9 Clever Ways to Stick to a Budget

Clever ways to stick to a budget

Have you ever found yourself asking, “Why can’t I stick to a budget?” If so, then you’re certainly not alone. Budgeting takes work, not only to create but also to maintain. 

And it seems so simple, right? Make a list of expenses, don’t spend more than that….yeah no, it’s actually not that simple. 

As important as it is to plan out your budget, it’s equally as important to create a plan to STICK to a budget. That’s the truly hard part. In addition to tracking expenses, you also have to be mindful of your emotions and your relationship with money. And let’s be honest, many of us have a very toxic relationship with money. 

Aside from that, sometimes the unknown happens, and sticking to a budget can seem like an impossible task. 

But with these 9 clever tips, you could find yourself sticking to your budget and achieving your financial goals in no time.

1. Have Regular No-Spend Days

No spend days to stick to a budget

First, let’s talk about what a no-spend day is, and more importantly what it’s not. No spend days are literally days that you plan to not spend money. A no-spend day is NOT a day for you to skip normal bill paying. The spending you’re attempting to eliminate here is frivolous spending such as eating out, paying for activities, renting movies or going out to the movies, etc. Those are the expenses that tend to send you hurtling over your budget limits if you don’t monitor them.

The goal of no spend days is to help you save money. That said, what you don’t want to do is pick the day of the week where you naturally spending the least amount of money and call it a no-spend day. Yeah, nope….that won’t work. It also won’t help to have a no-spend day, then spend a ton of money the following day to “make up” for what you couldn’t spend the previous day. 

Planning for a no-spend day needs to be intentional. When I first started planning no-spend days, I picked a set day each month, typically closer to the weekend, as my no-spend day for that month. By picking the day in advance, I was forcing myself to stick to a budget and intentionally reduce my spending for that month. 

No-spend days don’t work for everyone, but some people swear by them. Test it out for a few cycles, and set your own pace – weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc. If you see that no spend days are helping you stick to a budget, then keep it up. If not, then maybe this next tip will help better.

2. Meal plan to Stick to a Budget

Meal Plan to Stick to a Budget

I don’t know about you, but if I go grocery shopping without a list my budget is done! I find that I’m super creative about what to cook while in the actual store, but literally, never cook those things throughout the week! 

Most of the problem is simply not planning for the week. I can have the brightest idea for a meal, but not realize that it takes hours of prepping and cooking – time you may not have during the week.

So, one way I helped myself stick to a budget when grocery shopping was to meal plan before shopping. That way I would not only go in with a list of items to buy, but I’d also have a plan to follow regarding meals. No more wandering the aisles of the grocery store to get ideas, then just randomly putting mismatched items in the cart, only to get home and feel like you have no groceries for the week. The worst…

Using this method, you can stick to a budget by limiting your spending to what you actually meal planned for. 

Maybe this isn’t enough for you. Maybe you’re a foodie and the grocery store is your happy place. No worries, try this next tip to help you limit spending on groceries and stick to a budget.

3. Use the envelope system

Stick to a budget with Envelope System

The envelope system is a cash-based system that forces you to rely only on what you’ve included in the “envelope” for that budget category. So, let’s say you have ten budget items. You’d get yourself ten envelopes and label them with the appropriate category – ex. Food, Entertainment, Gas, etc. 

Then you would put the amount of cash you budget to spend for that category in the associated envelope. For example, let’s say you’ve created your budget to spend $100 per week on groceries. You would add $100 to the “Grocery” envelope and take that to the store with you. Once you hit your $100 limit at the grocery store you’re done! No putting extra on a card, no making excuses, done! 

Now, I’m a person who hates to deal with cash. I’ve never liked it, and since COVID rocked the world I really don’t like it – can’t deal with the idea of the germs you know?

Anyway, I say that to say, the envelope system would never work for me, simply because I don’t like to deal in cash. So, if you’re like me, hang on for this next tip that can actually be a roundabout way to use the envelope system without the need for cash.

4. Use cash-secured credit cards

Stick to a budget wtih Cash Secured Credit Card

A cash-secured credit card is exactly what it sounds like, a credit card secured by cash. So, what does that mean?

Simply put, with a cash secured credit card, you’re required to provide a cash deposit typically equal to the limit on your card.

Why is this helpful when trying to stick to a budget?

Well, if you only have $100 as a cash deposit on that credit card when you go to the grocery store, you can only spend that $100. AND, my favorite part, you don’t even have to deal with the actual cash.

You may be wondering how this is different from a debit card. The main difference is that a debit card allows you to spend up to the amount in your account. Well, that doesn’t really stop you from hitting a budget target because you could easily spend more than that $100 you budgeted for groceries and your debit card would allow you to do that – as long as you have more than $100 in your account of course.

A debit card also doesn’t help you build credit as a cash-secured card could. A cash secured card functions similar to a credit card. You can make purchases using the card, then pay the bill at the end of the money. If you don’t pay your bill, the cash you used to secure the card is used to pay your balance. As you use the card, the issuer reports activity to the credit bureaus, which helps you build credit.

5. track Daily Spending electronically

Stick to a budget electronically

Another way to use the concept of the cash envelope system without using actual cash is to use budgeting apps such as Mint or Personal Capital to push alerts to your phone when you’ve exceeded your budget. These apps allow you to link bank accounts and credit cards into their system, then set a budget to help track your expenses. If you exceed your budget limits the apps will send you an alert.

Now, arguable this doesn’t actually help you from going over your budget because the alerts are retroactive. However, the alerts CAN help you to not exceed your budget by a significant amount. 

With this process, you can have the app tell you when you’ve overspent, then you can make adjustments to other areas of spending to offset the difference. That way, you can still stick to an overall budget.

6. Budget for gift giving to stick to a budget

Budget for Gift Giving

I don’t know about you but the holiday season used to be a budget-buster for me. I LOVE the Christmas holiday and it’s my favorite time of the year. I enjoy decorating, Christmas activities, and most of all gift-giving. I used to blow my budget almost every year at Christmas time because I love to give gifts. 

Then one January, I was going through my expenses for the previous year, getting ready to set my budget and goals for the next year, and realized how ridiculous I was being to not factor gift-giving into my budget.

You see, the problem was that I never actually intended to spend as much as I did, I just got so wrapped up in the holiday spirit I couldn’t help myself! So, I opened another savings account and nicknamed it Gift Giving. I budgeted to put a defined amount into that account each month, then at the end of the year, I had a fully funded gift-giving account.

So, I used gift-giving as the example here because it was one of my weaknesses in sticking to a budget. But honestly, this could be applied to any expense you go overboard on but don’t want to exclude from your budget.

Also, here’s a little hack for you. If you use a credit card throughout the year for which you earn rewards points, you could use those rewards points on Christmas gifts at the end of the year and spend less money overall on gift-giving. Check out this article How to Use Credit Cards Wisely for more on how that works.

7. Cancel auto pay to help you stick to a budget

Cancel Autopay

Honestly, I struggled with whether or not to include this one because I love autopay. I like the set-it-and-forget-it method of paying recurring bills, AND sometimes you get a discount for autopay. However, I’ve also noticed that autopay transactions do tend to get lost in the shuffle.

For example, if an expense will be unexpectedly higher for the next month(s) then you’ll need to adjust your budget accordingly. Having autopay set up can sometimes hinder you from recognizing those types of budget adjustment signals.

Also, if you’re someone who’s in the stage of their financial journey where money is tight and the paycheck to paycheck cycle is very real, you need to be hypervigilant about changes to your expenses. 

8. Eat before you grocery shop

Eat Before You go Grocery Shopping

Face it, we’ve all been there. You run to the grocery store right after work to pick up a few things for dinner and you end up spending a week’s worth of grocery money on junk. All because you were hungry.

Hey, no judgement here! I’ve certainly done it, which is why I’m warning you against it. This goes along with planning for your grocery shopping trip. If it’s a habit for you to stop in the grocery store before you go home, keep some snacks in the car that you can nibble on before you go in to shop. Trust me, it can save you a ton of money.

Also, if you order groceries for delivery, don’t sit down and create your order while you’re hungry! Same concept….you’ll look up and have $300 worth of groceries in your cart that you’re convinced you need because you’re SWH – shopping while hungry.

9. Cook at Home to Stick to a budget

Cook at Home to Stick to a Budget

So raise your hand if you go grocery shopping and on the way home you call in an order for a pizza delivery because you spent way too much time in the store, you’re starving, and too tired to cook dinner. 

Yup, I’m guilty!

Think about how much you can spend on a single fast-food meal in one trip. You’re typically looking at about $10-12. What if you did that every day, for at least one meal a day? You would be spending about $70-84 a week. That’s roughly $350 a month just on fast food.

So, in addition to the $300 per month, or more, you may be spending on groceries (that you don’t eat) you could be spending that much more on only one meal a day!

Fast food purchases can add up before you know it. The example above was only one meal a day. Imagine if you did that multiple times a day. 

You can easily blow your entire budget on extra food alone, so be mindful of your choices, meal planning, and life planning. If you know you’re going to have a busy day and may need to grab something quick for lunch the next day, pack leftovers to take to work the next day for lunch. 

Your wallet and your waistline will thank you later.

Monthly Budget

Final thoughts on Ways to Stick to a Budget

Of course, this isn’t a complete list of all the things you could do to stick to your budget, but give a few a try and see if they work for you. Some will, some won’t, but at the end of the day only you know what works best for you. 

Remember, managing your emotions and your relationship with money can not only help relieve some anxiety that may be associated with budgeting, but it can also help you to understand your financial position better and with a clearer head. Happy budgeting!

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Krystal Norwood-Morales, MBA, CFEI

Krystal is a Certified Financial Education Instructor and founder of Wild About Wealth, LLC. As a financial literacy advocate, she writes posts geared toward helping others improve their financial education and build generational wealth.

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Krystal Norwood-Morales, MBA, CFEI

Personal finance blogger

As a certified financial education instructor and financial literacy advocate, my mission is to teach young adults how to build generational through financial education. So let’s get WILD about WEALTH!

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