At some point in the past several months, most of us have started a budget, or at least had the desire to start one. And then months pass and here we find ourselves in one of two places: 1. budgeting or 2. not budgeting. And there’s a whole spectrum of reasons and qualifications within each of these places. We could be budgeting and totally killing it, or we could be budgeting and barely hanging on by a thread. Or maybe we’re not budgeting at all, but just last month we totally were. Or perhaps we’ve been not budgeting for a while now. Wherever we stand, I think it’s safe to say we’d all like to be budgeting.
One of the biggest reasons we’ve found that we or others falter in budgeting is from something we like to call budgeting burnout. It’s a sneaky little budgeting bug that can infect even the most stalwart of budgeters. Our budget gets the best of us, begins to weigh us down, takes up more time and attention than we have to give, and ultimately gets dropped to the wayside — by no fault of our own. It’s the budget’s fault for becoming too darn clingy and oppressive. But we’re here to show you a few tips on getting your budget to chill out and do its thang without causing the dreaded budgeting burnout.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Focus on One Category Each Month
One way budgeting burnout can occur is by trying to make your budget do too much too quickly. You want to slash spending in every category all at once. And while that’s a nice idea, it can quickly become unrealistic and overwhelming. Instead, we suggest focusing on one category each month and finding as much cost savings as possible in that one category before focusing on another category. By bettering your budget one category at a time, you can pace yourself and set up a better budget for the long haul. We did this last year, and you can see all the categories we focused throughout the year right here.
Don’t Count Every Penny
That’s right. We don’t think your budget should be perfect. The truth is that a few cents here or there don’t actually make a difference in budgeting success. It’s your mindset that matters most. So when Johnny and I track our budget each month, we round up (or down) for each expense. For instance, if Johnny buys a cheeseburger for $5.30, we put it in our budget as $5. If I buy some nail polish for $7.51, we put it in our budget as $8. It’s a small act, but it helps simplify the process some.
Use an Everything Else Category
I don’t feel like we can ever emphasize an Everything Else category enough. It was a major game changer for our budget when we were still paying down our student loans. Here’s how it works. We combine our variable expenses into one big category (called “Everything Else”), rather than having them in tons of separate little categories. As long as we spend within the total category’s budget, it’s fine to spend as we please within all the subcategories. Some of our “Everything Else” subcategories include Entertainment, Home/Personal Care, Pet Supplies, Baby Supplies, Dry Cleaning, etc. Our total budget for “Everything Else” is $305, so as long as we don’t go over that number, we can spend more or less as we please within the different subcategories. If that all just sounded like a bunch of gobbledygook, you can check out our full explanation on the Everything Else category here.
Set a Budgeting Alarm
Life gets busy. Very busy. And simply forgetting to track your spending is a real thing. You may remember you’ve forgotten right as you’re drifting off into dreamland at night, and you tell yourself that you’ll catch up on tracking everything the next day. But then two days pass, and you’re suddenly three days behind on tracking your expenses. We get it, and we’ve been there more often than we’d like to admit. Enter calendar reminders, the one thing that keeps Johnny and me looking like semi-responsible adults. Recently, we’ve been using calendar reminders on our phones to remind us to track our budget as well. At 8:00 p.m. every night, we get a little buzz and reminder that pops up on our phone, telling us to track that day’s expenses. By that point, we’ve spent all we’re going to spend for the day, the girls are in bed, and we can easily catch up on any forgotten expenses if necessary. It’s one less thing we have to remember, and it takes about two seconds to complete each day.
Last, but certainly not least, is rewarding yourself. Budgeting burnout can happen most easily when your budget is so tight, so strict that you never get to enjoy any of your money. Now, “enjoy” is a very relative term. When we were paying down debt, Johnny and I each had $20 of fun money we could spend as we pleased. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to give us a little breathing room in our budget. It was $20 we could spend on stuff we didn’t need. No budget can succeed for long without a little reward. And when you hit certain budgeting milestones or goals, treat yo’ self! Go out to eat or buy a new shirt! Your hard work deserves some acknowledgement.
Those are best tips to beat budgeting burnout. What are some tips and tricks of your own that help you and your budget get along better when your budget is threatening to burn out?
Tracking each expense can be pretty challenging, so it makes sense to ’round’ up or just place it in a miscellaneous category, while still having the main ones tracked strictly. I also found out that it helps if I enter the expenses on a regular basis (say every day or every 2 days, instead of letting them pile up).
The everything else category is very helpful for me! If I made a category for every single type of thing I buy I would give myself a massive headache. I like the tip about not counting every penny; sometimes I do this and it makes me frustrated.
I really love your approach to budgeting and I often find myself falling into your way of budgeting. The everything else category fits my personality so much because if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s trying to itemize each and everything I spend onto a little spreadsheet and account for every single cent I spent. I’ve tried budgeting notebooks to track spending, I’ve tried excel, I’ve tried mint, I’ve tried every dollar. I’ll keep it up for couple of months and then ultimately wanting to be set free from all of it. The everything else category allows your needs to be met within reason. If you have the money in the category, you can do what needs to be done without all the fuss.
Some great tips here. Unfortunately I’m one of those people that has budget burnouts myself, but I need to work on that. Thanks for sharing this!
I think budgeting burnout is part of the cycle. Everyone goes through ups and downs with budgeting and everything else in life. Good post!
Great thought starters. One thing I think can help with budgeting is to start very simple and very high level, and then start whittling it away. No budget system will fit everybody, so to try to start off with something very complicated and/or detailed often leads to frustration, which of course leads to setting the entire idea aside. Starting off simple and then using that to uncover what you want and need out of a more detailed budget is a much better approach, in my opinion.