How to Stick to a Budget
Have you ever tried to pay off a large amount of debt or save up a nest egg? Maybe you don’t know how to stick to a budget?
Then you know just exactly how stinking rotten hard it is stay motivated to stick to a budget!
When the hubs and I were newlyweds and both in college, we were as poor as church mice. We lived in University housing, so we were surrounded by other poor newlyweds. Or so we thought.
Our newlywed neighbors certainly didn’t live like us. The hubs was jealous of our neighbors’ nice cars (how could they afford those cars?) and I was jealous that they had furniture. Like actual, matching furniture sets purchased at a furniture store.
We had an old, hand-me down couch from my cousin. It was originally part of a sectional, so it only had one arm. And it was purple velvet. In all honesty, it was probably worse than not having a couch at all.
But we had a goal.
We wanted to graduate college without debt.
And that goal helped our decrepit car and battered couch to not matter so much.
Whatever your financial goals may be, there are many ways to stay motivated. Here are my tips on how to stick to a budget and find financial motivation.
How to Stick to a Budget
1. Create a budget you can stick to.
Easier said than done. And that’s why to most important rule of budgeting is to revise, revise, revise.
I’m the eternal optimist. I tend to bite off WAY more than I can chew, and then I have to reduce my grocery budget to beans and rice to cover the remodel or the trip I’ve planned, and then my whole family suffers.
We’re all a whole lot happier when I budget realistically and there’s wiggle room for ice cream in the grocery budget. It’s also much easier to stick to long term.
>>> A Beginner’s Guide to Budgeting <<<
2. Set SMART financial goals.
I’m sure you’ve heard the acronym SMART. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. If you don’t have a goal and a plan, all you have is a wish. Write your goal down.
3. Break your large financial goals into bite-sized pieces.
If I wanted to drive from Alaska to Mexico, I’d have to drive on many different highways through many different states. I’d have a stopping point each night, and I’d plan from each stopover to the next.
Part of planning is breaking your large financial goals into smaller pieces. If you want to save $48k for a down payment on a home purchase and your goal is to purchase your home in two years, you know you’ll need to save $2k per month. If you aren’t currently able to budget for that, you know you’ll need to either increase your income or decrease your expenditures.
But knowing that you need $2k per month is a much more attainable goal that $48k over 2 years. Learning how to break your big goals down will help you to be more motivated to stick to a budget!
4. Post a visual of your financial goal somewhere you’ll see it frequently.
Is your life as full of things to remember as mine is? Between our jobs, housework, maintaining our vehicles and our home, homeschooling the kiddos, seeing to everyone’s hygiene and health, and everything else, it can be difficult to add one more thing.
But if you’re like me, the things that aren’t forefront in your mind tend to be lost and forgotten. So I’ve had to figure out a strategy for keeping my financial goals front and center, even when they compete with the whole world for my attention.
I turn my financial goals into my computer and phone screensaver. Goodness knows I look at my electronics often enough. I have a friend who uses her financial goals as her passwords, so she types it in multiple times daily. You might prefer a different place to remind you of your own financial goals, but make sure it’s something you won’t tune out or ignore if you want to learn to stick to a budget.
5. Enlist friends and family to help you stick to a budget.
When you are accountable to someone for accomplishing a goal, you can more easily adhere to your plan because you know that person expects it of you. Social expectations can be a powerful motivator!
They can also help you to keep good momentum going by celebrating successes with you.
6. Track your financial progress.
If you keep track of your budget and your finances, you can look back to where you started and see how far you’ve come. You’ll also be able to see if you are behind where you thought you should be, or if you need to make changes.
It also helps to track your net worth. Net worth shows you the overview of your finances and helps you to see your financial progress on a grand scale.
When I first saw an overview of my net worth, I realized how much farther along I was than I had thought. Retirement once felt so far away and unattainable. It was difficult to even comprehend it, let alone plan for it. Seeing my net worth helped me to realize that my situation was better than I thought, which motivates me to keep plugging away at my financial goals.
7. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals.
Now, I’m not advising you to dump all of your less thrifty friends. But the ones who aren’t frugally minded will probably not encourage frugality in you.
If you and your friends like to go shopping together or vacation in exotic places together, it will be harder to avoid temptation. Whereas your thrifty friends, who are also working toward similar financial goals, will encourage you to put the money you previously spent on new clothes and fancy vacations toward debt or investments.
8. Use online debt payoff calculators.
When we took out our first mortgage for our first home, I noticed that we were paying a whole lot more toward interest each month than toward principal. That irritated me.
So I went home and looked up a debt payoff calculator and figured out just how much we could save over the life of the mortgage if we could pay off our home in 15 years instead of 30.
I could see that our monthly payment would increase substantially, but at least I had all of the facts. I could weigh the benefits of paying off our mortgage early (hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings) against the inconvenience of a larger monthly payment.
Sometimes it’s hard to even see where you stand with debt and finances. Online calculators can clarify our position for us. More importantly, they can motivate us to action by helping to see how extra interest we are paying over time.
>>> Conquer Debt Once and for All! <<<
9. Increase your financial IQ to help you stick to a budget.
We recently had an extraordinarily horrible visit to the dentist. I’m talking heinous! I staggered out of the office several thousand dollars lighter, even after insurance paid its portion.
I remind my kiddos daily to brush their teeth and I’ve showed them how to do it properly and I’m kind of a nutrition Nazi. I even expend a great deal of time and energy teaching them (we homeschool) about nutrition and how it affects teeth and health. There is no reason for my children to need all of this dental work!
The problem is that they have no buy in. I harp on the dental hygiene and I drag them to the dentist and I pay all the bills. Of course they think their cavities are my problem!
On the way home, I had a brilliant idea. I told them that they were in charge of their teeth. I would no longer be nagging, but I also would no longer be paying for their problems. I’d still drive them, but from here on out they had to pay their own dental bills.
Then I made them a deal. I’d reduce their bill by a certain amount for each nutrition book (from a book list I created) they read and reported on.
Of course, great wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued. And then they began reading — and eating better and voluntarily brushing. The part that has been the most effective is the education.
It’s the same with finances. As a person who earns and spends money, you should know how it works. The more you know, the better you understand and the more effectively you will manage your finances.
There are so many simple and enjoyable ways to learn about finance. You can watch the news, listen to financial podcasts, read personal finance blogs, read financial books, and more. Surrounding yourself with personal finance also has the added benefit of keeping your goals front and center in your conscious mind.
10. Imagine how you’ll feel when your goal has been accomplished.
Visualization helps to motivate me. Daydreaming is powerful.
Years ago, when there was no way we could afford a farm, but I really wanted one (so my children could have farm chores and better nutrition) I imagined my family living on exactly the farm I wanted. Guess where we now live?
Our next financial goal is to pay off the mortgage within the next five years. I often imagine that success and just how amazing it will feel. It really motivates me to keep chipping away at that debt, even when I’d rather do something else with my money.
Ask yourself how you’ll feel once you pay off your debt or reach your particular financial goal? Imagine what your life will be like once you reach your goal, and how great it will feel. Imagine never having to make another debt payment and being able to save all of that income toward another big goal.
11. Celebrate your victories.
Sometimes working toward a goal can feel like the doldrums. Particularly if it’s a big goal that takes many months or even years to accomplish.
The human spirit just needs refreshment periodically, and constantly working (even toward a rewarding goal) can be draining. If you get too drained, you lose motivation.
Celebrations can help you regain that motivation. They don’t need to be expensive or grandiose. In fact, some of our favorites over the years have been completely free.
12. Leave a little room for fun.
“All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy”. I don’t know why that’s in my head or where I learned it, but I believe it! Only I think it would be more accurate to say that it makes Jack a very unhappy boy.
How motivated are you toward your goals when you’re unhappy? Be sure to budget for periodic, enjoyable outings. Camping trips, hiking, swimming at the lake, picnics at the beach and other such activities take nothing but time. You can also find great deals on more costly things.
You don’t need to spend much to enjoy time together as a family!
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13. Take it day by day and cut yourself some slack.
Life naturally ebbs and flows. While there are joyful moments and occasions, everything is not always sparkles and rainbows. We all feel discouraged sometimes, even when things are going well.
Sometimes we make financial mistakes, and sometimes crappy things just happen through no fault of our own. It’s life!
If you were walking along and you fell in a deep hole, would you beat yourself up for not seeing it coming? Would you just sit there and cry? Would it do any good if you did?
The only way out of the hole is to climb out.
The good thing about encountering holes like that is that you learn to watch out for them. Mistakes are good learning experiences. You just get back on track as quickly as possible and continue your journey — a little bit wiser.
Learning how to stick to a budget? Pin these tips for later!
What are your financial goals? Do you have any tips for how to stick to a budget? What are your biggest financial motivators?