Have you ever spent an obscene amount of time researching and crafting the perfect budget, only to give up on it a week later like a poorly executed diet plan? Do you find yourself trying to stick to your budget but your inner Donna Meagle just won’t let you?
If the answer is yes, you’re not alone! Only about a third of Americans actually make and maintain a budget (Yikes!). Being a college student newly introduced to the world of ‘adulting,’ I have tried countless methods in an attempt to set myself financially free. Here are some tips and tricks that have made my life easier (and hopefully yours, too).
- Find an app or budgeting system that works for you.
Mint and EveryDollar are great apps that allow you to budget and track your expenses. BUT, in case you want more options, Buzzfeed has already found, rated, and summarized 17 other apps to help you stay accountable. Other ways you can budget include Excel Spreadsheets, good old fashion pen and paper on templates like this template, journals, whiteboards, and more. You’ll want to make your budget before the month starts and adapt the budget to each month. Whether you’re picking up a side hustle in summer time or celebrating birthdays, you’ll need to account for everything! At the end of each month, see where you overspent and try to improve your budget for the next month ahead.
- Get a calendar, find a place to hang it where you’ll see it, and fill in the boxes.
Add your bills, the due dates, pricier events like birthdays, etc. to help you organize your expenses. It takes some time, but it’s totally worth it! If you have a fluctuating income, you could even add your day-to-day earnings on the calendar. This will help you visualize your month ahead and show you how much you need to have in your account by the next bill. Not to mention the satisfaction you’ll have when you get to cross out that bill for the month! If you want a more private alternative to this, create events with this information in your phone’s calendar and set reminders for yourself.
- If you can, try to pay cash!
I’m not suggesting you carry your entire life savings on you but try to keep only what you budgeted to spend for the day. This will force you to stay on target, and you won’t have to deal with credit card interests if you use cash! People tend to spend more money when they use a debit or credit card compared to when they use cash. With cash, you can look directly at what you have left and adjust your spending habits accordingly.
Another reason why paying with cash can be helpful is all the loose change you’ll accumulate! You can keep these coins to yourself and cash them in at a later time for cash, or gift cards if you want to avoid fees. If you choose the cash option, you can turn that coin fund into an extra savings fund for your personal goals. You’ll be surprised how quickly coins add up.
- Find a way to organize your cash.
Some people like Dave Ramsey’s method of using envelops, but that’s not the only way. Another easy way to organize cash is by purchasing a hanging shoe organizer and put labels on each pocket with different budget categories such as groceries, gas, rent, clothing, etc. You could hang this in your closet, your office, or anywhere you feel would be safe. This cash should be for short-term purchases, not for your emergency fund or savings goals. For that money, I recommend a safe savings account. You can find a good savings account here.
- Lastly, don’t be afraid to say no.
In the beginning, budgeting will be difficult because you’ll have to tell yourself no more often—especially compared to your friends that don’t budget. Does this mean you have stay home all day and watch re-runs of the Office instead of hanging out with your friends?
Of course not! There are plenty of free-to-low-cost ways to have fun. If you’re running low on your recreational fund, try some of these. Not only will this help you stay on track, but it will challenge you to do something different. Also, saying no lets you say yes later. Instead of spending money on late night trips to Taco Bell, you can put that money towards a short-term savings goal like a road trip!
These tips have made me perfect my budgeting habits, and they may help you conquer the budget! If you need more ideas, Pinterest and Google will be your best friends. Just remember that the hardest part about budgeting is keeping yourself accountable and accepting that you’ll make mistakes. You will fail. You will adapt. You will overcome. Be patient and find a system that works for you. Your current self and future self will thank you!
Article Contributed By: Kianna Dalton
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Like most folks who hear the term ‘budget’, I cringe, close my eyes and begin groaning inwardly like Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers (No? Just me? Oh geez…).
In the past, I would search for budget templates online, attempt to follow them, realize they didn’t fit my tastes or my lifestyle and I would walk away defeated. I would wonder what was so wrong with my finances that I couldn’t match exactly what some of these articles were telling me.
But that’s the uniquely wonderful (and yes, incredibly frustrating) thing about budgets: they aren’t black & white or one-size-fits-all; they can be tailor-made to fit your specific lifestyle, needs, and wants. I say ‘incredibly frustrating’ because it does take time and a fair amount of effort to find a budget that works for you—your wants and needs are going to change and with that, so will your budget.
At the end of each paycheck, for me, there’s a sense of strength that comes from knowing where each of my dollars are going and knowing what I’m left with to play with however I choose. Full disclosure: that’s my favorite part about budgeting because I love seeing what money I have left over and let’s admit it, we all want to have fun with our money—after all, we work hard for it!
I’ve been creating a budget for the past 6 years or so and I have found a few things to be invaluable in my attempt to understand and control where each of my hard-earned dollars are going:
1. Know your debt intimately. When I started creating a budget, I couldn’t tell you which of my debts had the highest interest rate or what their balances/minimum payments were; it honestly gave me a headache every time I tried to write it all out. Knowing this info gives me the opportunity to see where I am and where I can send extra cash. Small amounts add up over time & it feels so good to see $0 next to a debt I owe.
2. Figure out some financial goals. These can be as little or broad as you would like them to be but I normally create small goals to feel encouraged in continuing to hit some of my larger goals. I ask myself where I’d like to be in 3 months, 6 months, and a year! And, as a side note: I treat myself when I accomplish a financial goal—it keeps me inspired and reminds me that even though ‘adulting’ and ‘budgeting’ aren’t exactly the most thrilling parts of life, they are necessary and we can make it as easy or hard as we want it to be.
3. Be flexible. Always be open to changing whatever you feel isn’t quite working for you and your budget. Your goals are going to adjust over time and with that, your budget will too and that’s okay! I’ve tried several different budgeting techniques (the 80/20, the 50/15/5, etc) so be willing to try out different techniques until you find one that works for you. Your wants/needs change regularly, so why wouldn’t your budget?
One last, small tip I’ll give to those preparing to create or change their budget is this : give yourself lots of grace. You’ll fall short, not reach certain goals, or get that call on a Friday night from your BFF who’s had a rough week and she wants to go out to eat and grab a few drinks—in those moments, it’s challenging. All you can do is adjust, pick yourself back up, and attempt to stick to it better next time.
There are also tons (and I mean literal tons) of information and resources out on the world-wide web that can get you started on creating a budget or finding example budgets to follow and use as a rough outline for your own.
Article Contributed By: Bethany Trosper
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