You’re tired of the relationship. You’re ready to call it quits. Why does it feel like you’re the one putting all the work in? It feels like your efforts are going unnoticed.
We sympathize, but don’t break up with your budget just yet. Like many new budgeters before you, you probably found that starting a budget was easy enough. But after the honeymoon period ended, you’re finding that maintaining your budget can be a bit tricky. Put down the ice cream. Let’s see if we can work through this first.
1. Go back to the beginning
Remember when you first created your budget and everything was exciting and new? Think back to those times and remember why you thought you should have a budget in the first place. That desire to save for something meaningful like that new house or dream vacation, or even to just feel like you have control of your money, is probably still there—and just as strong as it was from day one.
It’s important to remind yourself that budgeting is something you’ll continuously grow into and get better at over time. So be patient with yourself as you work toward your goals.
Remember that just like with any relationship, if things aren’t working, it’s OK to pivot. You might need to take a look at your original budget and make adjustments. Or if a different budgeting need comes up, you can always reprioritize. It’s your budget, after all.
2. Stick with it and work things out
Courtney Mitchell, a financial educator who works on the product management team at TD Bank, is a huge fan of creating budgets—and sticking to them. “My husband and I use one account for the expenses we can plan for each month and fund it first, like our mortgage and daycare, which allows us to focus on the other stuff that pops up,” she says. “It really helps us save some of what’s left. Since a lot of that’s handled with automatic transfers now, it’s been a big relief to not have to worry about it every day.”
Mitchell and her husband credit setting up automated transfers and sticking with their plan for the progress they’ve made toward their goals. So far, they’ve built up emergency savings and then started to save for education for their young daughter. But it’s the weight off her shoulders that keeps her motivated.
“For me, it just means things feel less stressful. Knowing that the important stuff is accounted for before the month even starts makes it all so much easier to manage.”
Budgeting as a family is also nice because it can help with accountability. When more than one person is working towards a common goal, it’s easier to stay on track (and get things done).
3. Don’t get caught up in the day-to-day
There’s no need to walk out the door just because of one bad day. Or because of several bad days. Day-to-day purchases are often the main culprits behind budgets that derail or fizzle out.
Luckily, there are some effective ways to protect your budget from the expenses that pop up. Candy Cambridge, who works in Community Development at TD Bank and has a deep passion for financial education, offers this advice: “Sudden purchases tend to throw off our budgets in a few ways. First, we forget to plan ahead for things we could have seen coming, such as birthdays or other events. Second, impulse buys creep up, and we allow for a few too many ‘I deserve this’ moments. And finally, we fail to account for the little purchases that can add up to have a big impact.”
4. Slow down impulse buys
Cambridge realizes impulse buys outside your set budget pop up all the time, but her approach is simple: “If it’s not something essential, I purposely wait a month before buying. I’ve found that if I still want it after a month, it’s usually worth it and easy to work into my next budget.” If you find it tough to resist, bake in a small budget category for impulse buys that you can tap when the urge arises—but be sure to stick to it.
5. Sweat the small stuff
It's easy to remember big ticket expenses like car repairs and broken heaters, but what about the nonessentials you grab for under $10 each month? Tracking the little stuff is a great way to know exactly where your money’s going. And try to get as specific as possible with each budget category. This way, your $6 smoothie won't get lumped in with your regular grocery budget. (But in order to sweat the small stuff, try to save on food expenses by making your own smoothie.)
6. Double check the calendar
It’s always important to plan ahead for anniversaries and other special days. As you work on your budget, be sure to glance at the calendar for upcoming events and set some cash aside for it in advance. After all, the only thing worse than forgetting your anniversary or your BFF’s birthday is realizing it but not having the funds available to celebrate it.
You know those couples on Instagram who seem to accomplish it all together? The ones who have the dream house, the dog, the envy-inducing vacations? With the right amount of patience and consistency, you and your budget could celebrate similar milestones. And just like those Insta-couples, you’ll see countless benefits along the way. So don’t give up just yet—when you start experiencing some budget wins (and you will), you’ll be glad you stuck it out.