Last month I wrote about my “low-income lifestyle” that’s a consequence of my tight graduate student income. I only make about $14-15k per year after taxes and education expenses. Then, I have to account for rent, food, entertainment, and transportation costs.
There’s not a lot of wiggle room. As a student, employee, and writer, I can’t commit any more time to work endeavors. At the end of nearly every week I’m beat up from an 80-hour workweek. I know and admire those who can work this many hours, and still do more. But I never saw that life for myself.
Staying true to a budget and future goals can be challenging. Here are 5 methods I use to stick to my budget.
1. Tell friends and family
“Power allows us a superficial sense of control, whereas true, vulnerable being allows us a sense of authenticity.” —TinyBuddha.com
It can be embarrassing and challenging to let people in on your financial distress, concerns, and budgetary constraints. That embarrassment personally led me to avoid saying “no” or high-spend scenarios (i.e., going to ball games, bars, and expensive restaurants). Rather than admit to myself and others that I had a budgetary problem, I hid behind debt.
One of the most powerful changes you can make today is to tell anyone in your life about debt and/or financial goals. Some friends will be able to provide support, choose more affordable activities, and check-in with you. That connection is fundamentally important, because bucking societal trends to spend more and more can be challenging. Having people on your side is essential.
2. Find accountability buddies
“Men [and women] exist for the sake of one another.” —Marcus Aurelius
While friends can be emotionally supportive to financial goals and concerns, they might not be equipped to be an accountability “buddy.” These partners do more than checking in — they push you to save more.
Find a person, network, or community — online or in person — that can help you stick to your budget. Choose someone you trust, as financial distress is often personally intertwined with psychological wellness.
Spending a lot of money? Likely, there are some external stressors in your life. An accountability buddy needs to be a supportive/challenging listener.
3. Regularly check your budget
”The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” —Henry David Thoreau
Seeing massive bills and debt is frightening. It’s difficult to see a way out of these holes.
One maladaptive pattern I engaged in was avoidance. If I didn’t look at my budget, recent transactions, or credit bill, I wasn’t as stressed out (short term). But then again, I wasn’t trying to reduce the spending, either.
Denial can be the answer, but it’s dangerous; often, delaying budgetary fixes. The nervousness and anxiety must be faced.
I’d recommend making a habit of checking your transactions and bills once per day. There are various methods, but I’d recommend an online option. For instance, with Personal Capital, you can sync nearly every type of bank account, investment account, credit card, and loan. This helps you get a broad-based perspective of your net worth and budget efforts. And it’s all free!
4. Write and/or start a diary
“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” —Dalai Lama
Words are powerful — forget people who say “words can never hurt me.” Words make people feel deeply — cry, laugh, and everything in between. Words can help you catalogue, share, and reflect on your budget efforts.
I started Frugaling to do just that: reflect on my efforts, write about personal finance issues, and help others along the way. Others have seen my triumphs and failures — ups and downs. Along the way, I’ve been able to look back through my archives to see how my thinking changed.
Private diaries are another great option! As long as you’re brutally honest with yourself, you’ll be helping to save and stick to whatever budget you set for yourself.
5. Remain present focused, mindful
“Eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.” —Wittgenstein
This step can be the most challenging of all. Most people want to drift into past or future-oriented thinking.
We tend to perseverate on past failures, mistakes, and embarrassments. Alternatively, we tend to think about future potential, hopes, and dreams of a better life than we have right now. Both forms of thinking suck us away from the present moment.
We cannot change the past, and what we do in the present determines much of the future. It’s in the present moment where we can enact change, stick to our budget, and prevent another purchase.
Sticking to a budget takes patience and perseverance: one day at a time. We can beat ourselves up for our mistakes, which make us tragically want to consume more. Or, we can take hold of the moments we have left to live a different life. There’s so much potential in the latter option.