New budgeters tend to get caught up in the creation of their budget rather than the actual budgeting itself. Before I started using Mint’s monthly budgeting calculator, I’ve certainly been guilty of creating a beautiful, detailed and well-organized budgeting scheme – only to abandon it after a few weeks.
The key is to stick to a schedule. If you can make budgeting a part of your routine, the whole process will begin to feel familiar, less complicated and less tedious. You may even begin to enjoy the habit over time.
Keeping to your budget schedule takes work, but it’s not difficult to establish one. Here’s what you should know.
What is a Budget Schedule?
A budget schedule refers to the frequency with which you update and maintain your budget. That means regularly adding new transactions, putting those transactions in the right categories and then examining the budget.
Start a budget schedule by pulling up your budget and loading all the expenses. If you use an Excel or Google spreadsheet, you’ll have to manually enter the transactions by using your most recent credit card and bank statements.
If you use a software program or app like Mint, the transactions will load automatically when you log in. Make sure all the accounts are syncing properly so you don’t miss any expenses. You may have to reenter the login credentials if an account has unsynced.
Categorizing transactions is the most tedious part of updating a budget. It can take a while, depending on how long it’s been since you made updates, how many transactions there are and whether or not you also have to sort the transactions made by a spouse or partner.
Once you’ve finished categorizing, see if you’re over budget in any particular group. For many people, this will be the entertainment, grocery or restaurant category. If you’ve had a recent emergency like a trip to urgent care or an unexpected car repair, that can also send your budget over the top.
Whatever the reason is, look at your budget and decide what to do next month. Do you need to allocate less for discretionary categories like clothes and beauty? Should you stay in this weekend? Do you need to pick up a quick side hustle?
Once the current budget is done, try to plan ahead for next month by looking at your calendar. See if there are any major events like weddings, birthdays or parties. Unexpected expenses are the ultimate budget killers, and planning in advance is the best way to avoid being surprised.
How to Set Up and Stick to a Budget Schedule
The key to setting up a budget schedule is to pick a consistent time and stick with it. A budget date should be a regular habit, like brushing your teeth or doing the laundry. Once the activity is ingrained as a habit, it will be easy to remember.
Look at your schedule and decide what works best, aiming for a day and time when you’re less likely to have conflicts. If you always catch up with your sister on Sunday afternoons, don’t pick 2 p.m. on Sunday as your budget date. Instead, you could aim for 11 a.m. on Sundays and use the sister phone-date as a small reward. A budget date should become a part of your current schedule, not an obstacle to it.
Unless you love personal finance, reconciling a budget is probably about as enjoyable as going to the dentist. It’s easy to make excuses and avoid doing it, but that avoidance only prolongs the process. Try to sit down with your budget at least once a week, every week.
One trick to make budgeting more bearable is to work on it more often. When you categorize expenses every few days, it takes less time than doing a whole month’s worth of transactions at once. Think of it like going in for an oil change – if you stick to a regular maintenance schedule, you’ll avoid bigger problems down the road.
I like to work on my budget every couple of days. It only takes a few minutes, less than what it takes to water my plants or answer an email. I keep my budget open in a browser tab where it serves as a reminder to check-in.
If you’re new to budgeting, set up a calendar reminder in a phone or physical planner. Trying to remember a budget date on your own is just asking for trouble, and setting up automated reminders will take some of the stress away from the process.
As hard as it may sound, you should try to make the experience fun. Take yourself to a new coffee shop or bar every time you budget. If you add something enjoyable to the routine, you’ll be more likely to stick to it.
How to Handle Budget Problems
People often give up on their budget and schedule because they feel overwhelmed. If you categorize expenses and go over budget every month, you might feel deflated. This isn’t an enjoyable feeling, so you may consciously or unconsciously decide to stop budgeting altogether.
If your current budget isn’t working for you, it’s time to regroup. Look at where you’re going wrong and see if there are any trends. Are you always spending more on groceries? Did your health insurance go up and you forgot to update the budget? Maybe you’re always running into surprise expenses like baby showers, car repairs or charity requests.
If this is the case, it’s time to revisit the budget and make changes. That may mean upping your grocery budget and spending less in other categories. You may need to add a miscellaneous category to account for all the things you can’t plan for.
In some cases, the solution isn’t so simple. You may have to find ways to earn more money, like picking up extra hours at your job or starting a side hustle. That may be a harsh reality to face, but at least your budget will give you the tools to make an informed decision.