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8 Smart Tips for Staying on Budget


We’ve all been there: You go to the ATM, withdraw cash, and a day or two later wonder, “Did I lose that money? Where did it go?” You think a little harder and the light bulb goes on—dinner with friends on Friday, picked up the dry cleaning on Saturday—and just like that your $50 went “poof.” Yes, money certainly goes fast.

Establishing a budget is challenging in its own right, but sticking to one takes hard work and dedication. We provide some tips to keep you motivated.

1) Remember the big picture

The point of a budget is to keep you away from debt and help you build a solid financial future. Think about your goals. Managing your budget can help you pursue them. Adding to your debt load will not. Resist the urge to take advantage of “pre-approved” credit offers received in the mail and while you are shopping.

2) Take the "shoe box challenge"

Get receipts for all of your personal expenses and throw them in a shoe box for a month. Then add them up. You’ll be amazed at what you spent on things like restaurants, gifts and trips to the “big box” stores. It’s a wake-up call that will make you more mindful going forward.

3) Use the green stuff

Establishing a budget is challenging in its own right, but sticking to one takes hard work and dedication.

Swiping a debit card is convenient, but sometimes it’s so convenient that it doesn’t seem like “real” money. Consider using cash instead of plastic for certain purchases. Cash teaches you the power of self-control and will help you rein yourself in when you’re tempted to splurge.

4) Set up visual reminders

Whether it’s a ski trip to Colorado or new furniture, keeping pictures—or other visual reminders—of your goals front and center will help you stay focused on the benefits of having a budget.

5) Leave the cards at home

Having multiple credit cards on you means you have more chances to run up multiple balances—and more of a headache should your wallet get lost or stolen. Just carry one major credit card with you. Keep cards for specialty stores at home unless you know you will be using them on a particular day. And use all of your cards wisely. Nothing can derail a budget more than high credit card balances.

6) Stick to your list

Did you ever go to the supermarket for a dozen eggs and come out with so much more? Did you need two-for-one bags of candy or the jumbo box of cereal just because they were on sale? No, probably not! Make a shopping list before you go to the store and stick to it. A shopping list gives you a clear idea of what you need and helps eliminate unnecessary purchases. This can be especially helpful if you tend to be an impulse buyer.

7) Avoid your danger zones

Another shopping tip: stay out of your favorite stores. If you can’t walk into a certain boutique without buying something, then simply don’t go! Chances are you’ve got plenty in your closet anyway. That premise holds true for not just clothes, but other things as well. Whether your passion is electronics or cooking, remember: out of sight, out of mind.

8) Treat yourself

If you’ve been doing a good job managing your budget, allow yourself a little reward. Treating yourself every now and again will make you feel like you’re in control of your budget—not vice versa. Whether it’s a new shirt or a pottery class—giving yourself a little perk signifies “a job well done.”

From time to time, you’ll want to re-evaluate your budgeting goals. A combination of short-term and long-term goals will make it easier to stay the course. Budgeting will come more easily the longer you stick with it, and in doing so, you’ll reap the benefits in years to come.

Learn more and take action

  • Watch this short video for help with setting a budget and saving for your goals.
  • Use this budgeting worksheet to track your monthly income and expenses, and to help you identify opportunities to increase savings.
  • Try these budget and savings calculators to see how making small changes to today's spending habits could add up to help you reach your short- and long-term goals, including investing for retirement.
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