I hate budgets. Can I say that as a CFP®? I’m a save first and spend whatever is left person (even if that means needing to take the subway for a week instead of Ubering and driving to avoid paying for parking when my monthly spending is high). Rather than trying to stick to strict spending categories, that’s what works for me – getting the money out of site (and into an investment account) and then not feeling guilty about what’s left. If you’re struggling with savings and in a love-hate relationship with budgeting, here are some tips and tricks to try while you’re figuring out what works best for you:
- Track your spending – This may seem obvious, but keeping track of all your purchases and where your money is going can be overwhelming. Set up a time at least once a week for you to evaluate your spending and see where you stand with your budget. If you find that you’re someone who makes frequent purchases using multiple cards, having an app like Mint can be helpful for tracking your spending. Either way, make sure you’re keeping track of where the money is going and make adjustments along the way so you don’t get to the end of the month to realize you were way over budget.
- Set up automatic drafting for your savings accounts – If you’re having a hard time saving, this is a great option. Set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings/investment/retirement accounts on the day you get paid. That way, you will be automatically saving money without having to think about it. Plus, if you transfer the money as soon as you get paid, you’ll never see it in your bank account and therefore you won’t feel like you can’t afford it. Pay yourself first, people!
- Ditch the credit card – This is one is particularly helpful for people who either (a) have a tendency to spend [way] over budget or (b) have credit card debt. If you are using a credit card to live above your means, you are just going to accumulate debt and end up paying way more interest in the long run. Credit cards do offer benefits like building good credit and rewards, but unless you are paying off your bill in full each month or are good at sticking to your budget, they might not be the best choice. I suggest using your debit card primarily for at least a month; at the very least it will give you a better idea of your spending habits.
- Don’t be afraid to say no – While you may justify going out to dinner and drinks every night by saying you’re only young once, it may not be worth the hit to your wallet. I’m not advising you to stay in every night and never see your friends. But, if you’re running low on funds, instead of throwing your budget out the window, learning to graciously decline a social invitation can help save you from going over budget again this month. For those of you with extreme FOMO, try coming up with cheaper alternatives to your usual social outings. Invite someone over to your place for dinner instead of going out. Or even better, bring a 6 pack or a bottle of wine to a friend’s house and hang out without having to shout over other people. You just might like it better!
- Plan your meals – This one has saved me money at the grocery store, big time. You go to the grocery store knowing exactly what you need and you get JUST THAT. No running back in the middle of the week for the ingredient you forgot, or ordering takeout at the last minute because you didn’t have anything to eat when you got home and you’re way too tired to go to the store AND make something. Meal planning = no excuses. While the task of sitting down and planning your meals for the week may seem like a daunting task, it actually doesn’t take very long at all, and it’s well worth it in the long run.
These are some of my favorite tips for sticking to a budget. What helps you stick to yours?