The 2 Biggest Budgeting Lessons to Make Your Budget Stick – After 2 of the biggest epic fails in budgeting EVER, I can tell you the only 2 lessons that you need to know to make your budget work for good.
Let’s talk real quick about the “b” word… budgeting. And about the time that I epically failed at it… ok, the two times I epically failed at it. Yes, even an extreme cheapskate can fail at budgeting!
I bounced from one extreme of budgeting (where my budget was WAY out of line with my income) to another (where my budget was too tight it didn’t allow for any mistakes), and both of them failed, crashed, and burned up on impact.
I used to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants budgeter; where I knew kinda what should get spent on things, but never exactly made a plan for it.
It worked out really well when it was just me spending the money. Enter: my husband, the fastest spender in the west (or east or anywhere on the earth).
Just like that, we were out of money… and I had no idea where it went. It was just gone!
So I finally decided that I needed to make a budget. I sat down with my cute little piece of printer paper and started writing down how much I thought I should be spending.
These were just ridiculous numbers for 2 people. Like $500 on groceries, $200 on date nights, $200 for entertainment, $900 for housing, $400 for car expenses, $200 each for miscellaneous spending, and $500 for all other bills. It was all fine… in theory.
Here’s where my FIRST stupid fail came in: I never actually accounted for what we made!
We made less than $2,000/month between the two of us at the time! With my “budget” in place, we would have been spending $1,100 (or more!) each month more than we were making!
Wait… you mean I actually need to look at my bank statements to get a real idea of my spending?!
Yup. That’s exactly what it meant.
All I can say is OW. I wrote down each and every expense that had occurred. Each “small” expense for a cup of coffee before work or a burger from the Dollar Menu kept adding up until I realized that it was these “little” expense that were killing us.
I showed my husband the (literal, and I’m not exaggerating here) hundreds of little expenses we were making each month that were slowly but surely draining our bank account.
Enough was enough and I put my foot down. NO MORE SPENDING. I declared as I stomped my feet.
I made an air-tight budget that allowed for no wiggle room at all. $742 for rent, $95 to electric, $73 to gas, $186 to a car payment, $250 for groceries, $50 for date nights, $100 for gas for the car, $26 for water/sewer/trash… everything was in a neat place. And everything added up perfectly so that out incomes were completely allotted to each category. Not a penny was left out of place.
Except for one thing I didn’t count on… that one can only be so constrained by your budget for so long before you lose it and go on a shopping spree! We were all work and no play for so long that we just lost it.
Budgeting is a lot like being on a diet.
If you’re too restrictive and don’t have a specific goal in mind as to why you want to be on a diet, you hit a point where you’re sick of not eating chocolate or carbs or salt, and then you find yourself at Dunkin Donuts with a dozen donuts and 2 milkshakes with a pizza being delivered any minute.
The same can be said for budgeting (and I learned that from my SECOND epic fail first-hand): if you don’t have a clear goal set for your money and are just restricting yourself for the sake of restricting yourself, you’re setting yourself up for an epic Amazon shopping spree.
So what did I learn from my pathetically disconnected and unrealistic attempts at budgeting? Here are the 2 budgeting lessons to make your budget stick.
1. Set measurable goals!
I’m a HUGE fan of goal setting. And the more specific your goals are, the more likely you are to stick to them and make them happen!
Let’s say that your goal is to get out of debt. That’s a great goal! But let’s make it more specific: say “I want to get out of debt by the end of the year.” Now we have a goal we can work with!
From here, we can divide your overall debt by 12 and see how much you need to pay off each month to make your goal happen. You’re much more likely to stick to the smaller goals of needing to pay off $300 each month for 12 months than you are to simply keep saying that you “want to pay off debt” but don’t really know where to go from there.
2. Budget for FUN!
This was my second mistake: I left out planning for some fun with our money!
We had been so used to doing basically whatever we wanted to that when we stopped spending altogether, it felt constricting and punishing. There was no room for rewarding our diligent and intentional spending.
When we finally cracked, we cracked HARD.
From then on, I always made sure to budget for fun. Even if it’s just enough to get dinner (with a coupon!) once a month or even just a special cup of coffee once a week, it’s enough of a reward to be meaningful but not enough to be detrimental to a budget.
Bonus lesson learned:
There is no real “failing” when it comes to budgeting. You only fail when you stop trying!
I’m pretty sure I’ve made 300 different versions of out budget before we actually found the one that works for us. And it always needs to change throughout the year and when new phases of life happen.
If something isn’t working in your budget, don’t be afraid to start over again! You didn’t fail; that just wasn’t the right budget for you right now.
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