I used to suck at budgeting. I was terrible at it.
I’m naturally spendy, so before I had a strategy, I always failed at budgeting.
Three years ago, I knew nothing about money. I was drowning in student loan debt. I was in a career I hated. And I felt like a complete financial failure.
Fast forward to now and everything has changed.
I quit the career I hated to become a financial planner. I took a 50% pay cut to do this, and I still managed to pay off over $100k in student loan debt. I built a blog around this, and I make over $4k per month blogging.
It’s been incredible.
But it all started from feeling broke and being a financial mess.
The first step I took with my finances was to get control of my budget.
I used the strategies below to do that. They’re the best, and I know they work.
If I can manage to stick to a budget, I think you can, too. 🙂
Here are are my best budgeting hacks to help you stick to your budget.
1. Use Budget Spreadsheets
You need to have a good budget tool to actually create your budget.
I created the Budget Spreadsheet Bundle with all the budgets I use. I use a monthly budget, net worth statement, and irregular income worksheet. All of these are included in the Budget Spreadsheet Bundle.
You can use an app, digital document that you update manually, or a handwritten budget. I highly recommend using a digital document or handwritten budget. It’s great to use an app or online platform with a digital document or handwritten budget, but don’t use it on its own. You don’t have to pay attention to an app or online platform, so it becomes more of a tracking tool than a budgeting tool.
Choose budget spreadsheets to use on your computer or by hand (you can use mine or something else that you like), and commit to using these as your budgeting tool.
2. Plan A Written Budget Before The Month Starts
Your budget is the blueprint for planning how each and every dollar you have should be spent.
If you don’t plan a budget before the month starts, your budget becomes a tracking tool. While it’s nice to track how you’re spending your money, the most important part of budgeting happens when you create a plan for how you want to spend your money.
I suggest creating a budget for the upcoming month one to two weeks before the month starts. Every month will be a bit different (e.g.: December holiday spending compared to July vacation spending).
Put a meeting on your calendar for yourself. Make sure you do this with your partner if you’re married or share expenses with someone else. Then, keep that commitment to yourself and have a budget meeting every month to plan the next month’s budget.
Here’s my blog post about how to have budget meetings to get started.
3. Decide on a method of budgeting
There are many types of budgets. Decide right now which you want to use and stick to it.
Here are the main types of budgets:
- Zero-sum budget (every dollar has a specific expense, saving, or debt it’s allocated to, so that your income – expenses is $0 at the end of the month)
- 50/20/30 budget (50% to needs; 20% to savings and debts; 30% to wants)
- Debt free budget (focuses on prioritizing getting out of debt above all else)
- Pay yourself first budget (focuses on saving by paying yourself first before spending any other money)
- Envelope budget (use cash that you put in envelopes and only spend what’s in that envelope to force yourself not to go over budget)
- Traditional budget (the same as the zero-sum budget, except there’s no commitment to make $0 be the end result – you can have money left over at the end of the month)
There is no one right answer for which budget you choose to use. I like and use the zero-sum budget, so I give a plan to each and every dollar that comes in every month. But there are many other people who use the other budgets successfully.
Decide which budget you want to use and commit to using only that one going forward.
4. Use cash or debit instead of credit cards
Instead of charging expenses to a credit card, use cash or a debit card for all your monthly spending.
If you don’t pay off your credit card in full every single month, then you shouldn’t be using a credit card because you’re paying interest unnecessarily.
I have never had a credit card. I live just fine. This is a life choice. It may or may not be fore you.
The best part about not using a credit card is that you can never spend more than you actually have.
If that’s not the best budgeting hack out there, I don’t know what is!
5. Avoid your spending triggers
Think about the one or two things that you just can’t help but spend money on. These are your spending triggers.
Commit to avoiding your spending triggers.
For example, my spending trigger is shopping (specifically clothes). So, I am committed to avoiding any store I know I love to buy clothes from.
This helps so much!
And if you do have to encounter your spending trigger, make sure you’re supervised. Go with a friend or spouse who knows you’ll be tempted and can hold you accountable.
6. Focus on being creative instead of consuming
Instead of focusing on cutting back and not spending, focus your energy on creating.
This budget hack is magical. It literally changed my life.
I used to think about what I wanted to buy all the time. I would look for deals on clothes and focus so much on items I knew I had to have.
I put so much energy into spending.
Then, I started a blog and everything changed. All that energy I put toward consuming goes toward being creative.
I don’t think about not spending anymore. Instead, I’m focused on creating on my blog.
The best part is that now I actually make money blogging, which is something I never could’ve imagined. (You can read my full story in How I Made $45k Blogging In 1 Year While Working Full Time.)
You can do this, too. You can find a way to shift your focus from spending to creating.
It doesn’t have to be a blog – it can be another hobby (really anything that you love to do).
If nothing comes to mind brainstorm at least three things that you think you’d enjoy doing that uses your creative energy. Then, give those a try.
Eventually, you’ll find something you love and stick with that.
7. Talk about money openly with family and friends
One of the best things you can do for your budget is to let everyone know you’re on a budget.
By being open about your finances, you’ll have a sense of relief. When you start saying no to opportunities that don’t fit into your budget, people will know why.
I do this all the time with family and friends. By letting them know I’m on a budget and repaying my student loan debt, they are aware of my priorities and understand when I can’t do something because of money.
You may find that people reciprocate and want to talk about money with you more. There’s a sense of unity among people who struggle similarly. You may just make some budgeting friends! 🙂
8. Surround yourself with budget-conscious people
The best way I know how to curb spending and stay within a budget is to get myself around other budget-friendly people.
You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so, if you are spending your time with people who are sticking to their budgets and making good financial decisions, their habits will rub off on you.
This is the best life hack.
Whatever you want in life (and here, I assume it’s better budgeting) – find people who are already doing that and get in their inner circle. You’ll change your life.
9. Take a budgeting course
Take a budgeting course to learn how to think about your budget differently, so you get better results from your budget.
The budgeting course I took and recommend is Budgeting For Budget Haters.
It teaches you everything you need to know about budgeting.
Obviously, if you need to start budgeting, money is tight. But forcing yourself to invest in a budgeting course means you’ll commit to taking action to changing your financial life. It means you have skin in the game.
The premise of Budgeting For Budget Haters is that everyone hates budgeting, but it’s a necessary evil so you need to learn how to do it. There are 5 modules in the course that show you how to create an annual budget, monthly budget, and how you can actually succeed at budgeting once and for all. The course will help you stop living paycheck to paycheck and give you a foundation for achieving your financial goals. It’s super thorough and made me feel so much better about budgeting after I took it. I finally had a solid plan in place for my budget.
10. Read budget books
Start reading budgeting books. This will help you stick to your budget enormously because the more you focus your mind on budgeting, the more you’ll take action to support your budget, which will lead to good results.
Five budgeting books I recommend are:
- The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
- The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke by Suze Orman
- Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
- I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
- Your Money Or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin
Books had a huge influence on my understanding of money and being able to actually stick to a budget.
11. Listen to money podcasts
In addition to reading budgeting books, start listening to money podcasts.
This will have the same effect as reading – it will get you in the mindset of budgeting and help you stay motivated to stick to your budget.
Unlike reading a book, with podcasts, you can be doing other things, like driving, cleaning, working, etc.
Try listening to a budgeting podcast during your commute, for example.
I turn on a podcast every morning as soon as I get up to make sure I’m filling my mind with whatever it is I want to focus on that day.
Here are eight money podcasts to get started with for budgeting:
- Planet Money by NPR
- The Money Nerds Podcast
- The Dave Ramsey Show
- Work Your Wealth
- Listen Money Matters
- So Money by Farnoosh Torabi
- Millennial Money
- HerMoney with Jean Chatzky
Podcasts are my fav! I can’t recommend them highly enough. It’s free information that can change your life.
A Final Note!
These are my best budgeting tricks. I know they work because I’ve used each and every one of them.
Sticking to a budget can feel painful, but the result of changing your budget habits is financial peace.
You can turn your financial mess around if you create and stick to your budget.
That’s why these tips are so important. But you have to put them into action to get results.
My challenge to you is to implement one new budget trick every week. Go down the list until you’ve done them all. Track your progress along the way, so you can see how much you’ve changed and how far you’ve come a year from now.
If I can master budgeting, I truly believe that you can, too!
Cheers to better budgeting!