Starting a regular budget is one of the best things that you can do to improve your overall financial health. But one of the most important ways to stay financially disciplined is to STICK to your budget. This is one of the hardest things to do, and anyone that tells you that they never go over their budget is probably lying. If you have ever had an expensive day or weekend where you fell off the budgeting wagon, here are some tips to help get you back on track.
Nobody is perfect
The first thing to remember is that nobody is perfect. Again, there is likely nobody in the world that sticks to their budget 100% of the time. The thing to remember if you have an expensive weekend is that the worst thing that you can do is take it as an excuse to completely scrap your budget and go back to just winging it.
Instead, your best bet is to take a deep breath, acknowledge what happened and start fresh going forward. Depending on how much you went out of your budget, it can make sense to either try to adjust/account for it or just acknowledge it and go forward with a clean slate.
Address the root cause or causes
There might be a few reasons that your budget got blown up:
- A weekend spent eating out or drinking with friends
- Extra money spent on gas or hotels from a road trip
- Spending more than you expected while on vacation
- Impulse shopping
If you go out of your budget just once or twice, it’s not a huge deal. If you find that it is happening with more regularity, it might make sense to take a look and see if you can figure out any of the root causes of your behavior.
Does spending time in certain places or with certain people cause you to spend more than you want? Or is there another common scenario that you’re able to identify? If so, you might want to adjust your behavior accordingly. It’s a lot easier to go over your budget in the heat of the moment than if you make plans to stay out of tempting situations.
A few helpful tips to get back on track
Deciding how you want to get back on track depends on the situation and how far you went out of your budget. If you splurged on a $500 suit for your $50 / month clothing budget, it probably doesn’t make sense to go without clothes for the next nine months to make up for it. That might be a situation where you borrow a bit from other categories, like restaurants and entertainment to get yourself back in a good situation going forward.
If it’s a smaller issue where you just spent a little more than you intended, you might consider making some small adjustments to your life until the next month or next paycheck. Things like preparing meals at home, biking or taking public transportation instead of driving, returning packages you’ve been putting off or selling unused items might give your budget a bit of extra money and energy.
Pro-tip: Keep your financial goals in mind. Set up goals in the Mint app so you can watch your progress and stay on track.
Remember — it’s a marathon, not a sprint
Above all, remember that your journey to financial freedom and stability is a marathon not a sprint. Whether you’re trying to get out of debt, build up savings or prepare for retirement, your overall success is not going to be impacted by the results of one week, one month, or even one year of spending.
Instead, it will be the small changes to behavior, compounded over decades that will make a difference. It’s a bit of a cliche to talk about how cutting out your daily coffee will turn into thousands of dollars down the road, but there is some truth to it. Take the long view and find out how you can make some of these small simple changes. Simple behavioral changes that already fit into your daily routine are much more likely to stick.
The Bottom Line
We all make mistakes, and spending within your budget is no different. No matter how long you’ve kept a budget, you’re likely to find that there will be times that you (intentionally or not) break the bank. When that happens, it’s a good idea to take the long-term view and recommit to keeping your budget. Tomorrow is another day, and another chance to take a step towards a life of financial freedom and stability.
Dan Miller is a freelance writer and founder of PointsWithACrew.com, a site that helps families to travel for free / cheap. His home base is in Cincinnati, but he tries to travel the world as much as possible with his wife and 6 kids.