In my experience, there’s a huge difference between making a budget and sticking to a budget. Making a budget is actually a pretty simple process, and completing the task brings a certain sense of accomplishment. Sitting down once a month and figuring out how you want to spend your income, discerning what you need from what you want, crunching all the numbers and coming up with a mathematically perfect plan for your cash is satisfying. It’s comforting. It’s smart and responsible.
The only problem, of course, is that it often blows up right in your face.
Why? Well, because that feat of addition and subtraction that you produce every month is nothing but an idea. It’s on paper, sure, but essentially your budget is nothing but a figment of the rational part of your brain. And unfortunately, as so many of us know, our ability to think logically is often overcome by our immediate wants. This is why making a budget is much, much easier than actually following a budget.
So how do you muster up the motivation to actually stick to the spending plan you’ve set for yourself? While adhering to a budget does, to some degree, require a reserve of personal discipline, the good news is that there are some cognitive and behavioral strategies you can use to make the process easier. Not sure where to start? Check out these five tips:
Keep Your Goals In Mind
Keeping a budget isn’t just about this month – ultimately, you’re making a spending plan so that you can reach some bigger financial goals, such as paying off a credit card or saving up for a house. If you keep these long-term goals in mind, it gets easier to resist the urge to spend right now.
Losing sight of your budget is easy when you’re hungry, tired, and coming off of a long day of work. This is why it’s important to plan ahead to stay on budget. If you know you crave takeout on Fridays, make a meal ahead of time and keep it ready in the fridge. Or, work the takeout into your budget in the first place. The important thing is to think about your spending traps ahead of time and make a plan to deal with them.
Using credit cards can be a handy way to earn rewards, but it’s well-established that people spend more with plastic than they do with cash. This means that switching to cash makes it easier to spend according to the limits you’ve set by your budget. Also, cash is tangibly finite – when it’s gone, it’s gone. This also contributes to a sense of urgency when it comes to sticking to a budget.
Making plans for your money is all well and good, but unexpected expenses are bound to pop up. This is why budgeting down to the last penny can sometimes backfire; one little bill or an extra tank of gas can send you over your limits, which then makes you want to pitch the whole thing. This is why it’s a good idea to build a little cushion into each of your spending categories, just in case life tries to get in the way of your best intentions.
Life isn’t all about sacrifice, so be sure to build a small reward into your budget at the end of every month for having the gumption to stick to it. A movie, a new shirt, a meal out, whatever you get excited about – just make sure it’s something you’re willing to work towards. Again, it’s easier to stay on plan when you know you have something fun coming your way.
Making a budget and sticking to a budget might be different, but with the tips detailed above, you’ll be able to ace both!