How To Budget In A Way That Doesn’t Feel Stressful In 2019, According To Money Experts

by Natalia Lusinski
Studio Firma/Stocksy

Budgeting may not be at the top of your to-do list, but with a little forethought before you make purchases — especially impulse ones — you can save more money than you ever imagined instead of spending money with no plan in place. And, believe it or not, managing your money doesn’t have to be anxiety-provoking; there are plenty of stress-free ways to budget.

“First things first, make a commitment to creating a budget,” Beverly Anderson, head of Wells Fargo Cards & Retail Services, tells Bustle. “The first step is actually getting a handle on how much comes in and how much goes out.” She says to list out your monthly hard costs (the costs you have to spend money on: rent, utilities, phone, insurance, car/transportation, food, etc.) and then try to estimate other discretionary costs (from one-time expenses, such as gifts, classes, clothing, travel, and other expenses).

Although the whole process may seem intimidating to you, once you start budgeting, you’ll get more into it and you’ll start to see where you’ve been overspending. Then, you can put all the money you were spending on café lattes into a high-yield savings account instead, for example. Below, money experts share ways to budget that don’t feel stressful. The more tips, the more you can master budgeting once and for all.


Visualize What You’ll Do With The Extra Money You’ll Save

To make budgeting less stressful, it helps to think of what you’ll do with the increased amount of money you’ll start saving. “Begin by visualizing your end result, such as less debt, more savings, or a more enjoyable goal (i.e., a dream vacation),” personal finance expert Janet Alvarez of Wise Bread, a financial advice website, tells Bustle. “Doing so removes the focus from cutting expenses to the positive results of budgeting.”

Jennifer McDermott, finder’s consumer advocate, agrees. “It’s much easier to stick to a budget when you have a clear goal in mind to motivate you,” she tells Bustle. “[H]aving something specific you are working toward keeps your mind on that goal rather than the sacrifices of budgeting.”


Keep A Spending Log

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Anderson says it’s important to monitor your spending, and to do so in whatever way is best for you, whether it’s writing down expenses by hand or into an app. “Choose whichever one you feel more comfortable with and start to keep track of where your money goes,” she says. “The truth is, most people grossly underestimate the amount of money they spend each month.” She says that by keeping a daily log of everything you spend money on, it could surprise you how much you’re spending.


Treat Your Savings As An Expense

Just as you probably automate your bills, automate your savings, too. Doyle Williams, executive vice president at COUNTRY Financial, suggests treating your savings as an expense, too. “Each month, you have all these expenses — housing, food, utilities, debt, entertainment, etc. — and at the very end of the line … is you,” he tells Bustle. “Saving money is a way to move yourself to the FRONT of the line.”

He says to pay yourself first — before the cable bill, before the cell phone bill, and ask yourself: Aren’t you worth more than any of those? “Budget for how much you would like to save each month, and consider it a monthly expense,” Williams says. “The money can often be pulled straight out of your paycheck or swept from your checking account, so it’s gone before you get a chance to spend it.”


Automate Your Budgeting, If Possible

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If possible, automate your budgeting, Alvarez says. “Apps such as Mint can send alerts whenever you’re approaching budget limits,” she says. “Others, like Acorns, can also automate savings.” She says that by making budgeting a natural part of your daily activities by automating as much as possible, it will naturally reduce stress associated with controlling your spending.


Keep It Simple

Any kind of budgeting is better than no kind, and if budgeting apps and spreadsheets are too overwhelming, McDermott says to keep it simple. “Create a basic template that outlines your incomings, outgoings, and fixed expenses — and give a little room for unexpected emergencies,” she says. “Break it down into a few simple categories since overcomplicating tends to deter us from being consistent.”


Trim Less Important Costs First

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You may hear “spend less, save more” as a secret to financial success, and it’s true. Alvarez suggests first eliminating costs from budget areas that are less important to you. “For example, I love to eat out, but care less about shopping or having cable, so the latter two are natural areas to cut,” she says. “To minimize stress, set your priorities and budget based upon these less important budget areas.”

Williams agrees that cutting some of your bills is an easy way to reduce financial stress and a way to budget better. Ask yourself: Do you really need those extra sports channels? Cable TV? Daily latte? “Think about what you pay for each month, and consider what you can cut out,” he tells Bustle. “Finding ways to cut $20-40 each week can really go a long way if you invest it instead.”


Start Small

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To make budgeting simpler, starting out small can help make it more seamless. “Pick one area of your financial life to budget for and start there,” Keri Danielski, consumer finance expert at Intuit Turbo and Mint, tells Bustle. “For example, taking lunch to work versus dining out could save you upwards of $45 every week.” Instead, you can pocket that money and put it toward your financial goals. Better yet, instead of handing over $15 for a take-out lunch, you can automatically put that money into a savings account through a money-saving app.


Use The Best Credit Card(s) For You

These days, there are so many different credit cards out there, all with different perks — some have annual fees, some give you cash back, and so on. So, you need to see which ones work best for your lifestyle.

“Finding and using the right credit card(s) can help you throughout the year,” Anderson says. “Your credit card needs to fit your lifestyle, personal preferences, and spending habits.” She adds that many consumers are seeing the benefits of credit cards that offer rich rewards on their spending. “Consider how and where you spend money, and then choose the card that is the right fit for you,” she says.


Pay Off Some Credit Card Debt

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The average U.S. household has nearly $7,000 in credit card debt (revolving balances and balances that carry over from one month to another). “Pay off some credit card debt and always pay more than the minimum if you can,” Williams says.


Take Care Of Your Belongings

Williams says taking care of your belongings consistently can help you spend extraneous money down the line. “From basic car maintenance to preventing frozen pipes, routine upkeep saves you money in the long run by helping prevent disasters,” he says.


Only Use Cash When Spending Money

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If you are addicted to using your debit or credit cards, using cash only may sound tough, but it’s a great way to teach yourself monetary discipline — as well as see where your money is going. “Physically setting aside a specific amount of cash to spend on items — such as food or going out — will help you avoid overspending when the cash runs out,” McDermott says.


Reward Yourself For Budgeting Well

Like any challenge you make, it’s also good to set up rewards for yourself. “Budgets help you manage your money to reach your financial goals, but they shouldn’t all be sacrifice,” McDermott says. “Setting aside cash each month to do something you enjoy will make you less likely to splurge on unnecessary costs in the long run.”


Invest In Your Health

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Williams says that investing in your health now is a way to save money down the line. “Your health is your most important investment and healthcare costs are continuing to rise,” he says. “Investing in better health can fatten your pocketbook: Longevity, fewer medical bills, and increased energy are the returns.”


Be Creative When It Comes To Spending And Saving Money

Whenever you’re tempted to spend money, get creative instead. “Budgets aren’t about sacrifice; they are about making smart financial choices,” Danielski says. “Whether it’s shopping for clothes or groceries, there are a million creative ways to save money while keeping your lifestyle and budget in check.” For example, she says to turn your eye toward generic brands versus designer labels or have a clothing swap with your friends.


Do A Monthly Check-In

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Unless you are analyzing your bank and credit card expenses each month, you may be overspending on certain things without even realizing it. Anderson suggests doing a monthly check-in. “Choose one day a month where you check your bank accounts and credit cards for fraud, your available balances, and your spending,” she says. “See if there are any areas that you can cut back on or change next month.”

Danielski, too, says it’s important to do check-ins with yourself — and your budget. “I suggest checking in at least once a week as you’re getting started — and then look to visit your budget at least once a month," she says. It will keep you on track and allow you to adjust your budget throughout the year.

As you can see, there are plenty of stress-free ways to budget. And, with 2019 here, now’s the perfect time to start implementing new strategies.