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How Do You Stick to Your Budget?

Thursday, October 05, 2023

How Do You Stick to Your Budget?

Sticking to a budget is a really common challenge for people. Ever notice how all of the banking apps that track spending typically make some kind of comment about how their tool helps you “stick with it?” They know it’s a struggle for people. And as of writing this, there are over 277 million search results for this one question alone on Google. So, I would like to start by saying that you are not alone if you’re finding it difficult to stick with your budget.

It’s normal. You’re normal.

What we should do first is acknowledge that the most common challenge is that most people don't budget at all. According to a CNBC article put out last year, 73% of the country doesn't budget. And until a few years ago, I was part of that 73%. It wasn’t until I was 32 years old before I made my very first budget.

But what I discovered was that having the “dreaded b-word” budget was THE missing tool I needed to finally see some financial success in my life. Yes, I needed to change my entire relationship with money and admit to myself I needed to start budgeting; but within two years of starting to budget, my wife and I had paid off $114,000 of consumer debt and changed our lives completely. The budget is what put us in control of our money instead of continuing down the path of allowing our money to control us.

But as you already know, creating, or starting, a budget is one thing. Sticking with a budget is something entirely different.

In a survey I conducted with around 100 random participants, 80% of people said that making more money was seen as the only option to eliminate their financial challenges. But I found this a little ironic because, as we already know, 73% of the country doesn’t budget.

My belief is that more of the country would experience financial progress in their lives if they simply focused on budgeting the money they do have versus focusing on making more money, under the assumption that it will solve their financial problems.

Now, with all that being said, you’re reading this not because you need me to remind you of the importance of budgeting, but because you need some help sticking with it.

So let’s get into it.

Budgeting is a skill and practice that you continue to do for the rest of your life. Because there can be so many challenges when it comes to our money, it’s highly unlikely that any budget is ever going to be perfect. We try to be realistic with numbers and account for everything; but when something goes “wrong” with our budgets, we tend to associate this with “failing.” And when we fail, it becomes more and more difficult for us to continue on.

Below, I’ve listed the top five reasons why I find people aren't able to stick with a budget. I think it’s important for us to look at these reasons first in order to help us identify how we can improve our chances for long-term success; because by being able to identify the problem, we can more easily and effectively solve it.

As Albert Einstein once said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.”

So without further ado, here are the five most common challenges people face when sticking with a budget (and don’t worry … I’m going to give some actionable tips for each of these):

1. Lack of Discipline: A lot of people are going to find it hard to stick with a budget due to their spending habits which include things like impulse spending or "indulgences." (Think: YOLO.) This type of financial challenge could also mean not having any type of accountability in place.

2. Unforeseen Expenses: Have you ever said something like, "Well, I just blew the budget?" Typically, these unforeseen expenses are what cause that. These expenses could be things like medical bills, car repairs, or even your child's gymnastics membership. They’re the expenses you never saw coming, which means they were never planned for.

3. Inconsistent Income: I've heard many people say, "We never know how much we're going to make, so budgeting doesn't/won't work for us." The fluctuating income can make it really difficult to plan your money effectively. And so you probably do something similar to what I did and resort to “fuzzy math,” which is basically “flying by the seat of your pants.”

4. Underestimating Expenses: When we are first creating our budgets, we have a tendency to underestimate how much each line item will cost; or, we may forget to add in all of our variable costs (utilities, entertainment, toiletries, subscriptions, etc.). And if we forget too many things, going over budget happens very quickly. We can also underestimate new, or one-time, line items such as vacations, travel, or holidays.

5. Lack of Motivation: This was me for the longest time. What's the point in budgeting if...(and you fill In the blank)? Here are some examples of what you may have filled in: I'm bad with money; my career doesn't pay me enough to budget; I'm living paycheck to paycheck and don't see the point...the list goes on and on. If you’ve ever said, “Why bother,” this is a challenge you’re facing.

Now, you may be thinking, “Kyle, I’m a combination of all of these.” And if that’s the case, you’re not alone. The challenges can vary, even from month to month. But don’t feel like you have to solve everything all at once. We’re building new habits, so it’s going to take some time. For me, I was definitely a combination of all five, but I mostly felt like I battled with having real motivation. Here’s a summary of how I used to feel:

  • I had never created a budget, so I had zero discipline when it came to budgeting.
  • ​Every day felt like an unforeseen expense. As soon as I walked out the door of my apartment, it was like I automatically just started spending money and had no idea where it went.
  • ​I was a performer ... I had no idea how much money I was making, could make, needed to make ... just clueless. I wasn't paying attention at all.
  • ​When my wife and I first sat down to look at our numbers and make our first budget, we discovered we were each spending over $100/mo at Starbucks and we were spending over $1,200/mo just eating out. I never would have thought it was that much.
  • ​I had zero motivation for many reasons: embarrassment, shame, guilt, overwhelm, didn't know where to start, didn't think I had the ability to do anything about it, blaming my career, submitting myself to just being bad with money for the rest of my life ... my list went on and on.

You know how I keep saying that you are not alone?

I mean it.

So now the question becomes ... if I’m facing these challenges, what can I do about it?

Here are some actionable tips for each of these scenarios:

If you're feeling a lack of discipline...try tracking all of your expenses. Seeing the numbers written out (or typed out) unlocks a different perspective in your brain and may give you the gentle (but firm) kick in the rear you need. You can also try using cash envelopes and/or a budgeting app. And if tracking expenses sounds like something you'll never do, then maybe opt for the premium version of the app so it will help to ensure you don't miss any transactions. Another thing to look into is finding some kind of accountability. This could be a coach, friend, pastor, group, vision board, tracking sheet, etc. The idea is to find some way to routinely check in with yourself.

If you have unforeseen expenses...one of the best things you can do is play a little bit of defense and build up an emergency fund. Right now, almost 40% of Americans can’t handle a $400 emergency. Having this emergency fund turns these unforeseen expenses into financial inconveniences. I would also suggest creating a miscellaneous line item on your budget for helping to handle these kinds of expenses. We know life is going to happen. So being prepared with these two things is basically like having “budget insurance.”

If you have inconsistent income...you need to be even more on top of your money. So, setting up a budget based on your "base budget" and having a hills & valleys account are what I would recommend. Your base budget will be the minimum amount your household needs in order to make sure all the needs are met. In the lower-income months, pull from the hills & valleys account; but in the high months, make sure to fill it back up. The amount you keep in the hills & valleys account should be (at minimum) the difference between your lowest-paid month and your base budget total. To clarify, this isn't an emergency fund - but it's a separate savings bucket which will help to create some financial stability when there is instability with your income.

If you are underestimating expenses...then getting more focused on your numbers is going to be the key and help a lot. When you're building your budget, make sure you're looking at all expenses that might come up. And if you go over during the month, make sure that you adjust your budget for the next months to allow for those line items requiring more money to be allocated to them. A miscellaneous line item in your budget will help with this, as well. And when it comes to one-off expenses (like a vacation, travel, or holidays), take the time to think through what all you’ll be needing (and wanting) to spend money on. The numbers are going to be the numbers, so focus a little more on those.

If you have a lack of motivation...then you need to dial in your "why." This is so incredibly important because it's what reminds you why you're doing what you're doing. Eventually, the habit of budgeting will become a life skill and habit. But until that happens, having clear financial goals and being able to identify your "why" is going to help you stay committed to your budget - because your budget is essentially your goals, priorities, and your “why” on paper.

At the end of the day, consistency is going to be the key. Promise yourself that you’ll continue to show up because your goals and dreams are worth it, my friend. I know budgeting works. I’ve seen it in my clients’ lives, as well as in my own. And just know that it’s never going to be “perfect.” Life is fluid, so your budget will need to be fluid, as well. Every time something doesn’t go the way you planned, it creates a new opportunity for us to grow. We become stronger. And the habit of sticking with your budget will become easier.

“Nobody ever said it would be easy. They only promised it would be worth it.”

And I promise it’s worth it.

Stay Curious,



Kyle Fowler

Founder of Financial Flippers

The personal finance world is packed with TONS of information. And while it's not all bad, it's not all good. I work hard to make sure I am sharing helpful content that keeps you on track while still providing different perspectives. If you ever have questions, want to share ideas for other topics, or want to know more, shoot me an email: kyle@financialflippers.com

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