The key to most things in life is to not give up. Sticking to a budget is no different. Having a budget is the ONLY way to know exactly where your money is going. This is what will allow you to set and achieve financial goals.
If you haven’t started a budget read our post on how to budget and get started today!!
We like to budget a month at a time using our spreadsheet budget template. Download it here: https://thefinancetwins.com/budget-template-xlsx.
If you are already budgeting you’ve experienced the ups and downs that come with the territory.
Having a budget is not always easy, but sticking to it can seem impossible at times. However, there are some things that you can do to increase your chances of sticking to a budget for the long haul.
One of those things is flexibility.
This is something we have fine-tuned over many years of trial and error. Early on, we made the mistake of being WAY too rigid with our budgets. It felt very restrictive and it simply wasn’t fun. Sure enough, we’d end up walking away from budgeting for a few months until we realized we weren’t making any progress on our debt.
Yep, we’ve even avoided going to the doctor when one of us broke a few toes simply to avoid the cost. That wasn’t smart. But it can be exhausting to feel like a failure if you miss a budget target. This is why flexibility is so key.
Unless you’re a robot who loves pain and misery, keep reading and let us show you 3 tips that have allowed us to succeed in sticking to a budget!
#1 Modify old habits/routines to fit your budget
Give yourself leeway to make changes on the fly! Change can be a good thing and can also be fun!
For example, one thing we started doing is going to the public library to borrow books to read. For the past couple of years it was a personal goal of ours to read more often, and we had been relying an Amazon Kindle books.
By going out to the library and taking advantage of a service our hard-earned tax dollars pay for, we also were able to keep reading while cutting out the cost of Kindle books. We were surprised to learn that we could request books and the library would buy them!
Recommendation: If you are looking for an AWESOME book to read, we recently read Shoe Dog and LOVED it. It’s the story about the founding of NIKE, and it will inspire the hell out of you!
One other thing we’ve started doing is inviting friends over for dinner more often instead of always meeting up at a restaurant. You could also set up a rotating schedule with a group of friends and make it a weekly event!
The benefit here is that it has forced us to become better cooks (to avoid being ridiculed for our lousy cooking skills) while saving money. This satisfied our palates and taught us some new skills while also being a really fun activity that everyone loves! Now we all compete to see who’s the best cook.
#2 Budget moderation
“Everything in moderation, including moderation”. – Oscar Wilde.
This amazing quote holds true even for your budget! If you budget, you’ve probably found yourself in the following scenario. It’s getting closer to the end of the month and the budget is starting to get tight so you need to buckle down to make sure you stay on track.
You’re not sure if you’ll be able to make it and it stresses you out. Sound familiar? We’ve been there too. One thing that has really helped is knowing that staying on track does not mean sacrificing everything at all costs. Sometimes life happens and gets in the way.
For example, imagine the following: Your significant other surprises you by coming home from work early and says they’d love to see the new movie that just came out in theaters. The only problem is you’ve exhausted your monthly entertainment budget already.
If you’re like us, you’ll be torn. What do you do?!
If you really want to see the movie, just go and enjoy it! In a few years you’ll never look back and regret seeing the movie. Things like this pop up ALL THE TIME. Remember that YOU are in charge of your budget!
To stay on track you can always allocate a little less to next month’s entertainment budget category. Or pull funds from another category where you’ll be able to come in under budget. You can also pull back the next week to make up for it.
Don’t deprive yourself of unexpected opportunities for the sake of a few bucks. You’ll be able to make up for it as long as you stay organized. Prioritization is everything! Especially when sticking to a budget.
This will allow you to set money aside to learn how to invest! A skill that everyone needs.
#3 Guilt free budget spending
This tip is actually easier said than done. When you have concrete financial and retirement goals, it is normal to feel guilt when spending money. The guilt comes from using money for fun that could have been spent towards reaching your goal.
Will you be closer to your retirement goal if you put every single penny towards retirement? Yes! But that is just not how life works. We aren’t robots and neither are you.
It’s totally normal to have your perspective shift. Maybe those $300 shoes don’t seem as appealing as they used to, now that you are so focused on your financial goals. But for the things that really bring you joy (like giving to charity, or going away for the weekend), it’s worth it to prioritize them.
Live your best life!
We allocate money in our budgets to spend freely on anything each month. No questions asked. No guilt associated. If we have any left over, we roll it over into next month’s budget.
If we have our eye on something more expensive we save this for a few months until we have enough in our free-spending category to buy it. We sometimes also use this category for fun activities we didn’t plan for that pop up (see #2 above).
Give yourself permission to spend this money without guilt. Sticking to a budget is already hard enough without feeling bad about it! Don’t look back or question it. This is probably the most IMPORTANT category in our budget.
It allows us to buy things we want while helping us stick with the rest of our budget. This has been HUGE in allowing us to recognize the things we WANT and what we truly NEED. It can give you peace of mind, which can make all the difference when you are trying to stick to your long term financial goals!
In budgeting, as in other areas of your life, it’s important to be kind to yourself. Don’t be too hard on yourself and remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so if you want to build your dream life and retirement, it’ll take a lot of hard work. You got this.
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Francisco Maldonado, MD is a personal finance expert who was raised in poverty by a single mother and had to learn everything about personal finance on his own. In addition to running his personal finance site, The Finance Twins, with his twin brother, his site has been featured on Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC, US News, The Simple Dollar, and other top publications. Francisco is a physician who borrowed over $200,000 to pay for his medical training and understands debt payoff strategies and frugal living. He received his M.D. from the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, the most selective medical school in the country, and a Bachelor’s degree in physiology from the University of Minnesota. He is currently a radiology resident at Northwestern University.