How to Hold Yourself Accountable to Your Budget

| February 4, 2012 | 6 Comments

Ever since I started making a monthly budget almost two years ago, I’ve had trouble sticking to it. I think it’s mainly due to me being single and not having to be accountable to anyone else if I change my budget on the fly. I tend to always budget low, knowing that in a pinch, I can give myself more money. I have finally figured out how to hold myself accountable to my budget. Here’s how I’m doing it:

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Make a Realistic Budget

If you have been eating out a lot or going out for drinks with friends several times a month, you should account for what you realistically will spend when you create your budget. You may think you can go without spending on those things if you really try, but budgeting nothing or very little in those categories after a track record of consistent spending at a rate much higher than what you plan to budget is setting yourself up for failure. The key is to be realistic about what you will end up spending and not until you’re on a budget that you don’t go over, should you think about decreasing those areas little by little. My realistic budget is in the range of $150-250 per month higher than my old, make-believe budget that I could never live on. Keep in mind that a budget is a written plan for telling all of your money that month where to go. Not only should you have a plan for your expenses, but also for your left over money at the end of the month.

Schedule an Automatic Transfer of all Leftover Money

After you have made a realistic budget that your happy with, the next step is to set up an automatic transfer of your left over money to its specified location. Whether you want to pay off your debt, save for a big purchase or invest for retirement, you should have the specifics of where and how much already figured out from your budget. In my case, this number is sizable, since I spend far less than I make. Up until this point, if I spent over my budgeted amount in any category, I would adjust my budget on the fly, giving myself more money, pulling it from my left over money. Setting up an automatic transfer of all my leftover spending holds me accountable to stick to my budget.

After all, a real budget allocates all money during the month, not just expenses. While using this strategy of holding myself accountable, if I go over in a category without being able to cut back on another category, I will need to go in my online banking, cancel my transfer and set up another for less money. That causes pain and feelings of frustration and failure. It’s my plan to stay on my budget and stay on track.

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Category: Getting Ahead

Comments (6)

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  1. I wish I could put the section about being realistic on a billboard. For years, I would make these very strict budgets that didn’t account for all the things I actually spent money on, and it was so frustrating to fail month after month. I’ve now become a huge fan of budgeting according to my current spending, then adjusting a little at a time. I got some gripes at the end of January when I budgeted for cigarettes, for instance, but it seems stupid to leave them out of my budget when I know darn well I’m going to buy them. Whether or not I should is a whole other issue.

    Something that really helped me is creating a point system for dining out. Restaurant spending was my downfall every single month, but I respond really well to arbitrary numbers. So I assigned a point value to different types of dining out (3 points for super cheap like Taco Bell, 5 points for pricier fast food like Panera, and 7 points for something like Applebees) and gave myself 50 points a month (which I track in my sidebar). I’ve gone from spending close to $300 a month to less than $100. I know it wouldn’t work for everyone, but for some reason it works out great for me!

  2. Bridget says:

    I struggle so much with budgeting.

    Right now my main nemesis is my credit card. You wouldn’t think so, because I pay it off every month — but essentially I’m always a month behind. The billing cycle ends on the 20th, I pay it when I get paid on the 30th of each month, but this means all my transactions from the 20th-30th of every month are bought entirely on credit. I don’t have the cash to cover them.

    This was once about a $1600 issue, but now I’m only $500 behind.. Still, I feel so guilty buying things when I don’t actually have the cash in my account =\

    All my bills & savings are automatic though, and that’s really helpful. I’d probably miss stuff otherwise.

    • Thanks for the comment, Bridget. I can see how credit cards can get one in a mess like that. I used to use them pretty regularly. Then I started using Mint.com and ever since, I didn’t like the feeling when I saw a negative balance of those card accounts. I gradually stopped using them and today, I use them only enough to keep them open. When I log into Mint.com, I really like seeing the zeros. Good luck with those card accounts. I hope you can get out of that cycle and ahead again!

  3. Devin says:

    I am glad I stumbled onto your blog. I’ve been searching for a financial blog that was written by someone who was similar to my situation (I am a 26 yr old single woman). I am very close to being debt free (goal is for the end of March). Most blogs I read, through the writer gives great advice, is written by either married or much older people, so its nice to find someone I can relate to, I’ll continue to read!

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