A monthly budget is one of the simplest elements of a financial plan, but it can also be foundational for your financial success. A budget not only helps you understand where your money is going but also makes it easier to manage your money in a way that helps you achieve your financial goals.
It can be difficult to stick to a budget, however. These tips and tricks can help you stay on track and improve your financial health.
7 Ways to Stay on Track With Your Budget
Depending on your situation, some of these tips can help you improve your relationship with your budget. While some don't require much work, others may be a bit effort-intensive as you work to find the right balance.
1. Track Your Spending
Setting monthly spending goals can help you visualize how you want to spend your money. But unless you track your purchases, it can be easy for your plans and your actions to fall out of alignment.
Check your online accounts at least once a week to stay on top of your expenses, and consider using a budgeting app like Mint, You Need a Budget or Every Dollar to help you categorize your expenses and match them with your goals.
If you don't want to use a budgeting app, track your monthly expenses on a spreadsheet or even in a notebook. This will be more labor-intensive on your part, but the key is finding a tracking method that works for you and that you'll use month after month.
2. Stay Organized
A big reason budgets fall by the wayside is they can be a pain to keep up. Budgeting apps not only help you categorize your expenses, but they can also help you keep track of multiple financial accounts in one place.
What's more, many of these apps can import your transactions so you don't have to log in to each of your bank and credit card accounts individually to review statements and recent transactions.
Whether you're using an app or not, consider setting a time each week to review your transactions to help you stay on track.
3. Sleep on Big Purchases
If you're thinking about making a large purchase and it's not an urgent need, take a step back. Consider taking at least 24 to 48 hours to think about whether you should move forward with the transaction. If the excitement of the moment wears off and you no longer want the item, you can move on and save that cash.
4. Request a Credit Limit Decrease
If you have problems with overspending, it may make sense to reduce the credit limit on your credit cards. You can do this by calling your credit card issuer and asking for a credit line decrease.
Just keep in mind that once you've requested a decrease, you generally can't reverse it without undergoing a hard credit check. Reducing your credit line also means you'll need to take extra care so you don't use too much of your available credit: A high credit utilization ratio could be detrimental to your credit score.
5. Find a Budgeting Style That Works for You
There are many different ways you can budget your money. Some methods are simple and don't require you to get into the weeds with your expenses, while others are more meticulous and give you more control over where your money goes.
Some popular budgeting methods include:
- Envelope system: Determine how much money you want to spend on each category for the month, then fill an envelope for each category with the amount of cash you've budgeted for it. Once the money from an envelope is gone, you're out of money for that category unless you shift some from another envelope.
- 50/30/20 plan: With this approach, 50% of your spending goes toward necessities, 30% toward discretionary spending and 20% toward financial goals, such as saving or paying off debt. This simple approach doesn't require you to keep up with a long list of categories, and you can adjust the percentages based on your lifestyle and goals.
- Two-account plan: Request to have your paychecks split into two bank accounts. With one, you'll pay all of your fixed expenses. With the other, you can do all of your discretionary spending. You don't need to track your expenses as closely with this approach, but you'll need to make sure to avoid overdrawing both accounts.
- Zero-based budget: This approach is similar to the envelope system, but it doesn't require you to use cash. Give every dollar you earn a purpose, including savings and debt payoff, so that your income minus your expenses equals zero at the end of each month.
Depending on your goals and your motivation to budget, one method may be better for you than the others. While there's no wrong way to budget your money, it's important to find the approach that you're most likely to stick to.
6. Reevaluate Your Budget
It's OK if the first budget you make doesn't go exactly as planned. What's more, your spending habits and goals can change over time, and if you're stuck with the same budgeting approach for too long, it can be difficult to stay motivated.
Maybe you need to include a bit more room for groceries than you thought, or you overestimated how much you're spending on entertainment and you can reassign some of that toward saving or paying off debt.
Whatever it is, be honest with yourself and make your financial goals a top priority.
7. Communicate With Your Partner
Budgeting can get a lot more complicated if you're budgeting with a partner, so it's crucial that you both establish the budget together and keep track of expenses together.
It's also important to take your time to communicate regularly over time to make sure you're both on the same page. If one partner goes off track and you don't communicate, it could damage the health of your finances and your relationship.
Make Your Financial Plan a Priority
Budgeting isn't always a fun activity, but it can lay the groundwork for a successful financial plan. If you're having trouble sticking to your budget, these pieces of advice can help you tackle some of the larger issues that could be hampering your progress.
Regardless of how you approach sticking to a budget, remember why you want to stay on track, and prioritize your financial plan above smaller expenses that can add up and get in the way of what you want to accomplish.