7 Ways to Budget Better
There’s no doubt about it: managing your finances can be hard. After all, you have to set a budget, keep track of your income and expenses, and manage your cash flow. Even accountants can make mistakes when budgeting!
To top it off, there’s an emotional side to budgeting that makes it tough. A lot of people equate budgeting with dieting: they associate it with scarcity and deprivation. As soon as they set a budget, they notice all the things they “can’t” or “shouldn’t” buy, even more. Then, when they slip up and over-spend, they beat themselves up for the littlest mistake.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! You can budget better—you just need to change your approach, and your mindset.
Here are my best tips for budgeting better, with less stress. Use these tips to make a realistic budget that works for you to achieve your long-term goals!
#1 Adjust Your Budgeting Mindset
Before you even start to set a budget, it’s important to look at it in a positive way. No one wants to do something they dread, right? Try to frame budgeting as a spending and financial goal plan instead of accounting homework.
Remind yourself along the way that, when you succeed at budgeting, you achieve your financial goals—things like building up your emergency fund, saving for retirement, and even taking a special trip with your partner or family.
Also remember that budgeting is a process! It’s not a one-and-done task. You might make mistakes, and yes, that’s frustrating. But don’t beat yourself up if you fail. Just look at where you got off track and adjust to get back on track. Try to recognize what caused that situation in the first place. Was it preventable, or was it completely unavoidable? Some things you can’t prevent or anticipate (i.e. the refrigerator breaking down). It happens! Better to cut yourself some slack, and get back on the budgeting horse, than give up in despair.
#2 Use Budgeting Worksheets for a Birds-Eye View
Whatever you use, your budget has to live somewhere other than your head. No one (not even Rain Man) can possibly remember the date of every bill and their exact checking account balance off the top of their head.
That’s where a budgeting worksheet, like one of these free printable budget worksheets, comes in. On this worksheet, you can get a helpful high-level view of your budget. What’s your income? What are your major expenses? When are those major expenses due? And how do these things compare? Budget worksheets give a quick snapshot of how you are doing and are great for comparing month-to-month results.
#3 Drill Down with a Budget Binder
Okay, so you have an overview of your income and spending with a budget worksheet. When you’re ready to drill down into the nitty-gritty of your spending and financial goals, it’s time to break out the budget binder.
Use a free printable budget binder like this to get a more comprehensive look at your finances. The sheets in this budget binder allow you to be more specific with your financial goals, document your spending, and analyze your results.
#4 Be Realistic with Your Budget
Don’t set yourself up for failure with an unrealistic budget. It’s so important that your budget be doable—not punishing! You might be tempted to make up for lost time, for example—but if you can’t keep it up in the long run, it’s just not going to work. You’ll get burnt out, you’ll resent your budget, and you might even blow it.
Instead, be realistic with your budget. Be strict enough that you can achieve your financial goals in a reasonable time frame, but not so strict that you end up miserable. It might take some tinkering to find the balance here, and that’s ok!
#5 Keep Track of Your Cash
Cash flow might just be the trickiest part of budgeting. Yes, you have your income and expenses—but will you have enough in your account on the day before payday to cover that bill that’s due?
To do this, record all your revenue and expenses, including the dates they typically happen. (For example, you get paid on the 1st and 15th, and your cable bill comes due every 6th of the month.) You can do this with pen and paper or electronically.
This may be a laborious task, but it’s essential. You need to do this to understand your cash flow and also to see where (if any) wasteful spending is taking place (so you can adjust). You may be surprised at what you discover!
#6 Review Your Spending Habits
Managing your family finances is a two-part task: setting a budget is the first part and reviewing whether you kept it is the second part.
Analyzing the results of your budget is just as important as documenting it. Did everything go okay? Did you forget a line item (like birthday gifts)? Did you overspend a little, or a lot? Why do you think that happened? And do you need to make any changes to make your budget more realistic, or to achieve your financial goals?
Doing this step will help you learn from your actions, and, most importantly, keep up with your budget in the long run.
#7 Separate Needs from Wants
Knowing what you really need, versus what you simply want, is key—especially if, after reviewing your spending habits, you find you need to cut back somewhere.
When doing this, be completely honest with yourself. What do you truly need? What do you want? And then, what do you want from most to least? This will help you determine your budgeting priorities. Maybe you need to cut back your spending, and you realize you would hate to go out to dinner less often, but you wouldn’t mind spending less on clothes. Maybe you could start using coupons on everyday items. Or you find you don’t actually need cable and could get by with Netflix.
Prioritizing your budget this way makes your budget easier to follow—and you happier, as well.
I hope these tips are helpful! Feel free to share in the comments below—do you have any other budgeting suggestions that you find useful?