Cartoon couple on a spending spree.

Tips For Sticking To Your Budget

Are you having a hard time staying on budget? You are not alone, but you can learn how to stay in financial control. Even the most frugal people once had issues with spending. What separates you from them is that they took control. Here are some ways to take control.

1) Track Your Spending

It is amazing how much money we casually spend without realizing it. You spend a few bucks on a cup of coffee or a dollar on a candy bar and it seems trivial, but it all adds up. Before you know it, your spending is out of control and you need more money to make your budget work.

A cure for this problem is to track your spending. Get a notebook and write down everything that you spend money on. Do this for an entire week and then add up your totals. Group the expenses into categories like food or entertainment and see how your spending adds up. You might be amazed at how your seemingly trivial spending can add up in a big way.

Once you detect a problem spending pattern, take action to change it. Start brewing your own coffee, bring snacks from home or whatever else it takes to curb spending outside of your budget.

2) Lock The Credit Cards Up

Credit card spending is some of the hardest spending to take control of. This is usually because of how we treat credit cards and the debt that they rack up. Since the money is not being handed over in the form of cash or even coming from your checking account, it is almost like free money. Additionally, in this country we have started to consider credit card debt as a normal part of life. This is a bad thing for your budget.

Obviously, credit cards are a problem, but we can not just close all of our credit card accounts. Revolving credit is a huge part of our credit score and closing your accounts would cause your score to plummet. Instead of closing those accounts, lock up your cards. If you have a safe deposit box, this is a great place for them. Otherwise, keeping them safely tucked into a drawer would work.

While you are at it, take the extra step of removing your credit cards from online shopping website. One click purchases are really only a benefit to the merchant. The extra time it takes to find a credit card for payment can often give you time to think of your budget.

3) Initiate A Cool Down Period

One of the biggest budget killers is impulse spending. You simply see something and immediately buy it. While ditching the credit cards and erasing numbers from online websites can help, a cooling off period is an even more effective approach.

Set a spending limit and require a waiting period before you can make the purchase. The amount you choose will depend on your budget and your level of income, but an example might be 100 dollars. Whenever you want to spend money on something outside your budget that costs more than 100 dollars, make yourself wait 24 hours. In most cases, you will find the desire to break your budget subsides.

For larger purchases, set a longer cooling off period. If you want to spend 500 dollars or more, for example, wait a full week before making your purchase.

4) Stop Shopping For Fun

If sticking to a budget is a problem, why would you want to get any entertainment value out of shopping. You need to retrain your brain to start thinking of shopping as a means to an end, not entertainment.

One way to do that is to stop online shopping to kill time. Erase the bookmarks for your favorite stores and delete the shopping apps. Replace them with other innocent time killers such as educational apps or time consuming games. While you are at it, install an ad blocker to keep those pesky advertisements away.

In addition, you should plan your shopping trips to serve a purpose. No more walking around the outlet mall to kill some time. When it is time to shop, have a clear goal in mind and then go accomplish it.

5) Set A Small Savings Goal

If your only savings goal is to retire, your motivation will be low, especially when you are younger. Retirement likely seems ages away, so it is something that you just do not think of on a daily basis. That means that it is not motivating you and you are much more likely to spend.

Set a smaller savings goal to use for motivation. You might, for example, set a goal to save around 1500 dollars. That is much more attainable and it will be easy for you to see how even trivial spending can delay you reaching that goal.

Once you reach this goal, give yourself a little reward. Not something so big that it harms your budget, but enough to provide a small treat.

6) Separate Your Savings

The easiest way to open and maintain a savings account is to open an account at the same bank where your checking resides. While this is easy, it also presents some problems. The biggest of which is the availability of an instant transfer. That leaves you vulnerable to impulse spending.

A better option is to open an online savings account. Online savings account are still readily available in an emergency, but it generally takes a full business day for transfers to take effect. That gives you time to cool off.

A side benefit of online savings is that they generally yield higher returns. While your local bank might give you .1 percent interest, for example, that online account will be closer to 1 percent. Is that a huge amount of money? No, but why leave anything on the table?

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James Car is a finance, loan and budget expert based in the United States. After attending Brookhaven college, he went on to become a successful entrepreneur. He now enjoys writing articles that help people save and make the most of their money.