6 Ways to Actually Stick to a Budget From Women Who Did It

We’ve all been there. You could have sworn that your checking account was flush with cash just a few minutes ago, and suddenly a low balance alert from your bank kills your vibe. What the heck? Didn’t you just get paid a few days ago? And you only spent $50 at the bar last night. Or was it $85? And groceries were how much, again? So, maybe your budgeting skill leave a bit to be desired. No need to fret, though, even the most mathematically challenged person can make and stick to a budget with just a little effort.

These bloggers all have paid of major sums of debt or done some serious shaping up of their own finances. Now, they’re sharing their foolproof advice for how to make and stick to a budget. Read ahead for their favorite lessons on how to get your money on track.

Keep it real

My most useful tip is to make sure that your budget is realistic. So many people create a budget and it’s not realistic at all. They either overestimate their income or underestimate their spending. Due to this, it’s a good idea to track your spending…You can track your past spending and go off that for your current budget, and then readjust every so often to make sure that your categories are the best that they can be.” — Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, makingsenseofcents.com

Make it visual

I love spreadsheets and am a very visual person, so it really helps to lay out all the information: income, expenses, credit card due dates, etc. The more information I can have available, the better I can plan! I also like to use a calendar to list out all my due dates for expenses and set up reminders to make sure nothing gets paid late…[Additionally,] I love to participate in a no spend day or no spend week challenge. This is [a] really easy challenge to do once a month! It can be so easy to spend money on little things, like grabbing a coffee or buying a few extra items not on the grocery list. What I like to do is completely stop spending for at least one day a month and challenge myself to see how many days I can go without spending any money! This usually involves making my own coffee from home to take on the go or going through my pantry to make a few extra meals instead of going to the grocery store.”— Kristin Larsen, believeinabudget.com

Keep your eye on the prize 

“The thing that helped me stick to my budget was reviewing it often. I could make the list of fixed and fluctuating expenses quickly, and I made it often. I would write out the amounts and play with the fluctuating expenses, trying to reduce what I spent in each of those line items…Having an anti-spending buddy is helpful. I started a blog to track my progress, and I ended up having several accountability buddies, then. I knew that if I derailed too dramatically, I’d have to report it to the public, and although I’m sure the folks in the personal finance blogosphere would have been sympathetic, they also know how to practice tough love. And, I wasn’t using credit at all. I think that’s key. Credit cards trick you into believing you have more to spend than you actually do, even if it’s an extra $4 for a coffee. You don’t have it. You only have what you can list. I think that if you make it a game or take on the perspective that it’s all a grand experiment, it can be much more bearable than just slogging along. You have to know why you’re keeping to a budget, too. I was paying off my student loan debt and I had my eye on buying a house…Know what you want and then embark on the experiment of pursuing it. That can make a tight budget seem less painful. Keep your eye on the prize.”— Amanda Page, @amandadashpage

Let’s make a deal 

“Always try to negotiate prices and find ways to frugal hack your favorite activity. You can call your cell phone and cable provider and ask for a discount. The worst they can say is no, but they might say yes to keep you as a customer.  When working with a tight budget, don’t focus on all the things you can’t do or can’t afford, but focus on what you do have. You likely have food to eat, a roof over your head, etc. That’s something to be grateful for. Be happy with little luxuries and learn to enjoy what you can.”— Melanie Lockert, founder of DearDebt.com

Make a game of saving 

“Remember that a budget isn’t something you ‘stick to.’ It’s a series of choices about what you want to be doing with your money. You want to have somewhere to live, eat, wear clothes, get to work, save, pay debts, and have fun, so include those things in your budget. If your goal is to cut back so you can reach some other goals (like debt repayment, savings, or even a vacation) enlisting a buddy or doing a challenge can help to keep you motivated…Try thinking of frugality as a game, or embracing the simple living aspect of it. It can be enjoyable to do things yourself, or to create little ‘how low can you go’ type challenges that help to make it less stressful. The good news is that when you’re on a tight budget, any extra income you bring in can go a long way.”– Jackie Beck, debt freedom expert, jackiebeck.com

Celebrate the small wins 

“I am not a fan of “splurging.” If you don’t have the cash in hand to ‘splurge,’ you shouldn’t buy it, period. However, if you want to reward yourself for sticking to your budget, save up for a small reward or celebration of your progress. Even the small wins are worth celebrating. Celebrating doesn’t mean you have to spend $500 on a new pair of shoes, but a nice family dinner out or even a fancy dinner at home to celebrate your financial wins is worth a little extra money…Finding an accountability ‘tribe’ is the best thing you can do if you are struggling with finances. Are their family members you can brainstorm ideas with? Are there friends that you can talk to about your budget? Celebrating small wins…[is] another great way to help you stay motivated. Let’s face it, budgeting can get frustrating when you can’t see significant progress right away. [Were] you able to put $100 into savings this month to help you reach your savings goals? That’s a small win worth celebrating because it’s progress. The truth is, you might fail at budgeting more than once. It took me five budgets before I was able to find a method I could actually stick to. The only thing you can do is lift your head, and start again tomorrow.”—Kumiko, thebudgetmom.com

Kelsey Butler is a reporter and editor living in New Jersey. She has written for health and lifestyle publications including Women's Health and Brides. A proud dog mom of one, you can find her skiing or on the bocce court in her spare time.