My personal budget is set up so I have a certain amount of money set aside for bills and the rest is for what I call “household spending”. Household spending includes groceries, gasoline, makeup, eating out, entertainment, doctor visits, etc. I don’t have any trouble sticking to the bills budget but the household budget is another matter entirely. If you struggle with sticking to your household budget, like I do, here are some strategies that might help:
1. If you don’t have money to spend, it’s probably not a good idea to go shopping.
2. Keep track of how much you’ve spent and how much you have left. If you don’t know how much money you have left, you won’t know if you can spend any. I know, I know – ignorance is bliss, but if you’re trying to stay on budget, you have to keep track!
3. When you’re out shopping, have a list. And on that list, have estimates of how much you’re going to spend on each item. Add it up and be sure it fits the amount you have available. If it doesn’t, modify your list. And while you’re shopping, as you mark things off your list and put them in your cart, it might be a good idea to write down how much the item actually costs. That way, if you have to put something back, it’ll be easier to figure out which item needs to go back.
4. Shop with cash and leave your cards at home or in your car. It’s hard for me to spend cash but easy for me to spend the invisible money in my checking account. And unfortunately, if I go in with cash but spend more than my cash, I’ll just whip out my card and figure it all out later. So if that’s what it takes, take only cash. When it comes to cash, you can’t spend it if you don’t have it.
5. Be realistic. If you KNOW you’re going to go out to eat on Friday, budget for it. If you’re not realistic, you’re probably not going to be able to stay on budget.
6. Don’t buy anything that’s not on your list. I stay out of a lot of trouble when I do this! Obviously there are exceptions. If you’re out shopping and suddenly remember you needed something that isn’t on your list, adjust if you need to and get the item. This principle of not buying anything that’s not on your list applies primarily to impulse items.
7. If you mess up, don’t give up. Analyze what went wrong and do a course correction.
8. Be accountable to someone about your spending. You don’t have to give them every detail but perhaps a weekly update on how you’re doing – whether you’re sticking to your plan or not.
9. Make a game out of it. See how well you can do and then put the money you don’t spend in a jar for a specific savings goal.
10. If you have a category you’re really struggling with, you might need to analyze that category, figure out what’s going on and come up with a plan to fix it.
11. At the end of any shopping trip, but before you check out, take one last look at your cart or basket and see if there’s anything you can put back.
12. Keep a chart on the refrigerator or some other prominent place showing everything you buy! Knowing you have to write it down and others might see it could be a motivation.
13. At the end of each week, analyze your spending. See how close you were in each category. Note what you did well and what you messed up. Note what you could have done different to make it work better.
These strategies help me stay on budget. What are your strategies?