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5 ways to mend a broken budget

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Adapted from Better Money Habits®

Struggling to balance your spending? You’re not alone. Here are five obstacles that throw many people off course—and how to overcome them.

1. Analysis paralysis

You feel that you can’t create a budget until your system is perfect.

Why it happens: If you’re a perfectionist, you might be afraid of making the wrong choice—so you make no choice at all.

The solution: Just start somewhere, maybe by tracking just one or two important categories. Remind yourself that even an imperfect budget is better than no budget.


2. It’s too complicated

Last month, you resolved to keep track of every cent. You kept it up—for two days. Now you feel defeated.

Why it happens: People assume budgeting has to be a lot of work, when really it’s about finding simple and realistic solutions and habits, says Judy Lawrence, money coach and author of The Budget Kit.

The solution: Keep it simple and give it time. Whether you use a notebook or an app, tracking expenses should take no more than 10-15 minutes a day once you get the hang of it—but all new habits take time.


3. Surprise expenses

You didn’t include that tax bill. Or a buffer for emergencies such as car repairs or ER visits.

Why it happens: People tend to focus on what’s right in front of them.

The solution: Brainstorm annual expenses, potential emergencies or events, and even occasional seasonal spending like gift buying—and add a bucket for those.


4. The “buy” button

Love daily deals and downloads? Buying a $2.99 app or streaming a movie for $4.99 doesn’t seem like much, but those small purchases add up.

Why it happens: If you’ve registered your credit card information with an app or site, the ease of buying can make you forget those transactions.

The solution: Before you click “Buy,” take a five-minute pause to consider whether you really need the purchase. If you use a budget app or spreadsheet, track your online spending—you may be surprised when you see the total.


5. You’re a giver

You’re good at sticking to a budget for yourself, but when it comes to your friends, your partner or your kids, you like to be generous.

Why it happens: “Many people find it’s easier to justify spending on other people than on themselves,” says Lawrence. When it comes to gifts, “the budget rules go out the window.”

The solution: Build gifts and treats into your budget. Just because they’re not for you doesn’t mean they don’t count as expenses.

Learn more and take action

  • Ready to start budgeting? Try this handy worksheet.
  • Saving several months’ worth of household expenses can be daunting. Watch this video for tips on making sure you’re ready for whatever life throws at you.
 
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