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Staying under budget is one of the hardest parts of budgeting. Even people that are awesome at sitting down and making a budget every month struggle with sticking to it.
I struggled with it too.
I would set unrealistic goals for myself and feel awful when I couldn't meet them. I knew that I could buy groceries for the month to feel all of us for $400. So I would set that budget and then go way over. I would feel like a failure and swear to do better next month and just repeat the cycle all over again.
Occasionally, we would have a lot of extra money in a month, either from my side hustles or Jon's over-time. We would set our budget with higher amounts as a treat. I loved those months!
I started to notice an unusual pattern.
When I set a budget amount over what I thought was reasonable, I would spend less that month than when I set a goal just under what was reasonable.
Sound confusing? I'll illustrate.
If I usually spent $600/month on groceries and I set a budget for next month of $500 in order to save a $100- I almost always blow the budget AND spend over the usual $600.
If I usually spend $600/month on groceries and I set a budget for next month of $700, I almost always come in under $600, (sometimes as low as $350 or 400!) despite having more money to spend.
So, when I set the budget to allow myself to spend more, I actually spend less… much less!
When I restrict myself with the budget, I feel stressed and overwhelmed. I worry about making that amount work. One tiny wrong step (like forgetting my lunch and needing to buy one out), makes me feel like I've blown it and I may as well just do whatever I want.
It makes me feel like a failure.
The issue here isn't the budget, it's my attitude.
But changing the budget is much easier than changing my attitude. Changing my attitude would take years and I'm not even convinced that it's possible. But tricking myself into the desired results works every single time for me. I've successfully done it before with losing weight, ordering delivery, eating fast food, and eating out.
When I set the budget over what I know I can spend, I feel empowered and motivated to “save” as much as possible. I love texting my husband “Guess what?!?!?! I'm $200 under this month in Groceries!!!!”
I feel like I'm winning. That motivates me to keep winning and to save as much as possible.
If I make a tiny wrong step, I know it won't kill me and I move on.
And that's half the battle folks. The problem with budgeting isn't calculations. It's knowing ourselves and how we respond to things. Don't force yourself to change things about your personality that have been set in stone since your formative years. Find ways to work around them to get the end result you need.
Find a way to win.
P.S. Easy Dinners help!
If you struggle with getting super easy and cheap dinners on the table, I can tell you what’s worked for us.
You can see our favorite 15-minute meals here and then we found out about this freezer cooking service that cut our grocery budget in half.
Neither requires much cooking skill and you can save a fortune on your grocery budget!
What's your favorite budget trick?
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