Talking about budgeting is one thing, but creating a budget and sticking to it is another. Luckily, you don’t have to be a financial expert to succeed. Here are a few practical tips, and some encouragement, to get you started.
In my post Tell Your Money Where to go – Budgeting 101, I talked a bit about why it’s important to budget in the first place. Budgeting gives you control over your money. Budgeting gives you the forethought to think ahead so you can have the freedom to do what you want to do. I encouraged you to have a dream meeting, kick your payments to the curb, and find your why.
Those are all great, but we need a bit more when we’re really taking off with this budgeting stuff. So here are a few more practical tips to help you get started on your budgeting journey.
Find an accountability partner
Finding an accountability partner can be critical in succeeding with finances. This person is your biggest cheerleader. They will also be the person to tell you making a purchase that doesn’t align with your financial goals isn’t a great idea. If you’re married, this will be your spouse. If you’re single, this could be a mentor, a friend or a family member.
Track every expense until it becomes a habit
Part of the reason why budgeting may feel like prison is because you’re told you have to track every penny. While the idea is true, the sentiment is not. Frankly, when you know where you’re money is going, you know what your strengths are. You know what you’re weaknesses are. When you can look at your monthly expenses and say estimate what percentage you’re spending on eating out each month, you automatically know you may need to make a change.
You also don’t have to rely on yourself to track every expense any more. Our family uses Every Dollar. It’s the budgeting app Dave Ramsey and his team created for us to use FOR FREE. You input your estimated monthly expenses, estimated monthly income, and log when you make an expense. Each field even calculates how much you have left to spend in that budget item. How cool is that?
Don’t stray from your budget
I feel like one key tool for success is learning how to shift things around in your budget. For instance, you over spend by $20 at the grocery store, so you do something like pull $20 from eating out or from a clothing budget to cover the cost. Making these changes can ensure that you don’t go over budget.
Another way you can set yourself up for success is by literally tracking your expenses. The best example I have is going to the grocery store. My family and I have a set amount we can spend on groceries for the month. I know I have a budget to stick to, so I will print out my grocery list and write out the cost of the item next to whatever item I put in my cart. When I’m toward the end of the month and really watching my budget, I’ll make a stop halfway through the store to ensure I’m staying on budget. It may seem time consuming, but I know I’m not going to overspend – and that’s the goal.
Finally, some consider adding a buffer as a line item in their budget. This could be $100 a month. Another great tool to consider when crafting your budget.
Be practical with your budget
Learning how to shift things around in your budget is a key skill in your budgeting journey. But learning how to rework your budget entirely is another.
If you’re budgeting $250 a month for groceries for a family of four and you’re consistently going over budget, the problem isn’t you. It may be your budget! Consider adjusting your budget to fit what your family actually consumes. Giving yourself three or so months to figure that out may be necessary.
Budget for birthdays, Christmas – plan ahead!
One of the great things about Christmas (besides our family’s feast) is the fact that it’s the same day every single year. Christmas is never a surprise! Because we know the date, we know that we can budget for it every single year. You can begin in January if you want to. Simply estimate how much you’d like to save for Christmas, divide that number by 12 and save that much money each month until Christmas. If you want to have all of your shopping done before Thanksgiving, divide that figure by 11. You get the point – Christmas on a budget is totally feasible.
The same principle applies to birthdays. You know when everyone’s birthday is going to be – so make a plan! Ask the birthday boy or girl a month in advance for a few gift ideas. Set a budget and stick to it.
My husband and I took it one step further in marriage counseling. We were coached on creating a budget that would reflect our combined finances right after we were married. During that process, we set a budget for gifts at Christmas and birthdays. We’ve never deviated from that amount! It has served us for more than three years and we’ve seen great success. All because we decided on an amount, we stuck to that amount and we’ve been able to bless others with great gifts.
Give yourself grace
One of the great things about life is that we can learn something, implement it and learn from our mistakes. If we don’t make a mistake and that change becomes a success, we can rejoice in the fact we have found something that works for us and our families.
That’s what I want you to take away from this entire post. You are not up against some immovable mountain – you’re getting control of your money! If you’ve never done it before, you can’t expect yourself to be an expert. So give yourself some grace if it takes you three months to truly change your spending habits and figure out what’s normal to spend on your electricity bill. You can do this!