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We don’t know of a single financial expert that wouldn’t advise people to make a budget and stay on it – assuming you’re not one of that fortunate 1%. In that case you’re probably not reading this article anyway so it doesn’t matter.
Why is it important to have a personal budget?
It’s basically for the same reason that every successful business has a budget in the form of a business plan. It’s because without a budget, it’s practically impossible to know where you stand financially and what will happen to you and your family in the future.
How did you arrive at your budget?
One of the principle reasons why people fail to stay on their budgets is because they didn’t budget correctly. Maybe they tried to make a budget too hastily and without doing the homework first. The first rule of budgeting is that you must know where your money's going so that you will know how to allocate it in the future. The only real way to do this is to track your spending for at least a month and by this we mean all of your spending – right down to that candy bar you bought at work. After those 30 days you will need to divide your spending into categories. There are a zillion online sites where you can find a list of these categories but the major ones all tend to be the same – food, clothing, utilities, transportation, medical expenses, debt payments, entertainment and so forth.
If you need help making a budget, watch this video from Bank of America …
Your budget is too inflexible
If you're having a really hard time staying on your budget the reason may be that it's too inflexible. The best way to think of a budget is like a football team's game plan. While the team's coach might have a complete game plan in mind, he will watch the game as it unfolds and then make changes accordingly. If you’ve become discouraged because you've "busted" your budget in several categories, don't give up. Review the amount of money you've allocated to each category and then make adjustments. You'll probably find a category or two where you didn't spend as much money as you had anticipated. Take the money out of those categories and assign it to the ones where you were unable to stay within your budget. The important thing is to review your budget regularly and then make corrections just as a ship's captain will tack and jibe as the winds change.
You failed to set goals
Your budget doesn't exist in a vacuum. If you're unable to stay on your budget the reason might be that it's not linked to your goals. What are your goals? Is your goal to retire early, buy a second home, sail around the world or pay for your kids' education? Since the real purpose of a budget is to save money you need to ask yourself why you're saving it. When you have goals your budget will help you make progress towards achieving them, which can keep you motivated to stay on your budget. What's best is to have both short- and long-term goals. You could then see you're making progress towards realizing a short-term goal without becoming discouraged because you don't see you’re making much progress towards achieving a long-term goal – especially when things get tough. As an example of this it can be discouraging if your only goal is early retirement and you suffer a setback in your career and feel you're not saving enough money to achieve it. But if you also had a short-term goal of taking a nice two-week vacation next year and you see you have almost enough money saved to pay for it, you might feel less discouraged and more motivated.
Your partner isn’t onboard
There's an old saying that it takes two to tango. It also takes two for a budget to work. If your spouse or partner isn't interested in budgeting or consistently fails to stay within your budget for whatever reason, the two of you need to have a serious talk. You should sit down with your spouse or partner and try to determine what can be done to get them to buy in. You will need to discuss your financial philosophies and have all your numbers available. You might be able to show him or her that your budget isn't terribly restrictive and that there is room to make changes. Try to get him or her to understand that your budget is a roadmap designed to get you to your important goals. If your spouse sees he or she won’t have to make drastic changes in their lifestyle you may get more cooperation. If you can stay calm during this discussion – without getting upset – you may find your spouse will be more willing to work with you.
There was no emergency fund
Every budget needs to include an emergency fund. This is so that when you run into an emergency and, trust us, you will eventually run into an emergency, you will have the money to pay for it without having to run up debt. Most financial experts say that you should have the equivalent of six months of living expenses in your emergency fund. If the idea of saving this much money seems too awful, try for at least three months worth. If you don't already have an emergency fund, make it a line item in your budget so that you're saving money for it every month. One easy way to do this is to have the money automatically withdrawn from your checking account and deposited into your savings account each month. You might think of your emergency fund as a personal life insurance policy but that the "premiums" are yours to keep.
You didn't give it a sufficient amount of time
If you made your budget just a few months ago and feel it's just not working then maybe it's because you didn't give it enough time. One way to overcome this is to consider those first few months to be a sort of beta test and now you've learned enough to make a real budget. It can take time to smooth out a budget and for you to make changes in your spending habits. Don't beat up on yourself if you haven’t been able you stay on your budget for those first few months. Professional athletes didn't get to be the way they are overnight so don't get discouraged if you haven't become a professional budgeter in just a few months.
You just hate budgeting
If you find you just hate budgeting what with all that software, columns and rows of numbers, you need to look at other ways to manage your money that would eliminate this. For example, you might withdraw the cash you need for a week or two weeks at a time with the idea that when it's gone, it's gone. Or you might try the program Mvelopes, which is based on the old envelopes strategy for budgeting. This is where you divide your paycheck into envelopes based on your categories. Then when that envelope is empty, that’s it. You can't spend any more money in that category. Of course, with Mvelopes this all happens digitally on your computer and not in actual paper envelopes.
If neither of these options appeal to you and you just hate budgeting, what can you do? You will need to do some research to see if you can find a money management plan that would help you achieve your goals without that terrible demon called budgeting.