So, you’re really trying to commit to your budget. GO YOU! But despite your hard work, the light at the end of the tunnel still feels really, really far away. Keeping your eye on the prize is hard, especially on days when you just don’t wanna.
Okay, time to get real. Sticking to a budget isn’t all that exciting. Sometimes budgeting is boring, frustrating and just plain HARD.
But guys, you can totally, TOTALLY do this! I’ll show you how to make your budget stick (yes, even when you’re totally over it).
I get it. Budgeting is challenge. STICKING to a budget can seem almost impossible. Saving money isn’t nearly as immediately gratifying as throwing caution to the wind and shopping like crazy, right? There’s no awesome prize to enjoy right away. There’s less delicious food. There are fewer cute clothes. There’s no frivolous fun indulgence when you’re sticking to a budget.
Getting what you want NOW is much more fun, right?
Sticking to a budget is especially hard when you’re tired, when you’ve had a long day or when you’re in a bad mood. It’s hard not to justify spending on a little boost or a pick-me-up. After all, you deserve it right?
Resist! Yes, you may deserve a treat (we all deserve happiness of course) but keep the bigger picture in mind. What will bring you happiness in the LONG term? How can you unlock and use your willpower and motivation to stay on track?
1. Discover Your Willpower
Have you ever seen that marshmallow study with the preschoolers? They were told they could either eat one marshmallow NOW…or wait and get two. Let’s just say that waiting it out was VERY tough for a lot of these kids. Kids, I get you.
Many of us struggle with willpower. The ability to see long-term benefits over instant gratification is a tough skill to build. Many people don’t have it. I want you to ask yourself, what’s your willpower style? Be honest! Are you the kind of person who would rather eat one marshmallow now instead of hold out for two? Are you someone who feels rewarded by long-term/big-picture rewards or do you want little carrots (or cookies!) along the way?
Knowing how well your willpower works will help you identify the best strategy for sticking to a budget when your motivation is at zero. If you know you’re the kind of person who needs little rewards now, build them into your budget along the way. We all want to think we’re big-picture people, but be honest with yourself—are you really? If you’re not, it’s important you find a motivation and reward system fitting your style and personality.
2. Find Your Motivation—What’s Your WHY?
You’ve probably heard a lot about “finding your why.” Here’s the deal—understanding your motivation and knowing what drives you will help you incorporate more of that mojo into your savings plan. If you want a boat, a new house, or a big vacation, your goal becomes your why.
Many of us crave security and safety. If you want security and a financial safety net for your family, then financial peace is your why. Focus on what you need to do to reach your security goal. What would your financial picture need to look like for you to feel comfortable and secure?
Maybe you’re motivated by praise. Maybe you’re motivated by success. Maybe it’s chocolate. Whatever motivates you, find a way to work the reward into your system. If you stick to your budget for the week, bake yourself a big ol’ chocolate cake on Friday night and treat yourself. (It might not be good for your diet, but cake could be great for your wallet!)
I discussed this concept when I talked about how I helped my husband become a saver (not a spender). I promised him if we went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University Program together, he could buy a new Xbox. This motivated him and got him on board with the program. Once we went through the program, he could see the deeper “why” and decided to forgo the Xbox altogether. Discovering your “why” works! Find your motivation and work it!
3. Make Budgeting Success Easy
When we were first cutting back on fast food, we had a pizza problem (a very delicious problem, actually). We would put a plan in place, but then we’d end up relaxing, watching movies, on the computer or playing videogames. One of us would be like, “Should we just order a pizza?” and we’d fall right off the no-fast-food wagon.
We came up with an ingenious solution for the problem. We took my husband’s mini-fridge and set it up with snacks—baby carrots, ranch dip, cheese sticks, sodas. When we got hungry, we would simply grab nosh in the mini-fridge and we would successfully avoid the temptation to call out for pizza!
What you need is a method to make success easy. You need a mini-fridge for your budget. Make budgeting automatic. Create solutions right on hand for any problems you anticipate. Set up automatic reminders on your calendar. Block out time to visit your budget, write your list and do your meal planning. Set up automation whenever possible in your life.
Automating errands saves us from being tempted to spend at the store. Automation saves us time and energy. No brain power needed. Setting up automatic bill pay helps us avoid late fees and extra charges. Setting up your money to automatically transfer to your savings each month will help you save without even thinking about it. Other tricks? Bring only cash with you, don’t automatically save your payment information in your browser, and take your credit card out of your wallet—set up checks and balances so you don’t fall into the temptation trap.
4. Add Wiggle Room and Space for Fun
If you’re a cold turkey person, it’s a guaranteed successful way to quit a bad habit—just quit. BUT most people aren’t the cold-turkey type. You might need flexibility. It really helps you feel less restricted and find more success IF you build in a little wiggle room for the fun you enjoy.
Here’s the deal: If you love going out to eat and you say, “I’m never going out to eat AGAIN,” how realistic is it for you to stick with that goal??? It’s NOT! Unless you possess the discipline of an Olympic marathoner (which isn’t most of us), you’re going to fall off the wagon.
Then what happens? You spend once, so you throw in the towel and give up, saying, “I suck at sticking to a budget.” Not true! No one is perfect all the time.
Instead, set yourself up for success by making room for fun activities, purchases, and even fast food in your budget. If you cut back to HALF of your spending on food and entertainment, you’re still coming out ahead. As you get better at cooking food at home and get used to spending less on fast food, shopping and entertainment, you’ll start to feel more confident and successful. YOU CAN DO THIS! Baby steps!
5. Don’t Bite Off More than You Can Chew
Similar to the “cold turkey” mentality, often you fail when you attempt to do it all at once. If you’re deliberately attempting to get your budget under control, focus your energy on budgeting for the month.
It’s easy to fall into “total life makeover” mentality, where you think today is the day to tackle budgets, start a new exercise plan, sign up for a class on watercolor painting, start a blog, cook 10 make-ahead meals, and organize the entire house. (Sounds like January 1st around here…)
This HUGE plan isn’t realistic for anyone (!) and it’s not going to set you up for success. In fact, it’s almost certainly going to lead to becoming overwhelmed and stressed out. Instead, I want you to tackle ONE goal right now. If you’re working on sticking to a budget, become single-minded about your goal. Put your efforts into managing your money. Really pour your heart into it for a month or so.
Once you’ve been working on one change in your life and you’re seeing success, THEN add on the next goal. What you want to do is gradually build up good habits over time. You want a lifestyle shift. After three or four weeks, even if you’ve only succeeded in one area, you’re still moving ahead. Again: baby steps build momentum. Don’t take a running leap only to crash and burn.
6. Block Your Cheatin’ Heart
Isn’t it funny? You get tempted to “cheat on your budget” and then you’re SO tempted you hide the evidence from your spouse and even from yourself. If you’re sneaking little budget cheats here and there, you need to do one of two steps: 1. Set up more wiggle room in your budget, so you‘re able to relax and enjoy the treat.
Or 2. Set up major roadblocks to put yourself in check. This means, cut up your credit card. If you can’t do it, in case of emergency, freeze it. Literally, put it in a bucket of water, and put it in the freezer. By the time it thaws, you’ll be over the temptation, but you’ll still have access in a real emergency.
Other ideas? Change your PIN, lower your spending limit, or talk to your bank about lowering the amount you’re allowed to withdraw on a given day. Block tempting websites. Install a website blocker such as StayFocusd on your browser, and choose to limit your shopping and browsing time on certain sites to a few minutes per day (or block them entirely).
Come clean with your spouse or a trusted friend and ask for their support to help keep you in check. This is especially vital if you and your spouse share finances or if you’re worried your spending is going cause financial issues for both of you down the line. I know it’s a tough conversation, but if you come clean you’ll feel better and you’ll get your spending under control.
7. Always Create a Backup Plan
One of the best ways to stick to a budget when you’ve lost motivation is to always create a backup plan. If you know you love fast food, store easy simple, fast meals on hand. This might mean stocking your freezer with pizza or Lean Cuisines. It might mean buying your favorite cereal and keeping it on hand so you can always pour a bowl of Lucky Charms when you want a treat.
Find entertainment that doesn’t cost money. Write out a list of date night options and fun activities to check out around town. When your motivation is zapped, you need an escape or can’t come up with an answer for “cheap fun,” refer to one of the ideas on your list.
Get friends on board too—invite your pals over for a game night. Ask them to bring a dish to share and their own beverages. Let go of the idea you need to spend money to hang out. It’s often as much fun to watch a movie or enjoy a ball game together with your friends—and it doesn’t cost a dime!
If your parents, friends or boss gives you a gift card, put it away and save it for an emergency. When you absolutely feel like you’re finished with budgeting, saving and being frugal, and all you want to do is spend money on something you enjoy, you’ll have the certificate on hand to treat yourself! Tuck gift cards away in a drawer or box and look at it as your rainy day “fun” fund.
8. Keep Your Perspective
When you feel like your motivation is zapped, take a step back. Remind yourself it’s a slow process—you didn’t get here overnight. It took a long time to end up with debt, and it will probably take a while to build of savings and get back out. It’s not going to happen instantly, but it will definitely happen if you commit to sticking to a budget.
Don’t aim for all or nothing. When you strive for perfection and think you must go all in or you’re failing, it’s a tough mindset. Instead, stay realistic and take it easy on yourself.
Think of each budgeting step and positive decision as a way you’re progressing toward your goal. If you falter or experience a misstep, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed and you should give up. Pick yourself up and keep on going!
Reward your successes along the way. Don’t wait until the end to celebrate and remind yourself of how awesome you’re doing with your budget. Keep reminding yourself as you go along.
If your motivation is depleted, take a few steps to get yourself back on track. Reward yourself for the progress you’re making and give yourself a break. Budgeting and saving money isn’t a black and white picture. Life happens. Expenses come up. Choose wisely, and don’t let mistakes pull you off track.
Chelsea @ Mama Fish Saves says
This is such a great post. Budgeting is a long term game and you really have to make it through the rough patches. I find that #2 and #4 are crucially important. If you are budgeting for what seems like no reason it is way too easy to quit. And if you clamp down on your spending so much you feel like you can’t breathe, you’re way too likely to have a splurge day when you just can’t take it any more. You really need that relief valve of some wiggle room!
Maria @ Leisurely Does It says
These are great tips and very timely for me as I have recommitted to my budget recently. Meal planning is huge for me. It really helps me avoid running out for fast food on evenings or buying lunch. That alone helps me to save a decent amount of money every month. Also, “knowing your why” is crucial. Having a meaningful reason to cut back your expenses really keeps you going.
Eric Holland says
There are two instances when sticking to a budget has been difficult. One in the case of emergencies. No I dont mean the typical, I am so hungry I need a doughnut emergency… But I mean a real one. For instance, we just went through hurricane Irma and she KILLED our budget. We were lucky enough to have an emergency fund, but all those tricks of price checking, reviews, searching for the best deal went out the door when facing an emergency. Scarcity shopping at its best. On a side note, I know own 18 mini LED flashlights, that I would be willing to part with…
The 2nd instance is when I am shopping with my little guy. He is a budget killer! Whether that means him having a total meltdown in the grocery store and quickly grab what we thought was on the list and toss it into the cart or him asking for something not on the list, shopping with him almost always means our budget is busted.
Regardless, going back to your point number 2. He is our Why. He is the reason why we budget so that we can do more later on. 🙂
Janet Stelly says
Great ideas! We used to eat out several times a week. Since we cut back, it is more of a “treat” now. We do the cash system and it is so rewarding to go grocery shopping and still have a dollar or two left!
Really good ideas! I found that this program called YNAB, or You Need a Budget, made budgeting more accessible and “fun”. I now love entering in my expenditures and seeing where I’m at.
Rebecca @Surviving Student Loans says
Keeping your perspective is key! Paying off debt is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take time. It can be hard not to get frustrated but knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel helps me stay focused.
Kathleen Calado says
Budgeting sure is a big deal and very important especially to myself. I just started my own blog and though it doesn’t earn much yet I have other spare tasks to do like taking care of my daughters and my day-to-day activities as well. Thanks for sharing this motivational steps! Keep up the great work!
Carolin Eichholz says
Today, I needed to read this. I’m just starting all over with a budget after the going got too rough.
To me, #5 is super important. As a recovering perfectionist, I like to set up ambitious goals. Too ambitious most of the time.
I also highly recommend meal planning. Even a sketchy plan can go a long way! I really spend a lot more on groceries every time I drop the meal planning ball.
Thank for sharing, Rosemarie!
Nadia Malik says
This is a problem with most of the people and the way you addressed it is awesome.
Great article. I’ve always found that having a strong WHY can get you through the toughest of times. This applies to almost any situation and not just sticking to a budget.