How can I better stick to my budget?
Updated: May 25
One of the top questions I hear about budgeting is: “How can I better stick to my budget?”
Let me tell you, I ask myself this question all the time!
I think that one of the reasons we are oftentimes hesitant to build a budget is because we don’t want the budget to restrict our freedom. We don’t want to be told how to spend our money and we don’t want to be tied down to a spreadsheet.
But I really think that the reason why we oftentimes have trouble sticking to our budgets is because we’re not believing in our budget. We aren’t visualizing how our budget will help us work toward our goals; instead, we see our budget as a barrier to fun rather than a bridge to freedom.
I believe that we can better stick to our budgets by changing our mindset about our budgets. Let me break this down into 4 ideas, summarized by the acronym: SAVE
S: saving and spending don’t have to be mutually exclusive
I only really started budgeting when I was graduated from college. When I was in high school and college, I didn’t have a specific way that I managed my spending, and I also didn’t have a direct savings goal. This was partially because I didn’t have a substantial stream of income, but it also was because I didn’t truly understand the meaning behind a budget. You see, a budget doesn’t force you to stop spending. In fact, it actually gives you room to spend! With a budget, you can both save money for your goals and also spend money on the things that interest you. For example, I love trying out new foods from Trader Joe’s. If I always shop at Trader Joe’s, my grocery bill will be higher than if I just grocery shopped at Walmart. However, the food at Trader Joe’s interests me, and because of that, I choose to make room in my budget for it. However, I also have the goal of saving enough money for a down payment on a home in the next 3 years. I have set up my budget in a certain way so that I can also have enough money left over to save towards my home goal. The point I’m making is that your budget is customized to YOU! Your needs, your desires, and your dreams. Saving and spending don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Instead, effective utilization of a budget can make them go hand-in-hand.
A: ask yourself "why?"
I want you to think back to when you were a child and your parents asked you to do a chore around the house, such as emptying the dishwasher or cleaning the kitchen. You probably weren’t that excited or motivated to do it, but you did it because you knew you had to. However, think back to a time when you were older and you had a home or apartment of your own. Let’s say that you invited your closest friends over for dinner. Whether you are a naturally clean person or not, you probably wanted to clean up your space and make a nice meal because you wanted your friends to feel comfortable in your home. Your why motivated you to be disciplined. The same concept applies when creating a budget and sticking to it. As you set your saving goals and spending limits, ask yourself why you want to do so. This will give you motivation to stick to your budget categories. For example, my current three why’s behind saving more and spending less are:
I want to save enough money for a down payment on my future home
I want to have an emergency fund that covers 4-6 months of my expenses so that I have a hedge against risk
I want to start saving for my future children’s education within the next 4 years.
As you can see, some of my why’s are current, but some are going to be achieved later down the road. However, the point is that I am keeping my higher purpose in mind (even the long-term goals), as this will give me the motivation to stay disciplined when I don’t always want to be.
V: verify if your purchases align with your why
This tip may sound obvious, but it can be harder than it sounds. For example, when I am on the Amazon app on my phone, and I’m going through my weekly shopping list, I ask myself: What items do I really need to buy this week? When I purchase items on Amazon, I normally buy my basic toiletry items, cleaning supplies, and dry-good staples that I can buy in bulk. However, I oftentimes get side-tracked and browse books, clothes, and new snacks on Amazon. Pretty soon, my cart starts filling up with items I really don’t need. It’s at this point, where I have to check myself with my why’s and see if these items in my cart will really help me reach my goals of saving money for a down payment on a home, building my emergency fund, and saving for my future children’s education funds. After seeing if my purchase aligns with my why’s, I realize that they most likely don’t align and I’m just trying to buy things I don’t need. I then clear my cart and move on with my day. While I am not perfect at this (and I still sometimes buy things that I don’t need), I have been getting better at spending less and saving more. I attribute this to the simple act of verifying if my purchases are aligning with my why’s. I encourage you to try out this tip! Although it sounds like a seemingly small step, it can pay off in substantial ways in the long term.
E: enjoy what you spend your money on
The last tip in today’s blog post is to genuinely enjoy what you are spending your hard-earned money on. There have been numerous times where I’ve bought something that I knew I wouldn’t really enjoy, but I just bought it anyway. This can happen when we are bored and aimlessly shop online, or when we go to the grocery store when we’re starving and grab whatever looks good in the moment. But this isn’t just a spending habit that some of us have struggled with. Most Americans have this struggle, as well. According to Finder.com, the most commonly regretting purchases aren’t high-priced items. Rather, it’s the clothing and shoe items that add up over time. Finder.com reported that 77.27% of Americans say they regretted buying these items that they didn’t need. You see, most people struggle with this! One practice that has been helping me in my personal finance journey is to ask myself: “Will this item that I want, but don’t necessarily need, really bring me joy?” Asking myself this question before I buy something that I don't need has really helped me. I want to share another personal example about one of my recent Amazon purchases. I am going to a friend’s wedding this month, and I need a dress to wear to the wedding. While I do have some fancy dresses I could wear, I really want to invest in a dress that I can wear to this wedding, as well as wear to other events this year. So this week, while I was on Amazon buying the essentials, I took time to browse through some dress options. I ended up purchasing a dress that could be worn at a variety of different events. Although this dress wasn’t a necessity, it was a purchase that I knew I would enjoy and be able to utilize for many different occasions. The main point of this story is that if you are going to spend money on something you want but don’t necessarily need, make sure that you will enjoy this purchase.
I hope these four tips help you as you work toward your 2021 saving and spending goals. While a budget can be very effective, it only will work if you believe in your budget. If you want to change your mind set about budgeting, remember the SAVE acronym as you focus on how you can make your money work for you.