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Has your spending gone completely off the rails and now you’re struggling to fix your budget?
Hey, I get it.
My budget has been a real train wreck at times.
But having one is important for getting out of debt, building wealth and creating financial security.
So you have to make every penny count, right?
It’s super frustrating to find yourself coming up short every month.
I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck and it absolutely sucked.
Mastering your budget can take time. And sometimes, you screw it all up.
But here’s the good news.
You can fix your budget if you know where to start.
I’ve got some tips that can help you rein in your spending and get back on track.
Why Your Budget Is Broken
If your budget isn’t working, it could be one thing that’s throwing you off. Or it could be several things.
If you feel like your budget is tanking, ask yourself if any of these eight reasons might be the cause:
(Confession time: #1,2 and 4 used to totally kill my budget.)
1. You never track your spending
What is a budget, really?
You add up your expenses for the month, then subtract that amount from your income. Seems simple, right?
Where you can run into problems is not tracking what you’re actually spending.
Sure, you might know what your rent or mortgage payment is or how much your light bill is on average, but do you know to the penny what you’re spending on groceries or your kids’ activities or clothes each month?
If the answer is no, you can almost guarantee that your budget’s going to backfire.
2. You don’t leave room in your budget for irregulars
When I first started budgeting as a single mom, I screwed myself constantly.
I was great at planning for monthly expenses but things like birthdays, holidays, semiannual fees for my kids’ sports and my yearly car inspection and registration? They never crossed my radar.
So what happened?
Any time those expenses came around I was scrambling to find money to cover them. After about a year, I finally got smart and set up a separate savings account just for those kinds of expenses.
But the truth is, I should have been budgeting for them from day one.
Because when your budget doesn’t account for those irregular expenses, you’re just setting yourself up for a last-minute cash crunch.
3. You don’t save anything
An emergency fund is a financial lifeline. I’ve had to use mine more than once and I’ve always been glad and grateful to have it.
When you don’t have an emergency stash, you’re setting yourself up for budget trouble.
If your kid gets sick or you need new tires for your car you might have to get a loan or use a credit card to cover it. Or else you have to pull money from another part of your budget to avoid taking on debt.
Both those choices suck in their own way. Having savings gives you another way out so you don’t have to go back and try to fix your budget later.
4. You’re not great at setting boundaries
Budgeting is about drawing lines in the sand. You look at your income and say, “Okay, I’m going to spend XYZ on this,” and that’s it.
In theory, that should be easy to do. But if you’re terrible at saying no to your kids, yourself or anyone else, your budget’s never going to work.
I’m super guilty of this. We’ll be in Walmart or Target or anywhere they’ve got shiny things designed to attract kids’ attention and my son starts asking for this or that.
Most of the time I say no — but sometimes I don’t and there goes more of my money that I didn’t plan to spend.
It’s not just my kids either. I’ve bought myself things that I didn’t really need or spent more on gifts for people than I really should have.
And blew my budget in the process.
5. You’re in total budget denial
Denial is a big budget-killer because it keeps you from facing up to why you really need to fix your budget in the first place.
For example, you might just ignore how high your expenses are or how much you spend on extra stuff each month.
Or you might be paying on debt without even knowing what you really owe because you’re too scared to add it up.
Until you get real about the weak spots in your budget it’s only going to work against you, not for you.
6. You don’t know why you’re budgeting
You might make a budget every month but do you know why you do it?
One of the biggest misconceptions about budgeting is that it means you have to shut down your spending and basically deprive yourself of anything fun.
A budget isn’t about what you can’t do; it’s about what you can do when you’re in charge of your money.
Ask yourself what your goal is for budgeting.
Is it because you’ve gotten into debt from overspending and you want to break the cycle? Or because you’re finally ready to start saving?
You need to know why you’re budgeting and what you’re working towards; otherwise, it’s just a wasted effort.
7. You picked the wrong system
There are lots of ways to make a budget.
How you choose to do it might be completely different from how your best friend or your sister does it.
The struggle happens when you’re using a budgeting system that doesn’t really fit you.
It just makes you more frustrated and the more frustrated you get, the more tempted you might be to just walk away from budgeting altogether.
8. You think budgeting is once-and-done
Your budget isn’t something you should just set and forget. Your budget should change as your life changes.
If you get a big raise at work but you don’t update your budget, chances are any extra money you’re making is just going to get spent. The same goes if you pay off a debt or some of your expenses go down.
Your budget has to fit where you are right now financially, not where you were six months or a year ago.
8 Ways to Fix Your Budget When It’s a Total Disaster
Still with me so far? Great! Now let’s look at what you can do to fix your budget.
1. Get in the expense tracking habit
Tracking your spending is THE most important thing you can to fix your budget. But why is it such a big deal?
It’s simple. You’ll never be able to rock your budget if you’re tuned out to what you’re spending.
Tracking your spending gives you perspective on what you’re doing with your money.
If you’ve never tracked your spending before, commit to doing it for at least 30 days to get an idea of what a typical month looks like.
As far as how to track your spending goes, you could write down your purchases every day but the easiest way is to link your checking and credit card accounts to a budgeting app.
I used Mint once upon a time and it’s a great choice if you need something basic and free.
The key to tracking your spending when you’re trying to fix your budget is being consistent. The more you do it, the more you start to see what’s dragging your budget down.
2. Crunch the numbers
Once you’ve gotten in the swing of tracking your spending, the next step is a total budget review. Pick a day when you’ve got at least an hour you can commit to breaking it all down and dive in.
Go over your income first. How much do you make each month? How consistent is your income and where does it all come from?
Next — and this is the harder part — scrutinize your spending.
How much are you budgeting towards essentials, like housing, utilities and groceries each month?
How much are you budgeting for everything else?
Are you budgeting for savings and irregular expenses, like quarterly insurance premiums or annual property taxes?
Now, compare what you’re budgeting for each expense to what you’re actually spending. Are there things you’re spending more (or less) on than you budgeted for?
Review every single expense in each budget category and ask yourself, “can I cut back on this or get rid of it altogether?”
It might seem a little tedious but it’s a must if you’re going to fix your budget and smooth out your spending.
3. Think small to save big
If you’re not naturally a saver, it can be hard to get started. I personally love to save but I know you might not feel the same way.
An easy fix to start a savings habit is to treat it as an expense in your budget.
It doesn’t matter if you start small either. Thinking small is actually a good thing because it makes saving seem a lot less overwhelming.
If you feel like you can’t save anything at all, go back Step 2 and take another look. Even if you can only find $10 a month to save, that’s something.
Most importantly, commit to saving it every.single.month.
A painless way to do that is to set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a savings account once a month. That way, the money gets saved without you having to stress about it.
4. Get your kids on board
It’s never too early to start teaching kids the basics of managing money.
My kids understand what a budget is and what it’s for. They also know why saving is important and how credit cards work and why I have to pay taxes in my business.
If you want to fix your budget, make it a family effort.
You don’t have to spell out specific numbers to your kids but help them understand why you want to make your budget work, and how they can help.
Talk to them about the difference between wants and needs using examples they can understand.
And set a good example yourself.
If you’re telling your kids no to something they don’t need, don’t spend money on yourself that you haven’t budgeted for without thinking it through first.
5. Adjust your money mindset
Facing up to your budget issues can be painful but trust me, it can help fix your budget in a big way.
Look at your budget and money habits with honest eyes. Acknowledge where you’ve screwed up, then let it go.
Stay focused on what you can do to make your budget better, instead of wallowing in where you went wrong.
Instead of running from your budget, make a conscious decision to embrace it.
Any time you feel like giving up or giving in to an overspending urge, remind yourself that your budget has a purpose.
And that purpose is bigger than whatever it is you want to spend money on at the moment.
6. Be a money goal-setter
Goals are super important to me. I love setting goals, especially ones that seem completely out of reach.
Setting money goals allowed me to pay off $23,000 car loan in 17 months, save half my income for the last two years in a row, buy a home and get my credit score over 700.
None of that may be a big deal to you but that kind of stuff gets me excited. And every time I hit one of my financial goals, I’m ready to start setting new ones.
What are your money goals? If you don’t have any yet, try this:
Think about what you want your financial life to look like. Really get detailed here.
Where do you live? How much money do you make? What kind of work are you doing?
How much money do you have in the bank? What kind of feelings does your money situation inspire?
That vision is in itself one big goal. But unless you win the lottery or score a huge inheritance, you may not be able to do all the things to get there right now.
Pick one thing you want to work on, then break it down into smaller steps. Then go back to your budget and see what adjustments you need to make to reach your goal.
Keep doing that over and over and before you know it, your ideal financial vision becomes your real life.
7. Find your budgeting groove
There’s no end of tools out there to help you plan your budget. You just have to find the one you like best.
You can try budgeting apps or a budgeting software program or spreadsheets.
Whatever floats your boat. When I first started budgeting, I wrote everything down in a .50 cent notebook.
I recommend trying out a few different things to see what clicks. Give it at least a month for each budget system you try on.
The worst that can happen is that at the end of the month, you move on to something else until you find “The One”.
Bottom line, budgeting should help you stress less about your money, not more. It doesn’t really matter which system you choose. All that matters is that it works for you.
8. Schedule regular budget dates
Maintaining a good relationship with your money is the same as maintaining any other relationship. You have to put in the time and effort to make it work.
That’s where budget dates come in.
You block off a chunk of time on a regular basis to look at your income and spending. This is when you can make any adjustments if you see your budget veering off-course.
Plan to sit down with your budget at least once a month; once a week might be even better if you have the time, especially if you’re trying to make a budgeting comeback.
The key is to be consistent with the timing and commit to showing up.
It’s Never Too Late to Fix Your Budget
Hopefully, you haven’t given up on budgeting altogether. Because it truly can change your financial life for the better.
Now it’s your turn. Have you experienced a complete budget turn-around?
Do you have another great tip on how to fix your budget? Head to the comments and tell me about it.
And I’d love it if you’d pin and share this post with someone else who could use a little budgeting help!