I spend a lot of time writing, reading, and studying personal finance and yet I still struggle with good ole’ fashioned budgeting. It often feels boring, depressing, and monotonous. I want to be dreaming, creating, and building! Not cutting back, canceling out, and organizing my spending.
But it’s a necessary evil. And the more I’ve fought it, the more I’ve realized how important it is. Luckily, along the way I’ve found different ways to make budgeting easier…and dare I say, enjoyable. So that’s what I’ve got for you today! 5 different ways to make budgeting easier (and maybe even fun!).
But First, The Golden Rule of Budgeting
I’m not going to go into the nitty-gritty of budgeting (because that’s a whole post on it’s own), but here’s the golden rule of budgeting: You need to live below your means.
In other words, you need to spend less than you make.
There are simple, elaborate, complex, and straight-forward methods to budgeting. Some involve cash, some involve credit, some involve spending freezes, some involve stockpiling. Whatever method you choose, just make sure you live below your means and spend less than you make. Everything else is just methodology.
Ok, time to make budgeting easier (and more fun)! Here we go…
Pay Yourself First
Paying yourself first is so important, not just for your budget, but for your own well-being. As you review your list of debtors, make sure you add yourself to the top of the list! Every month, you owe yourself a retirement payment, a savings payment, a get-out-of-debt payment, or a college fund payment. You answer to yourself first, everyone else comes after.
When you do this, you save yourself the agony and frustration of having to decide if your discretionary money (aka fun money) gets used for that well-deserved night out or that in-the-distant-future retirement home. It takes the weight off of the shoulders of your future self because the decision’s already been made.
This may make things tight initially, but that only proves how important it is. As your earnings grow, you can relax a little more, especially since you’ll already be in the habit of paying yourself first.
Guess what happens when you automate all of the money that you owe. You are left to only manage the money that you can spend.
Voila! Budgeting has just become the most amazing activity on your plate because you get to decide what extra things you will spend your money on.
But please, please, please…don’t go crazy and ruin what you’ve created. Don’t spend more than you can. And if you find yourself with a lot of extra money, it’s most likely time to reassess how much you’re paying yourself.
For as long as I can remember my husband and I have been living paycheck to paycheck. It’s not because we don’t make enough, it’s because we pay ourselves first, automate all of our payments, and then when we find ourselves with consistent extra money, we reassess what we’re paying ourselves and up the automatic payments.
Always Use a Credit Card
If you have no self-control when it comes to credit cards, then this is NOT the path for you. Otherwise, exclusively using a credit card is one of the best ways to simplify budgeting.
When you use a credit card (ideally, the whole household should be linked to the same account), you are essentially tracking each and every purchase you make. So at the end of the month, you can easily go back and look at what you spent, where you spent it, and make plans going forward.
If you use a site like Mint.com (it’s free and what I use – I highly recommend you at least consider it), you can link your credit card and they will not only categorize everything for you, but provide analytics that allow you to see your spending from different perspectives.
Related post: 8 Benefits of Using a Credit Card Instead of Cash
When it comes to the food budget (which, for most of us, is the largest bill next to the mortgage or rent), nothing – and I mean NOTHING – will cut your spending and keep you within your planned budget like meal planning.
It is such a tiny thing and so easy to brush off, but I promise, if you force yourself to do this for just one month, you will see the impact and never go back.
Meal planning will keep you from overspending, make the best use of leftovers, give you a chance to take advantage of deals and seasonal products, and most importantly keep you from falling back onto restaurant options that can easily blow a budget in one night.
All Things Mama has a great free printable weekly meal planner that has been a huge help for me, so give that a try or come up with a good system that helps you plan your meals at least one week in advance.
Related post: How I Cut $500 Off My Monthly Grocery Bill
Make Budgeting a Date Night
I know this sounds crazy (especially from a self-proclaimed budget-hater), but budgeting can be a lot of fun! And not just for nerdy number crunchers. Budgeting isn’t about restricting yourself, it’s about managing a fulfilling a lifestyle that’s within your means so that you can afford to do everything you’ve ever dreamed of….and that’s exactly where the date night part comes in.
By turning your budgeting into a date night, you come at it as a team and can get excited about the final end goal. Whether it is a trip, retirement, college savings, or just the peace-of-mind of being debt free, budgeting is greater than just giving up the expensive peanut butter or extra pedicure. When you successfully manage your budget, you open yourself up to a world of possibilities. That thought alone should make budgeting easier.
So grab a bottle of wine, your significant other, and a notebook, and spend the night budgeting! If the nitty-gritty gets tense, switch your focus to the happy end goal.
Related post: The Life-Changing Power of Goal Setting
I hope this post and resources prove to be useful! Good luck with your budget!