Some people keep it all in their heads, or so they say. But if you’re not writing things down, it’s so easy to forget a couple of bucks here and there – and that adds up.
For example, you know you spent $30 on gasoline, but conveniently forget the energy drink and beef jerky you bought when you went inside to pay.
You don’t have to carry a little notebook. All sorts of budgeting spreadsheets exist online, such as Mint and moneyStrands. Or use a budgeting app or online budgeting software such as our partner PowerWallet, which will track your cash, measure your progress, and maybe even give you coupons.
Remember: You’re not doing this to punish yourself, but rather to get smarter about your funds.
4. Start slowly. Deny yourself too much, and you may crack after a few weeks. Next thing you know you’re going on a wild online shopping spree or buying rounds for your buddies at the sports bar.
And, no, it doesn’t matter that you used online coupon codes or that it was $3 pitcher night. You still blew the budget.
If that happens, get yourself back on the frugal wagon, but with modifications. Allow yourself a bit of a slush fund for small niceties or a touch of riotous living.
Remember, plenty of frugal hacks exist to help you enjoy life inexpensively (or even free). For tips, see 14 Ways to Have More Fun for Less Money and 10 Fun and Inexpensive Things to Do With Your Kids This Weekend.
5. Find a budget coach. Organizations such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies offer money help on a sliding-scale basis. (Tip: Be sure to check any credit counseling organization through the Better Business Bureau and your state attorney general’s office.)
A budget coach may have financial hacks you’ve never considered. This person can also help keep you motivated, especially when it comes to the progress you make.
6. Monitor your goals regularly. Compare your budget with your actual day-to-day spending. Sometimes a wild card like car repairs or medical co-pays sends you way over budget. But if you find yourself in the red more than once in a while, it is time to look for ways to stay motivated.
Maybe a “just this once” coffee, lunch out, toy for your kid or pizza for the family has burgeoned into an inability to say no. Here’s a phrase that can help: “That’s not in the budget right now.”
7. Be flexible. Suppose gasoline prices unexpectedly spike, or you need $20 for your middle-schooler’s chess club fee. The money has to come from somewhere, so you need to be able to shift dollars from category to category.
Note: This doesn’t mean a license to overspend. Quite the opposite: It means you need to get creative about meeting your needs.
If you want your kid in chess club, it could mean sacrificing a couple of treats, e.g., skipping that once-a-week lunch out two times this month.
More deprivation? Look at it as enrichment for your child and pack a couple of extra lunches. Keeping things in perspective is a major component of that thing called adulthood.
8. Celebrate your progress. In the past 90 days you pared that consumer debt by $330 — way to go! Your emergency fund is up to $800 — woot! You started that Roth IRA and automated a small monthly contribution — yay, you!
Seriously: Compare the way you’re living now — taking charge of debt, making plans for the future — to the way you used to live. Remember the feeling of hopelessness, the fear that you would never get ahead? Now you are doing something about it.