How to Budget and Still Stay Sane

We know the basics of making a budget. Seeing it on paper is one thing. You feel organized, ahead of the game and like you really have your stuff together. Then, when it comes to actually sticking to it and applying it to real life, the struggle begins. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with what you should and shouldn’t be spending, and you may want to give up quickly. Adding structure to your life takes a little getting used to, but there are ways to manage your budget so it works for you and not against you.

Simply being aware can go a long way. At the very least, you always want to be aware of how much money you have coming in and how much money you have going out. It can be easy to blindly and blissfully spend all of your dough how you want and when you want, but it’s important to reign it in based on your expenses and your income. Even if you don’t diligently count every single dollar you spend, knowing what you have for expenses and the income to support those expenses can make a difference in your spending decisions. It’s sort of like going to a restaurant that suddenly decides to display calories on the menu. You could never turn down the mac n’ cheese before, but now you see you’ve been consuming 1,800 calories in one sitting, and it’s no longer worth it, no matter how delicious it is. Awareness can alter your perspective.

Flexibility is also important. Because budgeting is such a crucial part of being in control of your finances, it’s easy to feel like yours needs to be perfect. Perfect does not exist in any part of life. What works for you this month, might not work for you next month. What works today, might not work tomorrow. Life comes up, and a budget can’t predict that. Flexibility is especially important during big life changes. Moving to another state or moving in with a significant other, getting married, having a baby, switching jobs and retiring can really throw your whole money organization off balance. When big life changes occur, it’s important to be flexible with how you budget by being open to new budgeting methods and not being afraid of trial and error.

Budgeting should make your life easier, not more stressful. So don’t be afraid to play around with it a bit to see what fits your lifestyle and spending habits best.

I read an article where a woman explained how she budgeted and the ways it helped her succeed financially. She said something along the lines of “I didn’t stress when my semi-annual water bill came in because I budgeted for it.” In all honesty, and I hope I am not alone in this, my first thought was, really? You budgeted for your semi-annual water bill? How? I can barely budget for one month at a time. Then, I started questioning everything I am doing. Am I supposed to be budgeting like that? Does it actually have to be that in depth? Am I doing this all wrong? Because the truth is, I am not even sure I do it right. As a new homeowner, the future of my finances is scary. Adjusting to so many new expenses and bills has been a challenge, especially because I have never lived anywhere else but under my parents’ roof, where I had no “real” responsibilities. Granted, I am not doing it alone, but it does add to the pressure because I am mixing my money habits with someone else’s (much different) money habits. Though I feel like I live an accelerated lifestyle compared to most people my age, I am still a confused 20-something-year-old just trying not to fail at life. But, I mean, I’ve gotten this far, haven’t I?

With that said, it’s important to remember that what works for you, might not work for someone else, and vice versa. Some people budget for every little thing, others include only regular monthly expenses like rent, car payments, insurance, utilities, student loans or memberships in their budgets and just make sure they don’t spend over whatever is left on other variable expenses like groceries, entertainment, gifts and dining out. MoneyUnder30 provides a great article on this kind of budgeting. You might think budgeting out your week is easier and a lot less overwhelming than taking it month to month, or that you’d be lost without your budgeting app. Personally, I don’t like budgeting apps so I use an Excel spreadsheet, and that might not work for you, but it does for me… and that’s my point, here. Budgeting can mean different things to different people.

If you’re like me, and you have a love-hate relationship with budgeting, then, well, you’re like me and you have a love-hate relationship with budgeting. Unfortunately, I don’t have any groundbreaking tips on how you can suddenly make budgeting, tracking your spending and sticking to your savings plan any less of a painful, but important, part of life, but I can tell you one thing…

Your budget can lead to the most rewarding parts of your life.

Homeownership, starting a business, building a family, going on a dream vacation, early retirement, getting out of debt – these are all goals achieved with budgeting and sound money management, at least for the average American.

Maybe that should be the focus instead of how challenging it all can be. It’s all worth it in the end, right? And it’s up to you to decide what works best for you and how you can make your budget a helpful tool to make things happen. The only right way to budget is the way that works for you.

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