Remember that time you worked really hard putting together your budget? Then after a few months, you realized, your budget is just not working! You’re still spending way more money than you budgeted for your expenses. You still haven’t been able to pay down any of your debt. And you still haven’t been able to save any money. What the heck is going on?
Well, as you’ve probably learned, sticking to a budget isn’t the easiest thing to do. I can surely attest to that. That’s probably why two-thirds of Americans don’t even have one. At least you’re ahead of the curve! So don’t even think about quitting even if you’ve been feeling frustrated or discouraged because things haven’t been working out the way you had planned (or hoped!). Because we all know that’s not going to make things any better. And in fact, it could make things even worse!
Instead, figure out why your budget isn’t working and learn how to fix it. Here are 9 of the most common reasons why your budget isn’t working for you and what you can actually do to fix that.
Related: Budgeting for Beginners
1. You have spending triggers
Spending triggers are events that cause you to emotionally or psychologically feel the need to spend money. They’re generally unplanned and can be destructive to your budget.
Literally, it can be anything from buying something because you can’t pass up a good deal to buying something because you had a really bad (or even really good) day. Do you have any spending triggers? Really think about it because you may not realize that you have one.
My big spending trigger was stress. I used to hate my job so much that I dreaded Sunday’s because it was the day before I had to go back to work. Stress from work consumed me and I felt extremely unhappy and irritable even when I wasn’t at work. I hated feeling like that so I shopped online a lot because it made me feel a little better because it helped take my mind off of things.
How to fix it: Identify what your spending triggers are and look for other ways to deal with it. Try to clear your mind by meditating, taking a walk, or volunteering. Do something good for yourself or others instead of participating in destructive behavior that could leave you broke and/or in debt.
2. You feel deprived
You cut out all of the fun stuff in your budget cold turkey and you were even able to follow it for a few months but now you feel deprived. You may have started to resent your budget so went rouge to “live” again.
How to fix it: Do whatever you can to make room in your budget for some of the things that you enjoy. Making little cuts here and there will allow you to add some of the fun stuff back into your budget. It’s easy to get carried away so don’t go overboard. Allow enough wiggle room in your budget so you don’t feel deprived and throw your whole budget out the window altogether.
3. Your partner isn’t on board
Budgets are hard enough to follow as it is so if you don’t have your partner on board then it could make it a whole heck of a lot harder. Finances can be a touchy subject. No wonder it’s the number one reason that couples argue. If you’re feeling like you’re in it alone then it’s time to get on the same page with your partner. It’s not only good for your overall financial wellness but your relationship. A couple that saves together stays together 🙂
How to fix it: There may be many different reasons that your partner isn’t on board. They may feel like they are left out of the process, or they may not think one is necessary and things will just “work out”. Whatever it may be, it’s extremely important to keep the lines of communication open.
If you talk to your partner and they tell you that they want to be more involved in the process, then good! You could either create a new budget altogether or take what you’ve already created and go from there. This way the both of you can add your input and decide how your money should be spent together. It’ll feel like a team effort instead of one person telling the other what they should and shouldn’t be doing. Also, remember to regularly discuss the progress both of you have made and any challenges you’ve experienced.
If your partner doesn’t think one is necessary and things will just “work out” then that’s a harder conversation to have. If you’ve already tried to talk to them, and playing Mr. Niceguy doesn’t work, then you’ll need to change it up. Be prepared to talk to them about what your long-term goals are (buying a house together, being financially stable enough to start a family, saving enough money for retirement, etc.). Get their input on what’s important to them and make sure that both of your goals align. Then, show them the cold hard facts on why you’re not on track to reach those goals. Because numbers don’t lie!
Although I can’t give you an exact script to follow (I wish that I could) just know that it may take a lot of time and communication. You’ll need to continue to work together on getting on the same page and celebrating small milestones together. Be each other’s cheerleader. It will bring you closer together and help build a stronger relationship while you make your budget work for the both of you.
4. You use credit cards for everything
You swipe your card for everything. And at the end of the month, you’re always over budget.
How to fix it: Credit cards can be great when used responsibly. However, you must must must pay the full balance every month. If you’re unable to do that, then you need to retrain the way you think about money and credit cards.
Start by putting away your credit card(s) and use cash only. Try out the envelope system. Create envelopes for each category in your budget and put cash in the envelopes to pay for those expenses. Once you’ve spent all of the money in that envelope, you’re done for the month. Also, when some people use cash, they find it more difficult to part ways with it.
5. Your budget is unrealistic
When you created your budget, you cut everything down to the bare minimum. Then you found yourself going over budget every month in the same categories no matter how much you tried to stay within your budget.
How to fix it: It’s time to reevaluate your budget. Although you thought or hoped you’d be able to live on a certain amount, it just isn’t possible. You have to be honest with yourself and set a realistic budget. If you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for failure every month and that could lead you to ditch your budget altogether.
For example, if you’re looking to reevaluate your grocery budget, look at how much you spent in the past few months. Going from a budget of $500 to a $100 is not realistic. Instead, start with smaller goals like spending $450 the next month and the $400 the month after. You’ll see an improvement each month which will motivate you to do even better in the coming months.
Related: How to Save Money on Groceries
6. Expenses keep popping up
You thought you created the perfect budget but unplanned expenses keep popping up and it’s ruining everything!
How to fix it: Review your budget at the end of every month and add in the expenses that you know will come up the next month. Is your insurance due? Will you need an oil change for your car? Do you have a special anniversary coming up? Make those adjustments to your upcoming month’s budget so they don’t feel like a surprise when they come up.
7. You’re cheating
You’re cheating on your budget. You’re not tracking every single one of your expenses and then you find yourself trying to hide it from your spouse. Then you start noticing that you’re going over budget when you thought you were doing so well.
How to fix it: Track ALL of your expenses no matter how small. If you spent $1 on a bottle of water at the beginning of the month then there is no way you’re going to remember that at the end of the month. Unfortunately, all of the little expenses that you don’t track still add up and can play a big part in why your budget isn’t working for you.
Keep a log and all of your receipts to help you keep track of all of your expenses. Make sure to write them all down the same day so you don’t forget to track all items.
8. You don’t have an emergency fund
Emergencies always seem to come up at the worst times (not that there’s ever a good time). You can’t plan for them, therefore; you can’t budget for them in advance. They seem to always ruin the budget and set you back even when you were doing so well.
How to fix it: You need to start your emergency fund ASAP! Start a separate savings account and put money away every month, even if money is tight because an emergency will make your money a lot tighter! Next time an emergency comes up, you’ll be prepared and it won’t blow your budget.
9. You haven’t given it enough time
You started your budget a couple months ago and you haven’t seen much change, if any at all. On top of that, you’re now wondering if it’s worth it to have a budget because it doesn’t seem to work for you.
How to fix it: Be patient and tweak your budget every month. Adapting to a budget takes time and you will have to change your habits. That’s going to be hard but you have to be in it for the long haul for you to see major changes. Think about it this way, once you start eating healthy and working out, you won’t see changes overnight. But after a few months, you’ll notice a huge change! The same goes for your budget.
Take a look to see why your budget isn’t working for you. Keep in mind that you have to keep your budget for the long haul for it to really work for you. It doesn’t matter how many times you slip up as long as you learn from your mistakes and keep going. Remember that baby steps in the right direction will still get you where you need to go.
There are a lot of reasons why your budget may not be working for you. It’s time to dig deep and really get a handle on what’s holding you back from being successful. Once you learn how to fix overcome your obstacles then it’ll make sticking to your budget a whole lot easier.
Why wasn’t your budget working for you and what did you do (if anything) to fix it?