Tips for Budgeting Successfully

Practical advice on how to approach budgeting and stick with it

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Budgeting can be a bit daunting at first, especially if you’ve operated without one for a long time. But the more you do it, the better it gets. It eventually becomes empowering. Regardless of what tool or technique you use for budgeting, here are some practical ways to make budgeting easier.

Spend Less Money

If you spend less money, you’ll spend less time managing your budget. Win-win.

Budget for a Month at a Time

Budgeting a month at a time and reviewing it throughout the month will keep you in touch with the pulse of your finances. Budgeting quarterly or annually isn’t often enough to actually see how you’re doing and then make real changes to your spending and saving.

Spend Based on Your Budget, Not Your Emotions

Just like emotional eating, emotional spending can be a problem. Going on a an online shopping spree could totally blow your budget. It could also lead to a bunch of consumer debt if you’re spending money you don’t have.

Spend according to your budget, not your emotions. If it’s the end of the month and you’re tired and don’t want to cook, check your budget and make sure you’ve got funds allocated for dining out. If you don’t, then don’t go out to eat. Cook a simple meal with what you’ve got or pick up some stuff at the market.

When you use your budget as your North Star for spending, it’s supports you in ways that may not be apparent at first.

Be Flexible

If emergencies or unusual expenses arise, roll with the punches (as YNAB says). You’ve got your budget, but it can change if it needs to. Use your Safety Net and reallocate your categories to cover the expenses. Life happens, and your budget will help you handle the unexpected.

Budget Regularly

A budget is like a garden, it takes regular care and maintenance to flourish.

Schedule time regularly to intentionally review your budget. Once a week or every payday should do. If you budget with a partner, try setting up a budget date.

When you spend money, try to log your purchases in your budgeting tool as soon as possible. I find that I forget to log things less often when I just log it right away or at least on the same day.

Looking at your budget regularly will help you keep it top of mind when you spend money. It also keeps you in tune with how your spending is going.

Don’t Rely Solely On Automatic Transaction Import

Quite a few budgeting tools support automatic transaction import from various financial institutions. This is a nice feature for having confidence you’ve captured everything. But I try not to rely on it for all spending for a couple of reasons:

  • There’s no automatic importing for cash transactions, so at the very least you’ll have to be mindful of logging cash spending.
  • Logging your transactions manually makes you confront your spending directly instead of just batch processing a bunch of imported transactions from your bank accounts or credit cards.

I like using the automatic transaction importing and matching in YNAB for denoting when a charge fully clears. It also helps me capture any transactions I may have missed.

Reconcile!

I can’t speak for other budgeting tools, but YNAB supports reconciling accounts – essentially verifying the balance in YNAB matches the balance in your accounts. This helps ensure your budget is as accurate as possible.

Abagail and I reconcile our accounts every couple of weeks. If we don’t have confidence that the numbers in YNAB match our various accounts, then how would we know that the money we are budgeting is actually there?

All Dollars Should Flow Through the Budget

We make sure that all of our money – cash, credit cards, bank accounts, investment accounts, etc. – are part of our budget. That way we have a true view of our financial situation. All income and all spending flows through the budget. It’s ultimately easier to manage too since there’s one source of truth.

Plan for Times of Heavy Spending

If you know there are heavy spending times during the year, like in December for the holidays, allocate a little bit each month to that category. That way when December comes, you’re prepped and ready with a set amount to spend.

Abagail and I do this for vacations and gifts. It’s a great feeling to be financially prepared.

Finally

While it can be easy to ignore your finances, don’t. Budgeting is so important and powerful. By dedicating even a fraction of the time you might spend watching TV or scrolling through social media to budgeting, you’d be set. Here’s how Abagail and I budget.

Budgeting may be difficult or frustrating at first, but it gets easier. It eventually becomes second nature. Confront your finances and take control of them.

Finally: stick 👏 with 👏 it 👏

Author: Brett Chalupa

day: software developer, night: comic artist

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