13 Ways to Stick to a Budget

4 min read
Man in apron sitting at desk writing on notepad next to laptop

Sticking to a budget isn’t easy—even the best savers sometimes struggle to stay on track. The good news is making mistakes is part of the process. And when you start to get the hang of it, you’ll have a better understanding of your relationship with money and gain more control over your personal finances.

There’s no magic spell to keep your budget on track, but there are a few tips that can help. Here are 13 ways to overcome challenges and stay inspired to stick to a budget.

How to stick to your budget

1. Know your why.

The whole point of a budget is to help you reach your financial goals. If you haven’t set those goals, it can be harder to stick with them. Start by asking yourself a few questions. What do you want money to do for you? How can money help you live your values? How can you use money to improve your life? Write these financial aspirations down and keep them handy when you’re making budgeting decisions.

2. Find the right tools.

These days, there are dozens of budgeting apps and online tools to choose from. Take advantage of free trial periods to find one that works best for you. If you’re more of a spreadsheet person, that works too. Being able to visually plan and refer to your budget can help you stay on track.

3. Create your own budget categories.

Most budgeting apps automatically categorize transactions. It works—sometimes. But don’t feel like you have to stick with their suggestions. Create custom categories that align with your spending or savings goals. This helps you create a budget that encompasses your real-life financial situation.

4. Include less frequent purchases.

Large, infrequent expenses—like bi-annual insurance premiums or even a yearly vacation—can throw your budget out of whack and discourage you from sticking with it. Do an annual review of projected expenses, and try to save monthly for those anticipated, one-off costs.

5. Track your emergency fund.

An emergency fund can help cover unexpected large, unexpected expenses—the kind that tends to blow up even the best budget. If you don’t already have enough saved for an emergency, add it as a savings goal to your budget.

6. Use a “cheat” category.

A “cheat” category in your budget can give you some much-needed flexibility. Pull from here when you want to buy something that didn’t make it into the budget.

7. Create weekly budgets for certain expenses.

While monthly budgets are the norm, you may need to think shorter-term for some expenses. For example, if you spend a lot on entertainment early in the month, you’ll be left with nothing for that category toward the end. Instead, try a weekly budget for frequent expenditures.

8. Set non-financial limits.

Sometimes it can be easier to stick to a budget if you focus on the activity rather than a specific dollar amount. For example, give yourself a “budget” for how many times you can eat out or order takeout each month.

9. Wait before buying.

If online impulse spending keeps you from sticking to a budget, add items to your cart but wait a day before buying non-essential items. Taking a beat gives you time to really consider the purchase and make sure it’s not sabotaging your goals. Some retailers send abandoned cart coupons, too.

10. Stack your savings.

Saving money on your purchases can help keep your budget on track without sacrificing your needs or wants. Whether you’re shopping online or in a store, look for opportunities to save—like stacking coupons, using discounts, or taking advantage of cash-back opportunities.

11. Work with your partner.

It’s difficult to budget with a partner or spouse if you’re not on the same page. Start by building your budget together, and have regular money dates to discuss your challenges and wins.

12. Cut your monthly bills.

Reducing your monthly bills can free up room in your budget and motivate you to stick to it. Regularly comparison shop and try to negotiate rates for insurance policies, subscriptions, and telecom services. Refinancing high-rate debt, like your auto loan or credit card bills, can also help you save money each month and slowly pay off debt.

13. Find ways to make more money.

Saving money is only half the equation—you can also reach your money goals by increasing your income. Look for opportunities to earn more money at work or through a side job. After all, nothing feels better in your budget than frequent additions to the “income” category and savings account.

How to Stick to a Budget Common FAQ

Still have questions? Some of these commonly asked questions may provide the answer.

How do I make a realistic budget and stick to it?

Making a realistic budget and sticking to it starts by calculating your total income, then adding up all of your expenses — both variable and non-variable — to understand where your money is going. From there, calculate the difference. If your expenses are already greater than your savings, you have 2 options: either make more money, or spend less. Finally, set budgets around each expense category (such as utilities, subscriptions, etc.) and be diligent about tracking each month.

How can a beginner start budgeting?

Start off small. Those who are beginners to budgeting should get started with the basics: calculating your monthly income, adding all monthly expenses, and then setting financial goals for the upcoming months.

How do I make sure I stay on budget?

Using either a spreadsheet or apps such as Mint are great ways to help you keep track of your ongoing expenses and if you’re staying within budget.

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