Whether you’re starting a budget because you want to or need to, it is never an easy task to undertake. Some people just don’t like planning and others may have no idea where to begin. The good news is, a lot of people have had the same fears and still accomplished their budgeting goals. If they can do it, so can you!
In order to establish and maintain a successful budget there are several factors and strategies to consider. The following list offers 5 tips to help you stick to a budget and follow through on your commitment. You might be surprised at how much money you can save with a little preparation and self-control.
1. Set a realistic budget
Don’t set yourself up to fail. Create a budget that is achievable but still makes a positive impact on your finances. Making your plan too strict will probably result in you abandoning the budget altogether.
On the same note, you shouldn’t set a goal that is too easy, either. The purpose of a budget is to cut back on careless spending so it shouldn’t be undemanding or effortless. Determine a budget amount that cuts back on spending but won’t undermine your quality of life.
One tool that can help you get started is the OneMain budget planner. It allows you to see exactly where your money goes and what areas you can concentrate on cutting back. Keep in mind that a budget isn’t supposed to ruin your life or be a walk in the park. It’s designed to improve your financial health and help you become more disciplined when it comes to spending money.
2. Go cash only
Credit cards are great for large purchases and emergencies but not always for budgets. Running up credit card debt can be very damaging because you’re spending money you don’t currently have. Budgets are meant to stop overspending and start saving, not the other way around. Going cash only helps achieve that because you can only spend the cash you brought with you. It will also make you more mindful of the money you are truly spending.
One helpful method is to place cash in envelopes in the beginning of the month. Each envelope should be labeled into categories like “groceries” or “going out” and have a set amount inside that you budgeted for. Every time you need money, pull out the envelope and decide how much you need for this particular trip. Knowing the cash will run out will make you think more consciously about how much money you take, spend and will have leftover.
3. Shop for the best price
Shopping around, or comparison shopping, is one of the most underutilized methods to stay on budget. Many people believe shopping around is only good for mortgage rates, insurance or major purchases. Not true. The internet has ushered in a new era of comparison shopping engines and most of the websites do all of the work for you.
Comparison shopping engines are designed to allow merchants to go head-to-head for your business. All you do is type in the item you wish to purchase and receive results for who has the best price, free shipping and more.
Here are five of the best comparison shopping engines1:
- Google shopping
Make sure you don’t overlook printed materials in your quest for the lowest price. Newspapers, magazines and mail advertisements are great sources for local deals, too. No matter what you need to buy, or when you buy it, never settle for the first price you find. Chances are, there could be a bargain out there waiting to be found.
4. Cut bad habits
This could be the most difficult process of the bunch but it could also be the most rewarding. They are called habits because you do them often. They are called bad because they are detrimental to your goals. In this case, your budget. Here are a variety of bad habits you could avoid with effort:
- Late fees
- Overdraft fees
- Bottled water
- Dining out
- Lotto tickets
- Name-brand items
The best approach is to distinguish your 1-2 worst habits and work on those first. Some habits can even be reconciled with one action. For example, if you brew your morning coffee at home and pack your lunch for work, you could save up to around $20 a day. It is possible to turn a bad habit into a good one. It just takes discipline and a little effort.
5. Track what you spend
This tip may sound basic, but it can be a real eye-opener. Tracking every expenditure will force you to look at where your money is going. It ties in perfectly with cutting bad habits because you can’t ignore a list you make yourself. If you notice yourself making frequent purchases at the convenience store for marked up snacks and beverages, you know that is one area for improvement.
If you don’t want to carry around a notebook there are several spending tracker apps available for smartphones. Once you have enough spending data to review , take note of expenses that stick out to you and come up with solutions. You have to be honest with yourself to make changes in your life and this is a textbook way to change for the better.
Take it one day at a time
You aren’t going to fix your budget in a month. The trick to sticking to a budget is staying focused on the big picture while making small improvements to your spending. It takes time to change old habits and evolve them into healthier ones. After you apply some patience and motivation, your new habits will become natural instinct in no time.