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5 Tips for Making a Budget You Can Actually Stick To

Please welcome Laura from Good Not Perfect. Laura is a very smart financial analyst and is sharing tips today for how to make a budget we can actually stick to! She and her co-blogging partner in crime, Emily, share great tips on their blog. I love their common sense approach to living a “cleaner” life {recipes, book reviews, green living, encouragement to learn to make better decisions} and I’m excited to share this guest post with you today!

5 Tips for Making a Budget You Can Actually Stick To

 5 Tips for Making a Budget You can Actually Stick To

Congratulations!  You made it through your Spending Strike.  You’ve reconstituted your last can of powdered milk, obediently marched right past your weekly Jimmy Johns’ lunch, and worked through all your freezer-burned leftovers. Maybe you were lucky enough to have pre-paid for a vacation and got to actually get out dodge dime-free, like Kelli, from The Sustainable Couple, too. Check out her pictures from Mexico, lucky girl!!

You’ve paid your dues. The willpower you’ve exercised during your Spending Strike has helped you do some serious reflection on where your dollars are going, how you could cut back in the future, and maybe some money saving tricks you actually enjoy (who knew you loved to bake bread!?).  The best part?  Hopefully you have managed to work up a little savings in the meantime.

Now we’re right back in  the “real world” … and your vices are calling.  You may be tempted to open up that app on your phone or head to Trader Joes for some “necessities” (hypothetically, let’s say, a bottle of Cocobon wine and dark chocolate covered almonds, please and thank you).

You know how after a strict diet sometimes people feel so deprived they quickly reward their behavior with that “side of fries” or a gooey cinnamon roll (or three)?

 Instead of binging, let’s try to go back to a “balanced” diet.  Here are a few tips that I think are useful as you’re coming out of the Strike (for that matter, any time you’re trying to get spending back in line).   

  1.  Reflect.  Spend some time going over any credit card bills or receipts you have from the months prior to the Strike.  Reflect on what areas you can cut back on, what areas of spend you could delay (but not avoid completely), and how you could apply what you learned this month on those bills going forward.
  2. Create your “Sustainable” Budget.  While it’s great to come back and cleanse your spending with a Strike now and then, you need a budget that you can center a long term lifestyle around.   A life of complete restriction is simply not sustainable. If you don’t know where to begin, I like the 50/30/20 guidelines, which I outlined in more detail on my website (post link to The basic premise is that your individual budget should be based as a percentage of your take home pay as follows:  50% is Needs, 30% Lifestyle, and 20% Savings.
  3. Meal Plan.  Use this as an opportunity to pick 8-10 of your family’s favorite recipes to rotate through in upcoming months.  What I like to do is put each on an index card or post it and stick them on the calendar.  This is a really informal and fluid way to create your own personalized meal plan.  Just having a plan for these two to three dinners a week can keep the meal planning momentum you started during the Strike lasting well into the New Year.  It leaves you room for more spontaneous nights (perfect time to try a new recipe from Pinterest) and leftovers nights too.  Once you make it through the 8-10 faves, shuffle up the cards and repeat.
  4. Continue to Stay Out of Stores.  While you were on the Strike, you probably didn’t find yourself in many stores.  Why?  Simple… there isn’t much to do in them when you’re not spending money!  The less you set foot in a store, the less money you will spend.  Make yourself a “once a month” or “once a quarter” shopping list for specialty stores like the health food store, Costco, or Target (refer to your 8-10 go to recipes to have a well stocked pantry specialized to your recipes).   Do not go to Target for a pack of dish sponges or bananas.  You very well may spend $100.   You may want to use this time to research the best online prices for things and set up autoship on your favorite websites. and both offer you options to set up regular shipments.   And yes, Michelle … ask yourself whether you really NEED anything at Goodwill before you go in.  And have a list of what you are looking for.  😉
  5. Hold Yourself Accountable.  Part of why the Spending Strike is so effective is that you had a goal, a label on what you were doing, and people you were sharing the experience with.   Put your budget in a visible place.  Reward yourself when you stick to a list at a store.  The best way for me to hold myself accountable is using a 3-card system (sort of like the cash envelope system but you get points).  You can read all the details about it here, Mindful Spending.

Now, congratulate yourself on a job well done.  You have started the year with a clean slate (and likely a lighter pantry!) and set the wheels in motion for a smooth transition back into the real world. Start dreaming about your long term financial goals and stay tuned for a future Money Monday posts on Good Not Perfect! For more budgeting tips, head over to Good Not Perfect and read the Financial Toolkit.

Michelle here – Ha! So Laura is totally talking to me about staying out of Jimmy John’s and Goodwill. But you know what, I am still using powdered milk in baking. I haven’t bought a gallon of milk since December!! We don’t drink it, and I cook with the powdered variety just fine so I will continue to use up what I have before buying more of the real stuff… What are your vices??

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