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A budget is essential to keeping your spending in check.
Making a budget isn’t hard at all, but sticking to it is easier said than done.
You research budget tips, download the budget worksheet, plan your spending on paper, then somehow, two weeks later you’re taking the money you set aside for your credit card payment and adding it to your Chipotle budget.
You can make the most comprehensive budget spreadsheet and plan the perfect month of spending, but if you can’t follow through then your planning is in vain.
15 Budget Tips to Track Your Money
Do you feel like you’re in an overspending rut? It happens to everyone. If you’re ready for a reset, these budget tips will get you back on track to reaching your financial goals.
1. Use an App
The best way to stay on top of your spending across all your accounts is to use a mobile app. No matter what budgeting method you use, a free budget app will track your transactions, show you the impact of your financial choices, and help you keep your budget in check.
A great app to start with is Mint.com. In addition to tracking your transactions, Mint eliminates the guilt that comes with trying to scale down your budget too quickly. It suggests spending goals based on your previous month’s spending.
Mint also has a bill tracking feature that reminds you when bills are due and alerts you if your account funds might be too low to cover them.
If you own a home or have multiple investment accounts, you’ll also want to keep track of your net worth. Personal Capital is a web and mobile app that tracks your spending and calculates your net worth, helping you see the big picture of your financial future.
The budgeting feature of Personal Capital allows you to set how much you want to spend each month. You can also track progress with a month-to-month direct comparison of your spending and earning.
Related: How to Make a Budget in 7 Easy Steps
2. Think Ahead
Even with the best-made plans, cars malfunction, pets get sick, and kids go to the hospital at the most financially inconvenient times. Surprises come up and you have to be prepared for them. The best budgeting tip for keeping up with these expenses is to save money every month in a “Random Stuff” fund.
This is in addition to your emergency fund which should cover catastrophic events like job loss and medical emergencies. This fund is for the month-to-month things that always come up but can never be planned for.
In his book, I Will Teach You to be Rich, author Ramit Sethi says he started saving $20 per month for unexpected expenses. After he got a $200 speeding ticket and $600 medical bill within two months of each other, he quickly realized he needed to increase that amount and now saves around $200 per month.
If he doesn’t spend it all by the end of the year, he’ll save half of whatever’s left for next year and spend the other half.
Look at all the components in your life that could cost money and estimate what they might require in a best and worst-case scenario. Pick a number in the middle and save every month to reach that goal.
3. Review Your Budget Regularly
Your budget isn’t set in stone. In order to stay on top of it, you have to review it and refine it regularly.
Start with a standard budget like the 50/30/20 method, then revisit it at the beginning of each week to see where you need to make adjustments. It’s much easier to rearrange cash in your budget before you’ve spent it versus when the money is already gone.
4. Find an Accountability Partner
If you live with a spouse or partner, you may have a live-in accountability partner. If you’re single or your partner isn’t on board with budgeting, you can ask a friend or head to social media to find other people living on a budget and paying off debt.
Instagram has a community of people sharing their budgeting and debt payoff journeys centered around the hashtag #debtfreecommunity. When you search that hashtag or add it to your posts, you’re sure to find other like-minded budgeters also looking for accountability.
5. Disconnect from One-Click Shopping
Make it harder to impulse shop online by disconnecting one-click shopping and taking your cards out of auto-fill.
It’s a small step, but the inconvenience of inputting your card information will give you extra time to consider if you really need to make the purchase.
6. Remove Tempting Apps
Companies often incentivize downloading their apps with discounts, sale alerts, and even games. That’s because once you’ve downloaded their app they have direct access to you from one of your home screens or through push notifications.
Get rid of the food delivery, clothing, and restaurant apps that tempt you to spend money outside of your budget. Like disconnecting your card numbers from one-click shopping, it’s another barrier to make you think before you buy.
7. Document Your Struggles
You don’t have to keep your struggles with budgeting a secret. Writing them down — or typing them up — will help you push through them.
Whether its a private journal, a public Twitter account, or right there in your budget planner, documenting your journey to spend better and sharing your own budgeting tips will help you work through the hard times now and in the future.
8. Institute a 24-Hour Rule
Impulse purchases are the kryptonite to any budget. You can limit them by implementing a 24-hour rule. Anytime you get the urge to buy something you didn’t specifically budget for, wait 24 hours. If you can still justify getting it, then go back and purchase it.
You can do this for purchases above a certain amount, for a set period of time, or just particular stores. If you stick to it, this tip will cut down on the number of impulse purchases you make each month.
9. Create a Realistic Budget
Making the perfect budget would be great if you were your perfect self. However, none of us are perfect, so your budget shouldn’t be either.
When you write out your budget, look at your actual spending for the previous month, not what you budgeted, and try to improve on that incrementally.
10. Make it Easy
Consider that the budget template that works for your favorite YouTuber may not be the one that works for you. Try a few different methods that make budgeting easy — or just easier — for you.
Allison Baggerly of Inspired Budget and her husband paid off $111,000 of debt using cash envelopes to track their spending. “Using cash envelopes has made sticking to my budget so much easier! It has taught me how to not overspend and live within my means,” Allison said.
Another way to alleviate some of the budgeting burden is to use an app like Trim. Trim analyzes your spending, shows where you could save, and can even negotiate your cable, phone, internet, and medical bills for you. The app will also cancel your unwanted subscriptions you no longer use or want.
11. Try a No-Spend Challenge
A no-spend challenge is a great way to reset your spending and evaluate your habits.
Whether it’s for a weekend, week, month, or entire year, commit to not spending any money on non-necessities for a period of time. It will pay off in dividends to improving your budgeting in the future.
12. Make Automatic Transfers to Savings Account
For fixed expenses and saving goals, set up automatic transfers to your savings account to keep yourself from spending that money elsewhere. If you can, schedule the transfers for the beginning of the month to ensure you can afford them before the rest of your discretionary purchases.
13. Use Lots of Categories
If you’re having trouble pinpointing the items you’re spending most on, use lots of categories. This isn’t a sustainable budgeting tip, but it’s useful in the beginning to get a better grasp on your buying habits.
For example, if you’re exceeding your grocery budget every month, separate your grocery store purchases — like snacks, home items, desserts, dinner ingredients, etc. — and ring them up separately at the register.
Don’t be embarrassed to do multiple transactions. Business owners do it frequently, it takes virtually no extra time to do it, and it’s helping you spend better in the long run.
14. Save for Annual Expenses
Even though the date never changes, very few people save throughout the year for gifts and are stuck putting Christmas on a credit card and paying it back over the first half of the new year.
Annual and seasonal expenses like Christmas, insurance renewals, registrations and dues will always be there. Take inventory of the recurring expenses in your life and create a savings fund for each of them. Set money aside each month for all of your savings categories.
15. Get Creative
The choices that move the needle the most in your budget aren’t a bunch of little cuts, they’re the big ones. Get creative with your living situation, transportation, and food choices to save energy on the small stuff and really impact your budget.
The Most Crucial Budgeting Tip: Don’t Give Up
Everyone is going to budget a little differently. Don’t give up because what worked for someone else doesn’t work for you.
Implement these tried and true budget tips to any method and you will see traction toward your financial goals.
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