you stick to the 30-day rule, you will lose interest in the purchase. Though, if you don’t, at least you forced yourself to make a sober-minded decision. Plus, if you force yourself to wait 30 days, then you can probably just fit it into your budget the following month.
11. Budget For Some Fun
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in budgeting is not allowing yourself to spend money on fun. After all, if you never actually take time to enjoy the monetary reward from all your hard work, then what is the point?
Remember, money is a tool that you should use to improve your life, your family’s life, and the lives of people around you. So, as long as it’s within reason (and within your budget), it’s ok to use a little bit of your money for fun.
For some people that might mean saving up and taking a vacation or two every year. For others it might mean budgeting for a new pair of shoes. Whatever it is, just be sure to set aside a little money for fun each month. Doing so will help you enjoy your money without risking your financial goals.
It’s a win, win.
12. Stop Upgrading Your Phone
I’m just going to come right out and say it, there is no reason you should have to replace your phone every two years. If you take halfway decent care of it, then at minimum, it should last you 4 of 5 years. I have personally been using the same phone for the last 4 years, and it shows no signs of dying on me.
With how expensive phones cost these days, they can be a major disruption if you buy a new one every 12 to 24 months. So, stop the vicious cycle of smartphone upgrades, and learn to live with your tech. It is much easier to stick to a budget if you avoid this financial trap.
13. Get Out Of Debt (And Stay Out)
I’ve touched on this subject a bit already, but if you want to stick to your budget, you should try and simplify the process as much as possible. And the best way to do that is to eliminate all your debt.
Yep. All of it!
I’m talking about credit cards, car loans, student loans, loans from family members, and even your mortgage! The fewer payments you have to make each month, the easier it will be to keep up with, and stick to your budget.
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14. Buy Groceries On A Full Stomach
When I’m hungry, I have a hard time driving by certain restaurants on my way home from work. So you can imagine how vulnerable my budget is when I go to the store on an empty stomach. One moment I’m pushing an empty cart through the produce section, and the next thing I know I’m staring down at a basket full of Oreos, ice cream and Pop Tarts. It’s like a dream come true; until later that night when I’m staring at my budget, wondering what happened.
Now, since you’re human, I’m going to assume you’ve experienced the same struggle. The good news is there’s an easy fix: just eat before you go grocery shopping. You will be much less likely to buy food you don’t need, and therefore, you’ll have a much easier time sticking to your budget.
15. Log Your Expenses Every Day
For as long as I can remember, one of my dad’s favorite sayings has been, ‘it’s easier to keep clean than to make clean.’ And when it comes to budgeting, truer words have never been spoken.
You see, if you take a little time every day to log your expenses, check your budget, and make sure you are staying on track, then budgeting is a super simple process. It should really only take you about 5 to 10 minutes each day (at most).
On the other hand, if you let a couple days, or worse, a couple weeks go by, then logging your expenses, and budgeting as a whole becomes a much bigger pain in the rear end.
16. Get On The Same Page With Your Spouse
If you are married, then budgeting should be a team effort with your spouse. It’s hard enough to manage your financial life when you are the one making all the decisions. When you throw a second person into the mix, things can get out of hand — financially and relationally — pretty quickly.
That’s why you need to make a major effort to sit down and go over your budget together as often as humanly possible; preferably every single night. That way, no expenses will slip through the cracks, and the both of you will stay on the same financial page.
17. Budget For Vacations
I strongly believe that one of the most important things you can do for your mental, relational, and spiritual health is to occasionally unplug and take a break from everyday life. Yep, I’m talking about a vacation.
And since you have a budget, you should set aside a little money each month so that you can pay cash for one.
There’s just something about taking a vacation that helps you remember what all your hard work is for. Plus, saving for a vacation can be a great motivator to help you stay consistent with your budget.
More On Budgeting Vacations:
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18. Focus On Contentment
The less you compare your financial situation to others, the easier it will be to stick to your budget. Why? Because in personal finance, comparison almost always leads to spending beyond your means.
Consider this: if you spend all your time focused on all the people that drive fancier cars, own bigger homes, and wear more expensive clothes than you, then you are more likely to overspend, or even go into debt to keep up with them — two things that seriously complicate budgeting.
On the other hand, if you focus on contentment in your own life, you’ll never feel the need to keep up with other people, and won’t feel any pressure to spend money you shouldn’t.
19. Put Your Money To Work
If you’re really looking for some motivation to help you stick to your budget, then you should start investing as much of the money your budget enables you to save. It’s incredibly inspiring to watch your money grow when you invest it. So, the more you invest, the more you will want to invest.
Before you know it, you may just find yourself cutting things you used to consider necessities from your budget just to contribute more to your investments.
20. Be Realistic With Your Budget
Another one of the biggest mistakes people make in budgeting is that they set unrealistic expectations for themselves. And when you set out with unrealistic expectations, it leads to disappointment, and feeling like you failed.
For example, if you are budgeting for a family of four, it is probably unrealistic to set a monthly food budget of $500. Sure, it might be possible, but it might be so difficult that it ends up just making you feel defeated.
It’s better to set realistic expectations and stick with your budget than it is to set unrealistic expectations and quit after the first month.
21. Celebrate Your Achievements
The purpose of budgeting is to achieve your financial goals. So when you do, then be sure to take some time and celebrate your achievements.
For instance, if you set a goal to save and pay cash for a car, and you accomplish it, then toast a glass of champagne and celebrate.
If you and your spouse set a goal to get out of debt, then set aside $100 and go out for a nice dinner the day you pay off your final balance.
Celebrating your accomplishments will help you stay motivated, and continue to stick to your budget.
Put simply, learning how to stick to a budget is more about your behavior than it is about the numbers you enter into a spreadsheet. It’s about taking daily steps to simplify and improve your financial life. And that’s exactly what I hope this post will help you do.
In fact, next time you feel like your budget is getting a little stale, or you’re just ready to give up, be sure to try some of these tips. I think you’ll find they really help!