Five Ways to Stick to a Budget

It’s hard to argue with the importance of budgeting your expenses – after all, keeping a budget is right up there with having an income when it comes to being financially solvent. While breaking your expenses down by the week, month or year requires discipline and planning, committing to your budget is where the real work comes in. Worried you can’t hack it? Here are five ways to stick to a budget, no matter how strict it may be.

  1. Beware of plastic. Less and less people carry cash anymore, but beware of plastic – credit cards have a reputation for blowing budgets. According to an oft-cited study by Dun & Bradstreet, people spend 12-18 percent more when using credit cards instead of cash. One solution is not to keep credit cards in your wallet, or near any of your personal devices with an internet connection. A less drastic option is to get in the habit of using pre-paid debit cards. Figure out how much money you have set aside for a month’s supply of groceries or gas, and load that exact amount onto a pre-paid debit card. This way you’ll only spend the amount you’ve budgeted for these types of purchases until the end of the month.
  2. Review your budget – and your spending – at least once a week. At the start of each month, create a monthly budget planner. At least once a week, update it to see how well you’re sticking to your goals for the month. By staying focused on whatever your budgeting goals are (e.g., getting out of debt, an extended vacation, a new computer), you’ll improve your chances of staying the course. Keep detailed records of what you spend on a daily basis, and review them regularly. This way you’ll be less likely to blow your budget on impulse buys. Plus, you’ll know exactly how much you CAN spend in the event that you actually need to make a major purchase.
  3. Make a grocery list, and check it twice. Groceries are right up there with shelter when it comes to our most essential expenses. To stay on budget and resist overspending, plan your meals ahead of time and make a detailed list of the ingredients you need BEFORE you hit the grocery store. Also, consider buying enough food to pack your lunch every day instead of going out or ordering in. It’s an easy way to save hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars each year. Most grocery stores offer coupons online, in the mail, or with your printed receipt. Use them. Finally, remember what your mother told you: Never go to the grocery store hungry!
  4. Don’t upgrade (unless you absolutely have to). Companies like Apple are famous for upgrading their top-selling devices every few months and pushing them on you – usually with the implicit (and occasionally explicit) message that the version you have is obsolete. But don’t fall for the vicious technology upgrade cycle. Unless physical damage has occurred, most smartphones, laptops and tablets should last you several years – their performance is all in the software you’re running. And speaking of software, do you really need to have the very latest operating system or version of Microsoft Office? In most cases, probably not.
  5. Sleep on it. Feeling the urge to splurge? Keep yourself in check – and on budget – by sleeping on it. Giving yourself a night (or two) to think about a major purchase will prevent impulse buys, and provide you with enough time to shop around for the best price you can get should you decide to buy it. Here’s another way to protect yourself: Think about purchases in terms of how many hours or days of work they’re costing you rather than dollars. This will force you to take an honest look at how much you really want or need whatever it is that’s threatening to derail your budget.

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