If you have financial goals on your mind, you’re likely concerned about the dreaded B-word—budgeting.
Many of us feel like natural-born consumers: we love the best, newest, or biggest products. It’s easy to be tempted away from our desire to save by the right deal, but that only leads to guilt and misery when we consider where we veered off course.
But if you’re going to save money, a few budgeting tips can help you change your mindset for a healthier approach to your finances. Try these strategies for a realistic budget and even some extra savings.
Here’s one of the most important money budgeting tips: know what you’re budgeting for! If you haven’t set goals around what you want to achieve, it’s like wandering around aimlessly in the hopes that you’ll reach your destination. You need to know how much money you’ll need, how you’ll get it, and exactly where it’s going.
Do you want to create an emergency fund in case of unemployment? Are you trying to pay off your student loans? Are you budgeting for home renovations or retirement?
Whatever your situation, sit down to decide why you’re starting a budget. Create a goal that you can measure and track, and keep it in mind as you continue to the next steps.
You’ll hear a wide range of personal budgeting tips, and they might leave you wondering what kind of budget is right for you. The truth is, you can save money on any kind of budget, or use a combination of styles, as long as you stick to it.
One of the most popular types of budget is the zero-based budget. Through this system, you’ll plan to put every dollar you make toward a specific need, leaving no money leftover. If you do have extra savings beyond your family’s needs, you’ll put them toward a goal, like savings or debt.
Other popular options include the 50/30/20 budget, where 50% of your money goes to needs, 30% to wants, and 20% to savings. If you prefer an analog system, the envelope budgeting system has you stash cash in dedicated envelopes, which you’ll put toward specific needs and wants throughout the month.
Even with the best budgeting tips, you can anticipate most of your expenses—but rarely all of them. Unexpected medical visits, car issues, or price hikes can make it harder to stay on course.
Decide how you’ll handle these surprises. For some people, setting aside a small “surprise fund” each month can tackle the worst of these issues. Others prefer to establish an emergency savings account for these minor inconveniences.
Everyone has weak points, and there’s no shame in admitting yours. Only once you admit where your financial weaknesses are you can work to overcome them through budgeting and tracking.
If you know you overspend at the grocery store, for example, make plans to visit only on a full stomach. If you’re too tempted by online shopping, remove any saved credit card info from the websites you use, and store the physical cards with your partner. Don’t forget that there’s no shame in opting for financial therapy as needed, as an expert can help you establish a better relationship with your money in the long term.
This is one of the most critical budgeting tips for beginners: use your card where you can. It’s hard to keep track of cash purchases, and you may find yourself forgetting or ignoring cash purchases that seem smaller.
However, your monthly bank statement offers an automatic record of your purchases. This makes it easier to understand and itemize each purchase, and it’s much simpler than trying to track chaotic cash spending over the course of a month.
One caveat here: if you’re struggling with credit card debt, you may be better off sticking with the envelope budget mentioned above until you have it under control. You can still track your expenses by hand or log them manually into a money-tracking app.
If your budget concerns the entire household, it helps to have everyone involved in sticking to it.
If you’re married, work to get on the same page with your partner about money. Make sure you’re both committed to the same goals and budget, or the results may not pay off quite as well.
If you have kids, it’s important to foster financial wellness from an early age, and sharing budgeting tips and tricks is an easy way to get started. Sit down at a family meeting to discuss your finances, including why you’re budgeting and your current strategy. From there, you can have your children help with a plan they can be involved in, whether that means creating shopping lists, clipping coupons, or another area of interest.
Another point to consider—and to discuss with your family—is methods of lowering your household expenses.
This will look different for everyone, but the gist of it is that you’ll want to make sacrifices anywhere you can afford to penny-pinch. Consider cutting the cable, opting for public transit over a car commute, or shopping for groceries in bulk.
Note that the point here isn’t to make yourself miserable! If public transport would add an hour more to your commute each way, or if watching your favorite cable shows is how your family spends time together, you may decide to keep paying for these things—and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Where you can, automate your expenses as part of your routine.
Set up automatic transfers to pay bills and utilities without thinking about it, or send automatic payments toward a loan or emergency fund each month. Buy your non-perishable groceries on a specific day of the week, and don’t shop for them outside of this date. Knowing when your money will be spent can help you stick to the plan as a point of habit, rather than having to worry about purchases all the time.
In theory, we all love the idea of budgeting. In practice, it’s much harder—especially when we’re tempted by extra purchases.
A successful budget takes willpower, and it’s not unlike sticking to a diet. You’ll need to keep your eyes on the prize, making incremental efforts over time. But the results of your determination can be huge and even life-changing, so stick to the plan you’ve outlined.
Spending money more intentionally can actually offer peace of mind in the long run. After all, when every dollar is accounted for, you can spend extra money without feeling guilty. Make the most of your finances by following these budgeting tips for a realistic strategy that works every time, as long as you stay committed.
If you’re working hard to organize your finances, don’t hesitate to check out our financial literacy resources for more guides to make the most of your money.
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