It’s that time of year again! Everyone’s getting ready to set their New Year’s resolutions.
Personally, I’m going for being able to drink tea out of a mug without spilling it all over myself like a besotted drunkard.
But I realize that many of you have financial goals. Me too. I’m hoping to double our retirement contributions this year, among other things (*cough* debt *cough*). And, not too long ago, it was just to be able to keep up with our damn budget in the first place.
I haven’t always been a stellar budgeter. Shocking, I know. But three years ago I finally got tired of being broke AF. I’d tried budgeting before, but it never stuck. This time, I resolved to stick with it.
Here’s what I did to finally stick with my budget.
Update Your Budget Daily
I know. You can’t even keep up with your budget now, so how in Sam Hill are you supposed to do it every day?
Stick with me, guys.
One of the biggest reasons I always gave up budgeting before was because at some point, the numbers didn’t add up. My budget wouldn’t match up with my actual bank account—I’d entered transactions wrong or missed them completely.
I couldn’t balance the books. And if I couldn’t balance the books, what was the whole freakin’ point in the first place?!
The longer you go without balancing the books, the bigger the chance that your numbers won’t add up.
You need to enter in the transactions—either manually or automatically with a software program—every day and check them against your actual bank account balance.
If that sounds like a chore, it is. But we’re grownups, remember? It’s the tradeoff we make for getting to drink beer now.
If you still think you can’t do it, don’t fret. Here are some of the things that helped me finally pick up this habit:
Set a reminder
Do it at the same time everyday and set a reminder to do it. Put it on your phone, send an email to yourself, put it on your calendar—whatever works for you.
Put it on your to-do list
My to-do list is my savior. It’s my other brain, so I don’t have to think as hard. Which is good, because my thinking ability is severely, severely limited.
I put “Update Budget” on my to-do list every day. Even after three years, I think I would sometimes forget to update my budget if it wasn’t on there.
Attach It To Another Routine
You already have things you do on a routine basis every day. You brush your teeth, eat food, and wipe your bum (or at least one hopes). So, pick one of those things you already successfully do, and attach checking in with your budget to this routine.
This is a technique called habit stacking.
For example, every morning I get up and make a big ol’ mug of tea because my brain doesn’t turn on without it (hence the drunken-like spilling). I decided to use the time while drinking the tea to update my budget. Then, I didn’t have to worry about remembering the budget anymore—I just made tea, which I automatically do everyday, and budgeting happened right along with it.
Experiment With Different Budgeting Styles
You’ve probably done some research to pick the budget program you’re using now. That’s fine. But if you’ve lapsed in your budget, how do you know if that one budget program really is the best for you?
I’m not advocating that you buy every last budget program on the planet and give ‘em all the ol’ college try. But, sometimes switching up what you’re using can make a world of difference.
I started out budgeting with Quicken. Every time I opened that program, I swore I could smell my Nana’s old potpourri and hear old people badgering me about how much I sucked at money.
Then I switched to YNAB. It has a much less straight-laced vibe while still getting the job done. Plus, they have a killer free training program to help you learn to use their product.
If you’re doing a zero-sum budget like I am and that just ain’t your cup of tea, then switch to something else. Use the envelope system. Try a different software program. Hell, maybe even consider the anti-budget.
Make Your Budget Easy to Check
If you have to open an app, sync it with your bank account, enter in five passwords, and make a sacrifice to the gods before you can update your budget, guess what buttercup? You’re not going to keep up with it.
Instead, make it easy to check your budget. If you’re using a computer-based software program, drag the program down to your task bar so it’s always there.
Check it out, homes:
If you’re a smartphone junkie, look for a budgeting program that has an app you can download so it’s always at your fingertips.
Loop Everyone In When Setting Your Budget
Let’s be honest.
I love my husband dearly.
But he doesn’t need to spend five bazillion dollars on the super-awesome-high-def-shiny-spankin’-new video gaming system he wants.
Similarly, I don’t need to spend five bazillion dollars on homebrewing and guitar equipment (much as it pains me to admit).
If you’ve got a family, you need to get everyone’s input when setting up your budget categories.
First, me and Zach had to agree on what our common financial goals are. Otherwise, we’d be shooting off in fifteen different directions and it’d be like herding cats. We then used our common goals to make decisions about the smaller things—like how much fun money we each get.
I’ll be honest. For people in debt, we actually allocate a huge chunk o’ cash to fun money. $120 each, to be exact. That could go a long way towards our debt payoff.
But we tried restricting it to $20 a month, and that just didn’t cut it for Zach. He didn’t want to follow through with the rest of the budget at all with iron shackles (comparatively, at least) like that. So, we upped our allocation to this category, decreased it in others (dining out).
Staying flexible like that allows us to set up a budget that works for us rather than what an ideal Caucasian heterosexual millennial low-income couple living in the VWXYZ zip code would do. We’re not Barbie and Ken dolls, after all. We drink way too much beer for that.
Stay Flexible…Like One Of Them Yoga People
If you never update your budget, of course you’re going to have a harder time following it. Budgets were made to be updated. Every single month you should go down your list of categories and see if you need to change your allocations.
Let’s look at another example.
We buy a lot of everyday stuff from our grocery store, including food. We’ll also buy pens, TP, kitchen utensils, and other miscellaneous stuff from our local King Soopers (which always sets off my inner grammar Nazi—it’s Super, dammit, not Soopers!). It was driving me nuts trying to sort out our receipts into our different budget categories each month.
So, I stopped doing it. Now, we allocate $600/month towards “Groceries,” most of which is food, but not all. Our food budget is probably actually closer to $300-$400 per month if I had to guess.
We stopped paying for our clothes to be air-dried because our apartment’s laundromat is run by clean-smelling extortionist baddies hell-bent on getting as many quarters as possible before they die. So, we cut our laundry budget in half.
Not only is it OK to change your budget around from month-to-month, it’s encouraged.
Don’t Let Setbacks Derail You
I’m going to let you in on a little secret….
You will fuck up your budget.
Heck, you might even have to scrap it completely and restart anew, like a beautiful, sparkly phoenix rising from a burnt bag of toasty dog shit.
That’s OK. One failure doesn’t mean you’ve completely failed at budgeting. Twenty failures don’t mean you’ve failed at budgeting.
The only time you’ve completely failed at budgeting is if you give up.
So, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and give it another go.
You’ve got this, buttercup.
What has helped you stick with your budget? Leave a comment below!