Whenever my siblings and I misbehaved growing up, my mom knew the perfect punishment for each of her children.
Josh, the social butterfly, would be grounded. Will, the gamer, would get no screen time. And whenever I disobeyed, mom was quick to announce my dreaded sentence. “No sweets.”
As an adult, I’d take a glass of wine with cheese and crackers over a bowl of ice cream any day, but the 12-year-old Kate was devastated every time my parents deprived me of sugar; and although my mom hasn’t punished me in years, my budget has assumed the role of disciplinarian in adulthood.
For the sake of our present and future, we, the grown-ups, must limit frivolous purchases to prioritize saving. Yes, it’s a challenge to monitor your own spending habits (especially when you’re the one to determine those habits), but I hope we can also agree it’s absolutely necessary.
With all this said, here’s the good news: budgeting doesn’t have to suck!
Next time you’re struggling to say “no” to dinner and drinks or that fancy new TV, revisit the following tips to keep your spending in check and stay focused on saving for tomorrow!
1. Remember why you’re budgeting
If money wasn’t a limiting factor, I’d be quite the shopaholic. I’d buy some waterproof hiking boots, a new rug for my living room, a Patagonia sweater, an exercise ball and desk, and so on and so forth.
This is why my budget is essential. While spending money isn’t inherently bad, letting your spending habits run wild will come back to bite you in the long run.
Whenever you feel frustrated and limited by your budget, remember that it’s there to help you, not hurt you. It may not feel like it at the moment, but that’s why it’s imperative that you pause to remind yourself why you’re budgeting in the first place. The same can be said for eating one thin mint and not the whole box or watching one episode of Schitt’s Creek and not a whole season.
For the sake of your health and your wellbeing, you need to maintain a little restraint every once in a while. Your future self will thank you for it.
2. Accept all the help you can get
It’s not easy to decline dinner with friends or ignore a sale at your favorite retailer. It’s even harder to do it over and over again.
Luckily, there are a number of budgeting services available to help you manage your spending and keep up the healthy habits. PocketSmith integrates with more than 12,000 financial institutions so you can monitor all your money in one convenient location. You can break your budget down into manageable chunks of time, such as weekly or even daily, and categorize and organize your past transactions and upcoming bills.
With all this said, one of the best features PocketSmith has to offer is you can forecast your saving and spending habits up to 30 years in the future!
3. Set aside some “fun money”
A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to chat with a nutritionist. I asked her opinion on individual ingredients like eggs and tofu. We talked about multiple small meals versus breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But, there’s one statement she made I clearly remember.
“I don’t like diets,” she said.
Her reasoning wasn’t that diets are ineffective or unhealthy, but that they’re not sustainable. Sure, you can lose 15 pounds in a couple of months, but then what? If you want to keep the weight off, she said, you need to find a long-term solution.
The key to sustainable dieting is moderation, and personal finance fits this same rationale. If you deprive yourself of dinner out indefinitely, not only will you feel a little sour when your friends grab a drink without you, but your relationships may suffer too. Whether you enjoy splurging on clothes, food, experiences, travel, or something else entirely, cutting those joys from your life completely will probably do more harm than good.
The best long-term solution for your budget is to make “fun money” a priority. Evaluate your budget and set aside a little cash each month for a few pleasant purchases. When you want to spend on a new pair of boots or a weekend vacation with friends, you’ll have some money available to make the purchase.
4. Make a list of what you want to buy
About a year ago, I had a conversation with a former coworker about money.
He was preparing to transition to a new job, and I was getting ready to start freelance writing full-time. We both had some major modifications to make to our budgets, and he told me that one habit that has helped him and his wife monitor their spending was making a list of everything they wanted to buy. Every time they had extra cash to spend, they’d refer to their list and buy whatever item or experience sat at the top.
I went home that day and made my own list.
Instead of feeling like you don’t have enough money to buy the things you want, restructure your spending habits so it feels like a positive experience. Every time you have the money to buy something you want, checking that item off your list will feel like you’re accomplishing a goal rather than missing out on a new gadget or adventure.
5. Become a bargain hunter
One of my husband and my favorite activities is thrift shopping. In fact, many of our date nights include a quick trip to Goodwill before heading to the local brewery.
We certainly love the quirky paraphernalia, the surprise deals, and the one-of-a-kind finds; but, our appreciation for secondhand goods has also risen out of necessity. I really enjoy shopping, for instance, but if I shopped at Lululemon I’d run out of fun money in the first few days of the month.
Whether you opt for clearance racks or not, there are always ways to cut costs so you can save (or spend) more each month. If you’re like me and are prone to overspending on groceries, seek out budget-friendly meals and stock up on non-perishable items like pasta and dry beans. If trips are your kryptonite, try a hostel instead of an Airbnb, learn how to hack travel rewards, and make use of vacation packages on travel booking sites like Expedia and Kayak.
With just a little research, you’ll find there are a variety of sites and services available to help you put away a little extra money each month. Take some time to seek these out and start implementing some new, cost-cutting habits today!
6. Prioritize easy investing
I feel like investing is one of those tasks I’ve always been encouraged to do, but have never felt motivated to learn how and have even been intimidated to try.
Fortunately, investing doesn’t have to be a time-consuming, daunting to-do. There are a variety of financial services out there that have designed investing platforms uniquely for the folks who feel ill-equipped to jump right into the process.
With Acorns, for example, you can invest a little spare change whenever you make a purchase. They call the feature “Round-Ups,” and it’s designed to make investing automatic, so you don’t have to spend time thinking about it.
You can also schedule automatic “micro-investments” as often as daily. Acorns is a multi-function financial app, but the Acorns Invest service provides an easy, low-cost introduction to investing, so you can familiarize yourself with the process without committing too much money or time.
7. Make budgeting a pleasant experience
At the beginning of every month, my husband and I sit down to review our spending from the previous month. I won’t lie; it’s not my favorite to-do. It typically takes a couple of hours to make sure every transaction is categorized correctly, reassess our budget categories, and make sure we’re both prepared for the upcoming month’s expenses.
To help us stay focused and happy through those two hours, we’ve implemented a couple of things to make budget meetings something to look forward to. We’ll grab a couple of glasses of wine or tea, turn on some jazz, and maybe even pick up a couple of bars of dark chocolate. Sometimes those simple joys make the evening feel a little less like a meeting and a little more like a date.
When it’s time for you to sit down at the kitchen table with a stack of receipts and bills, grab a treat first. It’s a once-a-month occasion, so pick up something you’re craving. Make the environment a little more relaxing with some music and maybe a cozy fire or candles. Associate budgeting with positive things, so you’ll feel more motivated to keep up the habit and happier while you do it.
8. Give yourself grace
When I started dating my now-husband Steve, it was apparent immediately which one of us managed money best.
Not only had Steve paid down his student loans, but he’d also even purchased his own house. I, on the other hand, was still buying boxes of ramen and frozen pizzas. So when we got married, I told him to take the lead when it came to finances.
It’s been six years, and I’m sad to say I still end some months wondering where all my cash went. It’s a little embarrassing to review my “whatever I want” fund’s long list of iced coffees, shopping trips, and dinner out, next to Steve’s occasional purchase for outdoor equipment.
But, here’s the important detail to remember: I have improved.
It’s not always easy to see the progress you’re making, but don’t let that deter you! Every minor success is worth celebrating. Every step in the right direction deserves a little praise. And when you look back on the month and wonder where your money went, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, give yourself a little grace and keep trying. If you keep up the hard work, you’ll look back someday with pride at how far you’ve come.
For the vast majority of Americans, I think it’s safe to say spending is a little easier than saving. Unfortunately, spending too much is also pretty easy.
Budgets are incredibly helpful when it comes to keeping your finances in check, but they’re also a little depressing. It’s not fun to say “no” to a spontaneous trip to the movies or a sudden sale at your favorite online retailer — but it’s also not fun to run out of money.
Fortunately, there are ways you can get the best of both worlds! To stick to your budget and stay happy, take advantage of budgeting services like PocketSmith and learn how to cut costs by bargain hunting. In addition, be sure to check in with yourself every so often. Remind yourself why your budget matters and find ways to make the experience of budgeting a little more enjoyable.
Next time you’re feeling short on cash and down in the dumps, remember you are capable of taking charge of your finances and your mental wellbeing. You can do this, and your future self will thank you for it!