You’ve done a good thing.
By creating a budget, you’ve taken the first step toward your financial freedom.
Whether your goal is to pay off debt, build an emergency fund, or save for your first home, you know that having a budget in place is the best way to reach those goals.
But, what do you do when that good, responsible behavior takes a turn and starts to wear you down, leading to a serious case of budget burnout?
Let’s talk about 5 tips to avoid budget burnout so that you can continue on the right path toward financial independence.
Tip 1: Recognize The Signs Of Budget Obsession
The first few months of creating, checking, and reconciling your budget feel oddly exhilarating. This is especially true when you start making progress on your goals.
Whether you’re using an app, budgeting spreadsheet, or plain old pen and paper, you actually look forward to your budget-tracking sessions.
But, after a few months in, you realize that you’re checking your budget multiple times a day. It’s almost as if you can’t help it.
I admit, I’ve been guilty of this kind of obsessive behavior. Even though I know that I just checked the budget yesterday, and haven’t made any purchases since the last time I checked, I still feel compelled to look at it, just to be sure I didn’t miss anything.
This kind of obsessive budgeting behavior is rooted in a fear and scarcity mentality, and will not get you any closer to your financial goals. It may even cause you abandon the budget altogether.
Instead of the daily budget checks, use a planner or your smartphone calendar to schedule a weekly budget check-in, and a monthly budget reconciliation. That’s all the attention your budget needs.
Note: It is not obsessive or wrong to review your account activity on a regular basis to ensure everything looks right. Fraud and identity theft are very real. These days, pretty much every bank has an app that allows you to quickly review account activity.
Tip 2: Avoid Budget Comparison
One of my favorite places to find personal finance and budgeting inspiration is YouTube.
There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of videos by people who have reached their financial goals, as well as others who are still working on them.
When you see the methods and advice that these YouTubers are using to save or get out of debt, it can cause you to question what you’re doing because you start comparing your progress to theirs.
While there’s nothing wrong with evaluating your budget to make sure it’s working, comparing it to someone whose financial situation you really don’t know is pretty pointless. You really have no idea what they’ve endured and sacrificed to get where they are. You only know what they choose to share.
For most of us, paying off debt and saving is a long game. Those who are able to do it quickly are the exception, not the rule.
Also, remember, there are different ways to measure success. Your milestone in paying off that small credit card balance is just as awesome as their accomplishment of saving up their first 10 K.
Don’t allow comparison to steal your budgeting joy. Instead, be grateful for the things you have accomplished, and look forward to crushing your goals!
Tip 3: Budget For Fun
Now, I know that some of you are on a mission to get out of debt fast. For you, “fun” may not be a priority. That’s totally fine. Only you know what is most important to you in the financial freedom stage you’re in.
However, I have found that having balance in my budget works best for me. Whenever I would try to be super restrictive in my budget, I’d end up feeling discouraged, questioning whether or not I would reach the goals I set.
So, I choose to include a bit of fun and recreational spending. Creating a category for frugal, fun activities has allowed me to continue to live a full life, while still working toward my goals.
One thing to note is that the amount of ‘fun’ in your budget depends on your income vs. expenses. If you are making only enough to pay your bills and the minimums on your debt, you may have an income issue, not a budget issue.
Tip 4: Set A Realistic Budget
I believe that one of the biggest reasons budgets fail is because they are not realistic given our lifestyles and habits.
For example, one of my biggest budget challenges is groceries.
When I created my budget, I was determined to slash my grocery spending to save money. I was spending about $250 a month for a one-person household, and wanted to get the budget down to $100! I started inventory meal planning, and was sure that would help me lower my spending in that area.
Despite my efforts, I went over the grocery budget every single month, usually by about $50-$100. After looking at my receipts, I realized that my grocery spending really wasn’t unreasonable. I also celebrated the fact that the inventory meal planning was helping; instead of spending about $250, I was actually spending closer to $200.
I had to accept the fact that $100 a month simply was not realistic for me, and I raised the budget to a comfortable $200 per month.
So, before you start a budget, make sure the category amounts are realistic for your lifestyle. If you work a longer shift once a week and need to pick up dinner on the way home, there’s no use in trying to cut that out of your budget.
If there are things that you cannot realistically cut to save money, try adjusting the budget other areas that make more sense.
Tip 5: Embrace Change
As your life situation changes, it is likely that your budgeting habits will need to change as well.
The truth is that we cannot predict the future. Good things like pay increases and money blessings will happen, as well as unexpected medical bills and home repairs.
Have confidence in your budgeting abilities! Because you’ve been able to maintain a budget up until the point when things started to change, remind yourself that you have what it takes to adjust the budget for those changes and keep working toward your goals.
Whether adapting to these changes means earning more money, or finding even more ways to save, you got this! You can do it!
Have you ever experienced budget burnout? If so, how did you handle it?