No matter how tough your finances seem right now, you can get back on track with these simple budgeting tips!
By Shannon Brown, Contributing Writer
Two-foot snow drifts.
Twenty minutes to struggle into snow clothes.
Twenty-two seconds later, I see my 3-year-old turn around through the lens of my phone camera and say, “Mom, I need to go potty.”
Isn’t that just the way? Of course, all I could do was burst out laughing, and yank her snowy coat, boots, gloves, hat, and snow pants off and shush her over to the bathroom.
Sometimes, the only things in life that can be expected are the unexpected. And our financial lives are no different. Whether you’re battling against surprise expenses, drowning in debt, or trudging through life on a low income (or all of the above!) you’ve probably felt it.
No matter how hard things seem right now, with a little planning and know-how, you can make a big impact on your finances.
I know because I’ve been there to that “all-of-the-above” situation I mentioned. Even though it was tough, my husband and I were able to get out of debt fast. Here are 6 monthly budgeting tips we learned along the way to help you get, and stay, on track with your budget.
1. Set A Financial Goal
Before you ever start a budget, set a financial goal. Budgeting without a goal in place is like wandering around in the dark. How will you ever know you’ve arrived if you don’t know where you’re going?
Plus, setting a goal and committing to it as a family is a great way to stay motivated to follow your budget.
You get bonus points for writing down your goal and sticking it to the fridge. This alone will make you much more likely to succeed.
2. Set a Schedule
One of the hardest parts of budgeting, especially for moms of young children, is simply to find time to sit down and do it.
I know budgeting probably isn’t your favorite activity, especially when finances are stressful. It can be one of those important tasks that is easy to let slide (or actively avoid) month after month.
This was a challenge for me after we paid off our debt. Even though we had achieved this huge goal, I was suddenly afraid to look at the budget because of increasing expenses, I was super busy with moving house, growing a business, and I was out of my routine.
However, I overcame all of it when I set aside time each month to work on the budget. For me, this was and is still the first Saturday of every month. This way my husband is home and can help with budgeting decisions and help watch the kids.
Trust me, budgeting isn’t something you can afford to ignore. If you’re having trouble being consistent with budgeting, I challenge you to schedule a time on your calendar right now. (Oh, and make this a recurring monthly appointment.)
3. Set A Realistic Budget
At some point, you have to actually put pen to paper (or fingers to an app?) and create your budget.
Figuring out what to include in your budget and how much you “should” allot to each category can be overwhelming at first.
4. Plan for Forgotten Expenses
If you’ve been budgeting for a while, you’ve probably realized, there’s no such thing as a “normal” month. Part of creating a realistic budget is planning for unexpected expenses. This was a huge stumbling block for me as I learned to budget. Every month there seemed to be some new expense I hadn’t accounted for.
As I went on, I put together a list of all those commonly forgotten budget categories to help smooth the learning curve for other budgeters. A lot of these were non-monthly expenses like school supplies, Christmas gifts, and car maintenance.
Once you’ve included these in your budget, save a little each month to cover the costs when they do occur, and they will. After all, as Dave Ramsey says, “Christmas is not an emergency,” and neither are new tires or a water heater or, well you get the idea.
5. Try a No Spend Month
At some point in your budgeting journey, you will likely feel like you’ve exhausted all possible ways to save money.
That’s when it’s time to get even more extreme. Try a no spend month. Cut your spending that month down to only the bare necessities like food, gas, medical care, etc. Then, try to keep expenses on even those as low as possible.
The year we were paying off our debt, I used only $170 for my grocery budget during our no spend month.
No Spend Month is a great way to save some money, even when things are super tight. It also forces you to get creative and find ways to save you would not have thought of before. It’s also a great time to push pause on spending and reflect on what really constitutes a “necessity.”
6. Consider that Saving Money Isn’t the Only Answer
As you’re budgeting, remember there are two sides of the budget equation. It can feel frustrating when you truly can’t save anymore and your budget’s still way too tight.
Still, you do have options.
The possibility of increasing income, not just saving, is an important thing to consider when making a budget.
Plan ahead for all those inevitable “surprises” life will throw at you. Set a financial goal, make a realistic budget that takes into account all of your income and expenses and you’ll have a much better chance of sticking to it. Oh, and take your kids potty before putting on their snow clothes. Just a little advice from one mom to another.