5 Principles for Budgets that Actually Work

Most people have a love-hate relationship with budgets. It’s like discipling your children: no parent wants to do it, no kid wants to receive it, but the child will be better for it in the long run. The same is true for creating and sticking to a budget: no one wants to make one, sticking to one takes a lot of work and self discipline, but the benefits you reap from having one is so beneficial in the long run.

If you have a hard time creating a budget or sticking to it, here are five principles for budgets that actually work. And I know this because I have been doing them almost every month for the last ten years.

Want a successful budget? Here are 5 principles for budgets that ACTUALLY WORK. And how to implement them in your life!

Here are a few principles for budgeting to help you keep and (more importantly) maintain a budget:

1. Be Honest about Your Spending Habits

The first step is to be honest with yourself on what you spend so you can create a budget. People who succeed in budgeting know what they spend their money on and know where every dollar goes.

If you’re just starting out, I challenge you to write down every single thing that you spend down on paper for one week. I mean everything. The groceries you bought. The quick errand to Ulta for foundation. The gum you put in your cart at the end of your trip to Target. The $5 drinks you spent in the Starbucks drive thru. Write it all down in your notes app or in a journal. It will get you thinking about your everyday purchases and start the process of making a budget.

2. Be Realistic 

A lot of times when we start to create a budget we get really strict and try to solve all of our financial problems by setting a goal to save 50% or pay down debt as fast as possible. But is it really feasible to save 50% of your paycheck? For most of us, probably not. Be sure to create a realistic budget that accounts for your lifestyle and attainable goals. This can be especially challenging when you’re first starting out and it may seem like it will take longer, but being realistic with what to allocate will help you maintain the course in the long run and prevent burn out.

3. Make a New Budget EVERY MONTH

In the ten years that I have had a budget, I have never had two exact months the same. And therefore, I’ve never had the same budget! Some months I have birthday gifts I have to buy, or trips to go on, or dental expenses to take care of. Other months we have friends in town so our grocery budget is higher than normal, and the next month we may be out of town every other weekend so our dining out budget is higher.

Because no two months are the same, look at your calendar, adjust your budget on a monthly basis and alter it where necessary. We don’t change our budget drastically each month, but there are always little categories that usually change. For example, in August I attended three baby showers! That’s not the norm, so we had to adjust how we were going to pay for gifts.

4. Check Your Bank Account on a Regular Basis

Part of keeping a budget is knowing whether or not you’re within it. That means you need to check your online bank account or credit cards on a regular basis. I would even recommend checking it on a daily basis, especially if you are starting your budget from scratch for the first time. I check mine every few days, just to be sure everything is processed on a daily basis. You can create a budget online through budgeting tools like Mint.com, EveryDollar.com or YouNeedaBudget.com make it easy to pull in all of your online transactions.

5.  Be Flexible and Okay with Change

Don’t be discouraged if your budget fails the first month. It probably will, and that’s totally normal. When you first start managing your money, believe me, it’s really hard! You have to kind of do a trial and error to figure out which budget buckets to increase/decrease and which ones need to be altered.

It took me about three months to adjust to my budget at first. And with each job I’ve gotten, it takes a couple of months to figure that out as well. When J and I first got married, our joint budget definitely needed some tweaking over time. So if you fail at first, don’t be discouraged! That’s normal! The habit of a good budgeter is to continue

When did you first create your budget? How long did it take for it to start to work?

PS – Read more about how to create a budget and how to determine your net worth.

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