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How to Create a Budget You Can Stick to

So, you want to start budgeting, or you want to budget better than you ever have before. You don’t want random numbers on a spreadsheet—you want a plan for your spending that you can actually stick to so you can take control of your money for real.

The word budget often gets a bum rap. People worry it’ll be like putting a straitjacket on their spending. But budgeting doesn’t tell you not to spend. It gives you the power to spend the right way—to show your money who’s boss.

The Benefits of Budgeting

When you know where your money’s going, you can crush your money goals faster. With a budget, you won’t have thoughts like, Why can’t I pay my freaking bills every month? I make too much to be this broke.

A budget is simply a plan for your income and expenses. So you’ll be on top of what you make and what you spend. And if you find out you’re spending more than you make, you can adjust your spending to stop doing that.

You can make a change—you just have to know where to start. You can take control of your money—you just need a budget!

How to Set Up Your Monthly Budget

Setting up your budget every month is as easy as 1, 2, 3 . . . 4. Here’s how:

1. Add your income.

A budget starts with your income. All of it. Like we said before, that means your normal paychecks and any extra income that may come your way through a side hustle, garage sale, freelance work, child support, and the like.    

2. List your expenses.

Next, list out your expenses. Start with the essentials (what we call the Four Walls): food, utilities, shelter and transportation. Then, add in the nonessentials like TV streaming services, restaurants, adult kickball league fees, subscription boxes, personal spending, and such.

3. Budget to zero.

This means you need to use the zero-based budgeting method we talked about earlier. If you still have money left over after you list all your expenses—chuck it at your current Baby Step! Boom.

And if you have negative money left over—that means you’ve spent too much. Adjust your budget lines and take some money out of all those nonessential categories until you get to zero.

4. Track your expenses.

This last step is key: Track. Every. Expense. When you spend money, log that purchase into the correct budget line. This is how you’ll keep an eye on everything. Budgeting is how you plan. Tracking is how you keep up with the plan.

How to Stick to Your Budget

There are tons of tips and tricks to sticking to your budget every month. But following “tons” is hard. So we narrowed it down to eight of the best:

1. Keep it real.

Have you ever made a goal that was totally setting you up for failure? Like saying you’ll read ten books a month when you barely have any free time. Or promising to run ten miles a day all year when you’ve never run a meter. If you want to succeed, you have to push yourself—but you also have to be realistic.

The same is true with your budget. Push yourself to spend better and save more—but be realistic when you set up every single budget line. Saying you won’t buy any new clothes all year might not be realistic if your winter coat is falling apart. But you can have a month-long challenge to skip restaurant spending and put that money toward your current money goal instead.

When you keep it real, you can really win. 

2. Set up auto draft.

Set up automatic bank drafts so some of your bills and savings are paid straight out of your paycheck. Then you don’t even touch the money long enough to be tempted to put that $200 for your emergency fund toward a new pair of shoes you want but don’t need

3. Plan your meals.

Beat drive-thru temptations that bust your restaurant budget, and keep the money-grabbing munchies at bay. Do this by planning your meals—breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks! Then make a grocery list—and stick to that list! Meal planning saves you from going overboard on your grocery and restaurant budget lines. 

4. Think weekly.

You may want to break some of your budget lines into weekly portions to help you spread out your spending. For example: If you give yourself $200 for personal spending, think of it as $50 a week. If you put $894 in your grocery budget (which is the average monthly spending for a family of 4), that’s like spending about $223 a week. Sometimes thinking in these bite-sized amounts makes it easier to stick to your budget.

5. Check your social calendar.

Your BFF’s birthday is the same day every year. Budget for it. You’re hosting book club next month and need to make a charcuterie board. Budget for it. Family’s coming in from out of town. You get the idea.

Yes, emergencies and surprises pop up that can rock your budget. But a lot of what we call “surprises” are actually just poor planning. So, check your social calendar when you’re making each month’s budget so you can budget realistically for each month’s needs.

And don’t worry! You don’t have to build each budget from scratch. Go ahead and copy everything over from the previous month, then make tweaks to just the budget lines that will be affected by anything coming up.

6. Learn to say no (or not now).

If you want to buy something, a budget doesn’t always say, “No way.” But it often says, “Not today.” Save up for bigger purchases and pay cash. And to be honest, sometimes you do have to say no. That’s part of being an adult. You can’t just rush headfirst and get everything you want. It’s like saying no to social events so you don’t drain your energy and time. The same goes for saying no to spending sometimes—you don’t spend so you won’t drain your bank account or your future.

Don’t worry about what everyone on social media appears to have. Some of them are lying. Some are in debt up to their designer sunglasses. And a few really do have their lives together. But those people worked hard for it—and that’s what you’re going to do too.

Work hard defending your budget—saying no or not now when you need to—because being true to yourself, your budget and your money goals is more valuable than anything you could ever buy.

7. Rethink the credit card.

Listen carefully—a credit card doesn’t help you stick to your budget. In fact, it’s often a motivator to spend like crazy with the mindset that it’s tomorrow’s problem. If you can’t payoff your credit card every month with the purchases you’re making today, then maybe it’s time to put the card down.

8. Find a budget buddy.

Do yourself a huge budgeting favor and get a budget buddy—aka an accountability partner. That’s someone who’s encouraging enough to cheer you on and bold enough to call you out. Got a spouse? Boom. You’ve got a built-in budget buddy.

Get with your budget buddy every month to check in and set up the next budget. If you’re married—do this together and in person at a monthly budget meeting or money date. If you’re working with a friend or family member, you’re welcome to make your budget alone, but never skip the check-in. Your buddy can’t keep you accountable if they don’t know what’s going on!

And if you aren’t sure where to start and feel like you’re spiraling in debt, get in touch with Member Services. We want to give you the tools that will help you develop a budget so you can meet your obligations and get back on track.