7 Simple Ways to Stay On Budget

If you spend too much every week (or day), try this budget approach.

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By Sabah Karimi

If you struggle to stay on budget every month and find it difficult to reach your savings goals, it might be time for a new approach. Setting yourself up for financial success may require taking a closer look at your spending habits and figuring out your weaknesses. You can also adopt habits that will make you more mindful about your spending choices and shopping routine.

Try these seven ways to stay on budget:

1. Always shop with a list -- even for the small stuff. You may already shop with a list when you go to the grocery store, but do you make a list for everyday purchases like household items, gas or laundry services? Even if it seems unnecessary, making a list for these items can make you more aware of the money you're spending. This in turn can help you prioritize your purchases so you can better manage your cash flow. Make a list even when you're heading to the hardware store, convenience store or clothing store, so you aren't tempted to buy things you don't really need.

2. Use a budgeting smartphone app. Maybe you already use a digital budgeting tool on your computer such as Mint or You Need a Budget. But if you don't,
using a smartphone app to keep track of your budget goals can help you maintain awareness of your spending in real time. Mint, Expensify and ReadyForZero are a few easy-to-use apps that can help you monitor your budget with just a few easy taps.

3. Log expenses every day. Instead of waiting until the end of the week, or even the end of the month, to tabulate your expenses, get into the habit of logging your expenses every day. Request a receipt whenever possible so you can go over the day's expenditures with ease. Or pay for every purchase using the same debit card or credit card so you can track all activity for the day online. The goal here is to become more aware of your daily spending habits, so you can make positive changes.

4. Share your financial goals. Confide in a friend, family member or financial adviser about your goals, and set up a plan so that person holds you accountable. For example, you could set up a weekly meeting, or send an email reporting any spending problems or challenges you are having.

5. Only spend dollars you can see. Shopping with cash can make it easier to manage your budget and be more mindful about how much you spend. When you become used to using a debit card or credit card regularly, it can be easy to forget the value of those dollars because the transactions are processed electronically, and you never see the exchange of physical dollar bills. If you have trouble sticking with a budget, try spending only cash for a few weeks so you become more cognizant about your purchases.

6. Refurbish and recycle. Instead of trying to make room in your budget for new items or saving up to replace goods that are in relatively good condition, focus instead on fixing or refurbishing your possessions. Household furniture, appliances and home decor may just need to be refreshed with new paint or given a tuneup. Take inventory of your home, and think of ways to update your living areas without having to buy new items.

7. Reward yourself without spending money. Creating your own rewards system for reaching your financial goals can help you break a pattern of bad spending habits and set you up for long-term success. Think of ways to reward yourself without spending money. Spend an afternoon enjoying a free event in your area, block off time to try a new recipe, enjoy a relaxing bath or schedule time with a friend or loved one you haven't seen in awhile. Find ways to make the goal-setting process a positive one, so you reinforce good habits and get rid of habits that might be holding you back.

Sabah Karimi is a columnist for the blog Wise Bread, where you can find consumer tips like how to select the best balance transfer credit cards.


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