Keep Calm and Budget On

Keep Calm and Budget On

Johnny and I started our first itemized budget in the fall of 2009. That very first month of keeping track of every cent was quite uncomfortable for the both of us. But we did it. In fact, we stuck to our budget perfectly. And then… the next month wasn’t quite so perfect. And the month after that… wasn’t perfect either. Our budgeting mojo from that first month seemed to have vanished. If our budget had been a PASS or FAIL class, we would have gotten a bright red FAIL because by all accounts, we weren’t sticking to our budget like we’d said we would.

We regrouped a few months later and put together an aggressive debt payoff plan (using our trusty friend the debt snowball). And in the end, we paid off our debt a couple months earlier than our 2-year goal. But along the way? We had months where we failed and spent more than we should — $20 here or $50 there. Or even $100 or $200 more than we’d planned. Yes, this was failure. But we kept trying every month. And that is the reason we ended up succeeding.

And here’s the thing. We still fail at our projected budget some months. We ate out way more than we should have in September. And it caused our Food category to be in the red. But we still ended up saving and other areas of our budget succeeded. And we’re back to budgeting again this month.

So why does budgeting have so much failure? Well, I like to compare budgeting to dieting (which I’m sure you’ve heard us say before). When it comes to dieting, people come up with an eating plan, and it’s oftentimes fairly strict. But sticking to that plan promises big results, despite how uncomfortable it may be. But as soon as people veer from their diet, it’s all over. They’ve failed. They couldn’t resist that one cookie so now they’re going to drown their sorrows with five more cookies.

Of course, in reality, that one cookie really wouldn’t have done much damage. But because their perfect plan was no longer perfect, they decided to just give up all together. Diets are hard, and failure happens. The important thing is to keep trying. And the same goes for budgeting. Budgets can be hard and uncomfortable, especially when you’re working to pay off debt or saving up for something on an accelerated timeline.

So if you find yourself failing at your budget and beating yourself up about it (or even giving up), I’m sorry we didn’t have this talk earlier. It’s okay to fail. The important thing is to keep budgeting every month. And I promise you’ll have success.

Even in your failure, you’re doing better than 68% of our country. That’s right… only 32% of Americans put together a budget each month. Failure indicates that at least you tried. And think about if you hadn’t had a budget in place at all! That $20 you went over on food might have been $200.

At least you’re improving or on the path. The worst thing you could do is just quit. And, hey, if you haven’t yet mustered up the courage for a budget yet this month, we’re only six days in. It’s not too late to get started!

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  • Reply Elle October 6, 2014 at 7:28 am

    Wonderful post; budgets don’t have to be perfect. Having a plan for your money is huge step in itself and can get you far.

    Like diets, sometimes we make budgets too strict. The budget fails can help you see where you can improve. Maybe you can include a buffer to catch those erratic spending habits or maybe you can give yourself a ‘cheat expense’ once a month (within reason).

    • Reply Joanna October 17, 2014 at 1:57 am

      I like that idea of a cheat expense! Knowing me, I’d probably use it up on the very first day of every month :).

  • Reply Aldo @ Million Dollar Ninja October 6, 2014 at 7:35 am

    You’re right, failure means that at least you’ve tried.

    Before I started budgeting (about a year ago) my finances were a mess. That all changed when I started a written budget and keeping track of my expenses. Like you, I failed the first few months, but I learned something each month and it helped me change my habits.

    Now I feel my budget is pretty solid. True, I go over budget on some categories, but I don’t on others and I don’t overspend overall.

    • Reply Joanna October 17, 2014 at 1:59 am

      That’s awesome, Aldo. It takes time for budgeting to really catch on, but it’s totally worth it.

  • Reply Brandy @bustedbudget October 6, 2014 at 8:16 am

    I compare budgeting and paying off debt to dieting all the time. The little actions really do add up. Thanks for the motivation to keep going!

  • Reply Laura October 6, 2014 at 9:20 am

    This is the very reason my husband and I give ourselves an allowance each time we do the budget.. We found that we were going over the grocery or entertainment budget because of little splurges here and there but denying ourselves our little indulgences made us resent our budget. Sure we won’t meet our goals quite as quickly as we otherwise might but at least this way we actually stick to our budget.

    • Reply Joanna October 17, 2014 at 2:00 am

      Same with us! We were resenting our budget and each other until we added our own “personal” categories that could be spent on whatever we pleased. That’s great you two have found a method that works for you!

  • Reply Sarah October 6, 2014 at 9:49 am

    This is so true!! I find it so much harder to stay dedicated to a budget once I feel like I’ve “messed up” that month. “I overspent on groceries this month? OBVIOUSLY I need to go buy some new shoes and get a pedicure then!!”

    • Reply Joanna October 17, 2014 at 2:00 am

      Ha! You and I think the exact same way, girl!

  • Reply Becky @ RunFunDone October 6, 2014 at 10:16 am

    I agree with this analogy. With dieting and budgeting, if you’ take an all-or-nothing approach, you will fail. I think the analogy also extends to considering sustainability. Both with budgeting and with dieting, you have to have a plan that is not so restrictive that it’s difficult to sustain over time.

    • Reply Joanna October 17, 2014 at 2:01 am

      Very true. Sustainability is a great point… it’s all about the long haul!

  • Reply Laura October 6, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Thanks so much for this!! I needed this today! I was just thinking about that a few days ago and feeling a little annoyed at not being able to properly succeed with my budget! but this is quite re-comforting…. I will just keep on budgeting until I get it right! 😀

    • Reply Joanna October 17, 2014 at 2:02 am

      So happy to read your comment, Laura! I wrote this post because I’m totally that person who’s tempted to throw in the towel if I mess up even the slightest. Keep on keepin’ on and realize we’re all right there with ya!

  • Reply Gretchen October 6, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    This is good advice for someone like me, who struggles daily with her budget! Thank you so much!

  • Reply Myles Money October 6, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    It’s only failure if you quit.

  • Reply Tarynkay October 6, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    You can’t fail in just one month! You probably can’t succeed in just one month, either, and that is good to keep in mind when setting your budget and goals.

    • Reply Joanna October 17, 2014 at 2:03 am

      Love how you put that…. such a great reminder!

  • Reply EcoCatLady October 6, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Mustard the courage… it’s not to late to Ketchup! (Sorry, your last sentence was just begging for it.)

    • Reply Joanna October 17, 2014 at 2:04 am

      Ha! You’re right. I LOL’ed when I first read this comment, so thanks!

  • Reply Brittany @ Fun on a Budget Blog October 8, 2014 at 1:54 am

    I can’t believe only 32% of people put together a budget! I can totally relate to a budget that doesn’t perfectly work out but none at all blows my mind!

    • Reply Joanna October 17, 2014 at 2:06 am

      Yup… crazy stats! Honestly, if I hadn’t married a naturally money-minded person like Johnny, I’d still probably be part of the 78%!

  • Reply marty preston October 10, 2014 at 1:23 am

    I totally understand that sometimes the plans to stay on budget sometimes self combust whether we want it to or not. I think that we have build in a fail safe or extra spending cash just in case so there is a built in back up plan

    • Reply Joanna October 17, 2014 at 2:07 am

      Yes! I agree with that wholeheartedly. We definitely had to dip into our emergency fund a couple times in the beginning.

  • Reply Lisa October 14, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    I’m always so hard on myself when I get “off budget”. But as long as I’m saving and I’m following the budget at least 90% of the time, I’m sure to be on the right path.

    • Reply Joanna October 17, 2014 at 2:08 am

      Very true. It’s all about the big picture!

  • Reply Melanie October 21, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Im currently stressing because I just moved from PA to MA a few weeks ago, and my budget last month, and most likely this month, is a mess!!! I had all moving expenses saved, like the moving companies, etc, but didnt anticipate all the “stuff” I’d need for the new place–curtain rods, curtains, filing cabinet (went from having an office to working from home), etc. (Do I REALLY need curtains?!) haha. And then I think that it’s almost November. And then almost December…AHHHH. But Im still doing my budget. And still automatically saving each month…. I guess I need to just CHILL and do my absolute best and it will all settle out. Hopefully 😉

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