I always tell myself that I'm going to find ways to stick to a budget. Then a day later I'm invited to a movie, or I really want a burrito and drinks, or I simply need a fancy coffee. Before I know it, it's the end of the month and I'm totally broke.
If that sounds familiar, then you know how annoying a budget (or lack therefore) can be. I mean, we can probably agree that those little purchases don't seem like a big deal. In fact, I often convince myself I'm being frugal because I don't buy a fancy coffee every day. And yet lots of little one-time indulgences have a way of adding up really fast.
That's why sticking to a budget means being aware of how quickly money can trickle away, and then doing something about it. Don't worry — it doesn't mean you can't have fun, or eat out, or go to a movie ever again. It just means paying attention to where and how often you whip out your wallet, and then making the conscious decision to stop.
If you can be frugal (and I mean, actually frugal) then you'll start making it to the end of the month with money to spare. You can even set up a savings account, and start being a grown ass adult who can buy fancy coffees without falling into ruin. If that sounds exciting, then check out these tips for sticking to a budget, saving money, and being a bit more financially responsible.
1. Create An Annual Budget
First things first — you have to create a budget. This will require sitting down to figure out how much you make each year, and how much you spend on bills. According to Kimberly Palmer on Money.USNews.com, "Most people spend about two-thirds of their income on three essentials: food, housing, and transportation." Figure that out, and then you'll know exactly how much should be left over for things like savings, travel, and entertainment. Decide how much you'd like to set aside for each category, and then plan on sticking to it.
2. Write Down Everything Thing You Buy
And I mean everything. I did this last summer with a little notebook. I jotted down all my expenses from little packs of gum, to my big monthly bills — everything. I recommend giving it a try for at least a two-week period. As Palmer noted, "Keeping track of every expenditure over a two-week period can offer insight into unnecessary wastes, from restaurant meals to cab rides." It's shocking, and quite eye-opening, to see how quickly things add up.
3. Track Your Spending With An App
You can also get an app that tracks your budget, such as Pennies or Mint. These make it possible to see what you're spending in real time. It's a handy thing for those of us whose money seems to mysteriously disappear as the month goes on.
4. Give Yourself An Allowance
Decide how much money are are willing to spend each week on things like gas and food, and then carry that amount in cash form. As Joel Falconer said on Lifehack.org, "Take money out of your account and use real cash from a real wallet to pay for your daily expenses. When you run out of bills, you run out of money to spend." It's as simple as that.
5. Leave Your Credit Card At Home
Credit cards make it really easy to overspend since you can't see the money trickling away like you can with actual cash. Before you know it, you've wracked up quite a bill with little things like coffees, lunches, and even unexpected splurges. So do yourself a favor and leave your card at home when you venture out into the world, and instead save it for well-thought-out purchases.
6. Stick To Your Grocery List No Matter What
Grocery shopping is an incredibly easy way to blow your budget, especially if you shop while hungry, or decide to be adventurous with new ingredients you'll never use. But if you're sticking to a budget, this is not the time for either of those things. As Falconer suggested "Stick to your grocery lists — compile them based on an itemized overview of your household needs and never stray too far from it."
7. Hit Up Thrift Stores More Often
It gives me a headache when I think how much money I've spent over the years on dresses, shoes, and even things for my apartment when they can all be found at a thrift store for next to nothing. Why anyone shops in a mall is completely beyond me, especially when it's possible to pick up good (and sometimes better) items for a tenth of the price. Of course it may take a little digging to find what you're looking for, but it's totally worth it if you want to save money.
8. Make Household Supplies For Free At Home
If you're used to hitting up the drugstore for everything and anything, then this one may take a little getting used to. But consider whipping up some items at home, such as household cleaners. As Judy Lawrence noted on MoneyTracker.com, "Whether you use homemade products for the home or personal entertainment, both can create some extra room in your budget." And yes, making things at home can be kinda fun.
9. Have Multiple Bank Accounts
Splitting up your dough into multiple accounts can make life so much easier, as well as prevent you from "accidentally" spending it all. According to Whitson Gordon on Lifehacker.com, "For example, have a savings account for your savings, one checking account for fixed expenses, and a second checking account for your spending money (which includes anything from groceries to "fun"). That way, you only 'see' the money that you can spend, without having to think about what's coming up next."
10. Resist Going Nuts At Restaurants
If you're constantly grabbing food on the go for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, your bank account is obviously going to dry up quickly. Make it a point to eat breakfast before you leave for work, be sure to bring a packed lunch with you, and promise that you'll cook more often at home. It may not be as fun, but your hard-earned money will stick around longer, and that makes it worth it.
11. Get Your Beverages At Home
Think about how often you grab a bottle of water from the drugstore, or hit up Starbucks for a latte. These beverages are totally overpriced, so it really doesn't make sense to buy them every single day when you can get them for basically free at home. Of course you can have the occasional treat, but it's way better to brew your own coffee at home, and fill up a reusable water bottle before you leave for the day. Your budget will thank you.
12. Stop All Your Wasting
We're all pretty wasteful when it comes to leaving on lights, and tossing out toothpaste tubes before they're totally empty. Start being a bit more stingy with such things, all in the name of your budget. As Falconer said, "Use every last scrap of every last thing you purchase ... Don’t leave taps running, don’t throw out the quarter of a plate of dinner you didn’t eat." I'm not saying you have to go full-on cheapskate with these things. Simply be more aware of how much you can milk your finances.
After all, you work very hard for your money, so it'd be a shame to blow it all on unnecessary purchases, wastefulness, and other totally preventable things. Sticking to a budget is as easy as being aware of your little bad habits, and then reigning them in until your finances are back in check. Do this, and you'll be rolling in dough before you know it.
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