How to Stick to a Budget: 6 Fixes for Common Problems

March 14, 2019

Determined to stick to your money goals? Having a budget is your first line of defense. A good budgeting plan can help you set your priorities, manage your debts, and focus your money where it matters most.

There are six major obstacles that budgeters routinely face when trying to plan for their financial future. Ready to troubleshoot your pain points? If you’re struggling to figure out how to stick to a budget, we’ve broken down the easiest ways to jump those hurdles and stay on track.

Problem #1: You don’t have a budget.

Getting started is the hardest part. We get it. If you’ve been putting off actually making your plan, you’re not alone. Maybe you’re unmotivated because you think it’s too difficult a task. Maybe you’re convinced that a budget needs to be super detailed and complex. Or maybe you just don’t know where to start. Whatever the reason, here are some ways to solve for it.

Solution: Make it simple.

There’s no such thing as a perfect budget. The fact is: any budget is better than no budget at all. Not to mention, it’s easier than you think to create a budget specifically tailored to your situation. Don’t want to start from scratch? Grab a done-for-you budgeting worksheet created by financial experts. (Try one of these easy budget templates from the makers of Mint.)

Problem #2: You can’t remember your budget.

So, you created a budget…and then you dropped it in a drawer. Now, when you’re shopping, you can’t remember how much you allocated for groceries or entertainment which leads right to overspending.

Solution: Put it front and center.

Unless you plan to memorize your entire budget, take it with you wherever you go. Keep a printout in your wallet or store it on your phone. Having it in your pocket will be a subtle reminder to pause before spending. At first it might feel restrictive to consult your budget before spending. But it’s a lot smarter than realizing there’s not enough money in your bank account to cover your bills at the end of the month.

Problem #3: Your budget doesn’t work with your life.

Are you finding your budget doesn’t have enough money allocated to the areas where you seem to need it most? Are you feeling completely deprived? If you’ve tried sticking to a budget and are ready to fall off the budgeting wagon, it probably means you created a budget that doesn’t fit your lifestyle.

Solution: Make it realistic.

Your budget needs to be tailored to your life, or you’ll never be able to stick with it. If that’s not the case at the moment, there’s no time like the present to tweak your plan accordingly.

Did you allocate only $50 a week to feed your family of four? Did you overestimate your ability to go cold turkey on your caffeine addiction by eliminating your entire coffee budget? If so, it’s time to rework the numbers. Alternatively, you might have had a budget that used to work, but your habits changed and now it doesn’t.

Give yourself some time for trial and error to get your budget working for you again. And making adjustments along the way is totally okay. It helps to do a quick review every few months or so to ensure your plan still aligns with the way you’re actually living your life.

Problem #4: You’re addicted to plastic.

Credit cards can make money seem unlimited. It’s easy to swipe your card, easy to enjoy a purchase, and easy to forget about the cost until the bill comes. Whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or an online shopping spree, credit cards can be an absolute killer when it comes to sticking to a budget.

Solution: Switch to all-cash.

If you’re a self-admitted cardaholic, give the envelope method a try. It’s a super-simple system where you designate one envelope for each spending category in your life—food, clothes, gas, entertainment, etc. Then you stuff each envelope with cash equal to the amount you’ve budgeted for that category. It’s simple: You can’t spend what you don’t have in your envelope.
What if you need a credit card to pay an unexpected bill or purchase an airline ticket? Just transfer the amount you’ve budgeted to a card that’s linked directly to cash. Try a debit card that’s connected to your checking account or a prepaid card.

Problem #5: You’re an impulse spender.

Even if you stick with all-cash spending, there’s no guarantee you won’t spend it too quickly. That can leave you with next to nothing to get you through the month.

Solution: Plan purchases in advance.

Grabbing the nearest take-out whenever it’s time to eat? Instead, get real serious about meal planning, so you always have at your fingertips the ingredients you need to make a simple, cost-effective breakfast, lunch, or dinner. (Rosemarie Groner, founder of The Busy Budgeter, offers a brilliant, step-by-step approach to meal planning.)

What if you can’t resist online shopping? Put the item in your cart—then wait at least 72 hours. You will likely change your mind about making the purchase. Maybe you will realize the cost isn’t worth the hit to your budget. Or, you don’t like those pants anymore. Sometimes, you’ll just forget about wanting the item altogether.

Problem #6: You feel isolated.

Plenty of Americans live on a budget, but most people don’t talk openly about money. Many people on a budget feel that they’re struggling on their own without any help or encouragement. That’s not a good feeling.

Solution: Find a budgeting community.

A finance-focused friend or, even better, an online budgeting club like And Then We Saved—Where Saving Doesn’t Suck can be a crucial step toward mastering your budget and your money. Others with a budgeting mindset will share what’s worked for them, let you see their missteps, lift you up, and gently hold you accountable when you aren’t doing your best. Finding others who are in the same boat can be a lifesaver—especially when in-person get-togethers aren’t an option.

Sticking with your budget is not too difficult once you put your mind to it. And by keeping these tips in mind, you’ll side-step some of the biggest obstacles.

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