Anyone can tell you, the hardest part of budgeting is sticking to the actual budget. Between unexpected expenses, friends, family, and basic material temptation, staying on track to conserve and save money is a never-ending battle of will. Luckily, we’re here with some helpful tips for not only sticking to your budget, but staying well within it.
Number Ten: Prepare for the unexpected. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of budgeting is giving yourself a buffer. Life happens, and it doesn’t always happen conveniently. It’s a good idea to set up a fall-back fund, one separate from your savings and checking account, you can use in case of surprises: a trip to the hospital, theft, your iPhone finally calling it quits, a friend’s engagement, etc. By setting aside something to cover life’s more unexpected costs, you save yourself from having to raid your checking or savings account.
Number Nine: Plan, plan, plan ahead. Everyone has monetary goals: buying a house in ten years, getting a new car, or maybe taking a vacation. Goals like these are long-term and require you to effectively plan ahead. Make a point of drawing up a timeline for your monetary goals, give each one a specific date by which you want to achieve it, and calculate the overall coast to obtain said goal. By doing this you can create an effective savings plan, which you can then factor into your budgeting.
Number Eight: Just spend cash. Once you’ve figured out how much money you’re able or want to spend in a week/month, make a point of withdrawing that amount from your checking account in cash – then don’t even think about touching that debit or credit card until the next budget round. It’s often difficult to know for sure where your money is going, or how much you have left, if you don’t physically see it in front of you. This is why cash is awesome – you can actually see and count, with your own two hands, how much money you have left until you hit the end of your weekly/monthly budget.
Number Seven: Don’t carry all your plastic. If you have multiple debit or credit cards, it’s a good idea not to take them all with you when you go shopping. Also, make a point of checking your account balance and credit limits before you go out. By keeping one or two cards at home, you’re not tempted to overspend by zipping them all at once, and you still have a reserve in case of emergency. Ultimately, it’s a good idea in general to keep one credit card at home – one you only use in case disaster strikes.
Number Six: Pay your bills ASAP. Do not procrastinate with your finances. Make a point of paying off your bills either as soon as your statement comes in or as soon as your paycheck is deposited. Not only does this eliminate the risk of accumulating debt, but once your rent, power, and loans are paid, then you’re left with money that can be used for your more personal expenses.
Number Five: Track your spending. Frugal people all over the world over are masters of this, and for good reason. Monitoring your spending, or keeping tabs on where you spend money and how much, is a helpful way for you to analyze your basic needs, as well as ruling which expenditures might not be entirely necessary. It’s also a great way to stay on top of potential credit card fraud and identity theft.
The nice thing about expense tracking is that it doesn’t have to be done very often. Maybe you just write down how much you’ve spent once a month, or at the end of a work week, review your checking account status. Most banks even allow you to track your spending online, providing detailed lists of what you’ve spent and where.
Number Four: Don’t go shopping in groups. Friends are enablers, there’s just no getting around it – I myself am a horrific enabler and can talk even my most stubborn friend into buying something they don’t really need. While shopping with your friends or family is fun, it does lead to some unexpected spending. Chances are, you’re more likely to stick to your own shopping plan if you’re by yourself and able to question what you need and don’t need without any backseat assistance.
Now, I’m not saying you should cut out social shopping entirely, because let’s be real, shopping by yourself can be boring. So, if you are looking to shop with others, make a point of planning the trip and setting up a budget for the excursion itself. Also talk to your friends and family about specific things you know you need, that way they’re less likely to steer you towards that set of pineapple dish-wear you think is totally ironic, and they will be more able to keep you on track.
Number Three: Blacklist shopping sites. The internet has transformed online shopping into an art form. Between the tailored ads clouding your Facebook feed to the handful of promo-emails retailers throw into your inbox every day, it’s easier than ever buy something without really thinking the purchase through. On top of that, sometimes it’s just fun to scroll through an endless list of the awesome “products you never knew you needed” that retailers post to their websites. But all this leads to budget-crushing temptation, as well as a distraction.
Take a moment to block the sites you know tempt your wallet most. Utilize your pop-up blocker and Facebook ad-block, and even filter all those promo-emails into a specific folder on your email so they’re not the first thing you see when you check your inbox. At the end of the day, you’ll find yourself being more productive, as well as less likely to go on an online shopping spree.
Number Two: Don’t shop when hungry. Food is a necessity for life, but grocery shopping is a minefield of temptation, especially if you’re hungry. The fact of the matter is that you’re more likely to buy foods you don’t need, or even really want, if your stomach is dictating the shopping. To avoid the risk, make a list of the foods and products you need, stick to it, and shop at a time where you know you won’t be too starved – try weekends after breakfast, or a couple hours after dinner. Not only will doing this keep your grocery bill in check, but it can also lead to some pretty nifty weight loss.
Number One: Don’t shop when stressed. Shopping when stressed is a vicious, vicious cycle – you’re upset, so you hit the mall and buy yourself a little present to cheer yourself up, only to find yourself stressed out once again because of the money you just spent, so you buy more stuff. And thus, the madness continues. Instead of hitting the mall when you’re feeling down and out, try something else. There are a thousand ways to de-stress that don’t involve spending money: take a walk, dance to some loud music, or call your BFF. The best part about kicking the stress shopping habit is that, in time, as you find yourself saving money, you ultimately end up less stressed out.