Do you want more time and money? Then you will want to keep a better budget! If you think you’re a bad budgeter, you’re not alone. According to a recent report from Bankrate, more than 61% of American households have less than $1,000 in savings. The same report found that those Americans without enough in savings would put an unexpected expense on a credit card. By charging and paying over time you damage your:
- Credit scores, and ultimately
- Quality of life.
In fact, according to another recent study by U.S. bank, only 40% of Americans use a budget at all! And that’s not because they’re bad or irresponsible. You may have faced some of the same obstacles they have.
Creating a budget can seem overwhelming, stressful, and cumbersome. It may have caused tension in your marriage. You may make enough to still have money at the end of the month. All of these obstacles can be overcome. In the long run, budgets reduce stress rather than increase it. With enough time and patience—and a few much-needed breaks—making a budget can prove to be a bonding experience for you and your spouse instead of a shouting match. And even if you do have money left over every month, you’re not making the most of that money without a budget.
So if you’re among those six-in-ten who have lost the budget battle so far, don’t be discouraged! Once you’ve taken time to create a budget—determining your income each month, adding up your expenses, planning your savings goals, and deciding how much to spend on things like groceries, eating out, and shopping—you can make small life-style changes that will help you stick to it! No matter how much you make—or how much you love to shop—you can become a great budgeter. Here are 10 easy ways you can cut spending, supercharge savings, and succeed at keeping that budget.
1. Decide what’s motivating you.
Do you want to save for your kids’ college fund? Support new missionaries at church? Finally replace the car that’s on its last leg? Save for an epic European vacation? There’s really no wrong answer! If you’re creating or changing your budget simply because you’ve heard that it’s a good idea—which it is—it’s going to be harder to stick to. The things that you’re passionate about in other areas of your life, like your faith, your career, and your family are the same things that will motivate your budgeting habits. Before you’ve even finalized your budget, take time with your spouse to discuss the motivation behind it. Once you’ve done that…
2. Give yourself a simple reminder of your motivation.
It doesn’t have to be complicated—tape Scripture to your fridge (1 Chronicles 29:12, Proverbs 3:9, and Matthew 25:21 are all great options), frame a photo of those missionaries, take time to talk to your kids about their career dreams, or start planning how many restaurant stops you can fit in during your stay in Paris! Getting excited about the reasons behind your budget will make you excited for the budget itself. These simple motivation reminders can serve as the (gentle) kick in the pants you need when you really want to break your budget.
3. Use technology to keep yourself on track.
There are so many simple tools that will make sticking to your budget easier. Take time to browse apps on Google—some are free, some aren’t. What you decide to use is important. I find its best not to use technology that auto populates banking activity. First of all, it isn’t totally accurate all the time and you don’t want to spend money that isn’t there! Second, your money isn’t a spectator sport–you need to be involved! If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it. But the right tools make managing and improving your budget a snap. When looking for an app, make sure the one you choose:
- Features easy-to-input budget items by date and frequency
- Enables you to account for interest earned on a bank account
- Permits you to account for a percentage of your giving
- Allows you to enter your income and expenses easily
- Can give you reports
Then decide which is best for your family and stick to it. If you don’t know where to start, you can find a FREE budget tool HERE that meets those criteria.
4. Be realistic.
If you’re giving your budget an overhaul—or just starting one for the first time—make sure you’re being honest with yourself. If you love to revamp your work wardrobe twice a season, don’t eliminate your clothing budget and expect to stop shopping cold turkey. The same is true for other expenses like travel, entertainment, and eating out. Think about what really brings you and your family joy every month and then make reasonable changes. Sticking to these will motivate you to keep going! You can always adjust your budget the following month to save faster or pay off credit card debt more aggressively, but denying yourself every material pleasure turns money into a sad subject instead of an empowering one. At the same time…
5. Commit to one small sacrifice each month.
For the first three—or six—months of a new or revised budget, try “fasting” from one small expense, like stopping for coffee on the way to work. Succeeding at this commitment will give you confidence and you’ll see the savings in your account!
6. Take a second—and third and fourth—look at monthly expenses.
I’d bet $100 (not really, that’s not in my budget) that you’re spending good money on subscriptions you don’t use or don’t care about. If you’re paying for Netflix and Hulu, take some time with your family to look through the titles on each service and find out which one you’re using more. You may discover that there’s a lot more you want to watch on one. Ask yourself if you really read the magazines you’re receiving each month—and if you’re going to the gym as much as you thought you would. There’s no shame in cancelling your membership and committing to jogging around the neighborhood, watching free yoga videos on YouTube, or digging out that old exercise equipment in the garage. Speaking of which…
7. Clean out your closets.
And your garage. And your car. Cluttered spaces lead to cluttered budgets, so before you buy your next pack of triple-A batteries, take time to clean out your storage spaces. You’ll probably find a pack or two behind that box of Christmas china you haven’t put out in four years. As you clean out, think about whether or not you’ve used each item in the past twelve months. If you haven’t—or if it doesn’t hold serious sentimental value—pitch it. Organization has a domino effect and bringing order to your living space will help bring order to your spending habits. Plus, taking all your unwanted stuff to Goodwill means more receipts to submit at tax time!
8. Meal plan.
This is such a big one. There’s nothing that will crash your budget like eating out and there’s not much easier at the end of a long day of work than spending too much money on food that’s been made by someone else—on dishes washed by someone else! But meal planning is easier than you think, and it can prove to be a lot of fun. You don’t have to get fancy. A pan of lasagna on Monday, tacos on Tuesday, leftovers on Wednesday, and before you know it, the week is almost over.
9. Don’t tempt yourself.
If you were on a diet, would you go hang out at a bakery for a couple hours before kicking back for a Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives marathon? Of course not! If you’ve decided to cut your shopping budget, don’t spend half of your weekend at the mall. That may mean changing your habits and looking for fun, restful activities that don’t involve expensive meals out, trips to the movie theater, or taking a leisurely stroll through every aisle at Target. (What? You’ve totally never done that, right?) If it is as hard for you to cut back on shopping as it is for me, consider walking around some thrift stores. You’ll spend far less but it will give you that same satisfying feeling.
10. Plan travel well in advance.
While eating out three times a week, having three useless magazine subscriptions, or using shopping for stress relief will damage your budget over time, taking one expensive trip over a long weekend can empty your checking account in a matter of days. Traveling can be a budget-killer for two reasons. First of all, travel expenses like gas, hotels, and meals add up fast. Second—and even more problematic—is that infamous vacation mindset. Don’t know what I mean? Have you ever ordered a $50 steak-and-lobster entrée while on vacation that you would never dream of eating at home? Or let your kid loose in one of those cheap beach souvenir shops with a $10 bill? The vacation mindset simply means that you treat yourself to things while you’re away that you probably wouldn’t if you were at home. That’s not a bad thing—unless you haven’t budgeted for it. Plan your trips far enough in advance so that you’ll have time to save money, find the best deals on Airbnb homes or hotels, and decide which attractions and activities you want to spend money on.
If budgets have discouraged you in the past—or even if they haven’t—don’t feel like you need to dive into all of these at once! You don’t need to cancel your weekend plans to clean out your garage and cook a month’s worth of freezer meals. These are ten simple suggestions, but there are so many more fun, creative ways to create a budget and stick to it. Think about what is realistic for you and your family—then have fun planning and executing a budget that works for you.
What are some ways that you’ve found to keep a better budget? Share them so we can all be better budgeters!
No one knows your money like “U”!
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