Sticking to a Budget When Your Motivation Wobbles.

So, you’re really trying to commit to your budget. GO YOU! But despite your hard work, the light at the end of the tunnel still feels really, really far away. Keeping your eye on the prize is hard, especially on days when you just don’t wanna. 

Okay, time to get real. Sticking to a budget isn’t all that exciting. Sometimes budgeting is boring, frustrating and just plain HARD. 

But guys, you can totally, TOTALLY do this! I’ll show you how to make your budget stick (yes, even when you’re totally over it). 

I get it. Budgeting is challenge. STICKING to a budget can seem almost impossible. Saving money isn’t nearly as immediately gratifying as throwing caution to the wind and shopping like crazy, right? There’s no awesome prize to enjoy right away. There’s less delicious food. There are fewer cute clothes. There’s no frivolous fun indulgence when you’re sticking to a budget. 

Getting what you want NOW is much more fun, right? 

Sticking to a budget is especially hard when you’re tired, when you’ve had a long day or when you’re in a bad mood. It’s hard not to justify spending on a little boost or a pick-me-up. After all, you deserve it right? 

Resist! Yes, you may deserve a treat (we all deserve happiness of course) but keep the bigger picture in mind. What will bring you happiness in the LONG term? How can you unlock and use your willpower and motivation to stay on track? 

1. Discover Your Willpower 

Have you ever seen that marshmallow study? Young children whey were told they could either eat one marshmallow NOW…or wait and get two. Let’s just say that waiting it out was VERY tough for a lot of these kids. Kids, I get you. 

Many of us struggle with willpower. The ability to see long-term benefits over instant gratification is a tough skill to build. Many people don’t have it. I want you to ask yourself, what’s your willpower style? Be honest! Are you the kind of person who would rather eat one marshmallow now instead of hold out for two? Are you someone who feels rewarded by long-term/big-picture rewards or do you want little carrots (or cookies!) along the way? 

Knowing how well your willpower works will help you identify the best strategy for sticking to a budget when your motivation is at zero. If you know you’re the kind of person who needs little rewards now, build them into your budget along the way. We all want to think we’re big-picture people, but be honest with yourself—are you really? If you’re not, it’s important you find a motivation and reward system fitting your style and personality. 

I found writing a list of all the things I would be able to do, holidays I would go on, changes I could make to the home, all the plans! More than that though, I focused my list on how it would feel not to be stressed about paying the bills.  Or feeling hopeless when something went wrong, like the car needing new tyres, the no longer having to worry was a HUGE motivator for me.  I kept the list on my phone and so many times that kept me on track, simply taking a look at my list. Discovering your “why” works! Find your motivation and work it! 

3. Make Budgeting Success Easy 

When we were first cutting back on fast food, we had a pizza problem (a very delicious problem, actually). We would put a plan in place, but then we’d end up relaxing, watching movies, on the computer or late home from work. One of us would be like, “Should we just order a pizza?” and we’d fall right off the no-fast-food wagon. 

We came up with an ingenious solution for the problem. Batch cooking some easy dinners; chilli, curry, lasagne, casseroles.  This was literally no more effort, simply a case of more ingredients when cooking and freezing the rest in individual portions. When we got hungry, we would simply grab food from the freezer and we would successfully avoid the temptation to call out for pizza! 

What you need is a method to make success easy. Make budgeting automatic. Create solutions right on hand for any problems you anticipate. Set up automatic reminders on your calendar. Block out time to visit your budget, write your list and do your meal planning. Set up automation whenever possible in your life

Automating errands saves us from being tempted to spend at the store. Automation saves us time and energy. No brain power needed. Setting up direct debits to pay bills automatically helps us avoid late fees and extra charges. Setting up your money to automatically transfer to your savings each month will help you save without even thinking about it. Other tricks? Bring only cash with you, don’t automatically save your payment information in your browser, and take your credit card out of your wallet—set up checks and balances so you don’t fall into the temptation trap. 

4. Add Wiggle Room and Space for Fun 

If you’re a cold turkey person, it’s a guaranteed successful way to quit a bad habit—just quit. BUT most people aren’t the cold-turkey type. You might need flexibility. It really helps you feel less restricted and find more success IF you build in a little wiggle room for the fun you enjoy. 

Here’s the deal: If you love going out to eat and you say, “I’m never going out to eat AGAIN,” how realistic is it for you to stick with that goal??? It’s NOT! Unless you possess the discipline of an Olympic athlete (which isn’t most of us), you’re going to fall off the wagon. 

Then what happens? You spend once, so you throw in the towel and give up, saying, “I suck at sticking to a budget.” Not true! No one is perfect all the time. 

Instead, set yourself up for success by making room for fun activities, purchases, and even fast food in your budget. If you cut back to HALF of your spending on food and entertainment, you’re still coming out ahead. As you get better at cooking food at home and get used to spending less on fast food, shopping and entertainment, you’ll start to feel more confident and successful. YOU CAN DO THIS! Baby steps! 

5. Don’t Bite Off More than You Can Chew

Similar to the “cold turkey” mentality, often you fail when you attempt to do it all at once. If you’re deliberately attempting to get your budget under control, focus your energy on budgeting for the month

It’s easy to fall into “total life makeover” mentality, where you think today is the day to tackle budgets, start a new exercise plan, sign up for a class on photography, start a blog, cook 10 make-ahead meals, and organize the entire house. (Sounds like January 1st around here…)

This HUGE plan isn’t realistic for anyone (!) and it’s not going to set you up for success. In fact, it’s almost certainly going to lead to becoming overwhelmed. and stressed out. Instead, I want you to tackle ONE goal right now. If you’re working on sticking to a budget, become single-minded about your goal. Put your efforts into managing your money. Really pour your heart into it for a month or so. 

Once you’ve been working on one change in your life and you’re seeing success, THEN add on the next goal. What you want to do is gradually build up good habits over time. You want a lifestyle shift. After three or four weeks, even if you’ve only succeeded in one area, you’re still moving ahead. Again: baby steps build momentum. Don’t take a running leap only to crash and burn. 

6. Block Your Cheatin’ Heart 

Isn’t it funny? You get tempted to “cheat on your budget” and then you’re SO tempted you hide the evidence from your spouse and even from yourself. If you’re sneaking little budget cheats here and there, you need to do one of two steps: 1. Set up more wiggle room in your budget, so you‘re able to relax and enjoy the treat. 

Or 2. Set up major roadblocks to put yourself in check. This means, cut up your credit card. If you can’t do it, in case of emergency, freeze it. Literally, put it in a bucket of water, and put it in the freezer. By the time it thaws, you’ll be over the temptation, but you’ll still have access in a real emergency.

Other ideas? Change your PIN, lower your spending limit, or talk to your bank about lowering the amount you’re allowed to withdraw on a given day. Block tempting websites. Unsubscribe from all the emails……this is so easy.  In your email search bar type unsubscribe.  This will list all the emails you are subscribed to, be ruthless and unsubscribe from your favourite stores.  No more flash sale emails with lovely “must have now” treats to wobble your resolve.

Come clean with your spouse or a trusted friend and ask for their support to help keep you in check. This is especially vital if you and your spouse share finances or if you’re worried your spending is going cause financial issues for both of you down the line. I know it’s a tough conversation, but if you come clean you’ll feel better and you’ll get your spending under control. 

7. Always Create a Backup Plan 

One of the best ways to stick to a budget when you’ve lost motivation is to always create a backup plan. For me that was easy freezer meals.  Creating my restaurants favourite food choices at home so I didn’t feel I was losing out. Focusing on how far we had come in a small space of time really helped when I was tempted to shop just for sake of it!

Find entertainment that doesn’t cost money. Write out a list of date night options and fun activities to check out around town. When your motivation is zapped, you need an escape or can’t come up with an answer for “cheap fun,” refer to one of the ideas on your list. 

Get friends on board too—invite your pals over for a game night. Ask them to bring a dish to share and their own beverages. Let go of the idea you need to spend money to hang out. It’s often as much fun to watch a movie or enjoy a meal together at home with your friends—and it doesn’t cost anyway near as much! 

If your parents, friends or boss gives you a gift card, put it away and save it for an emergency. When you absolutely feel like you’re finished with budgeting, saving and being frugal, and all you want to do is spend money on something you enjoy, you’ll have the gift card on hand to treat yourself! Tuck gift cards away in a drawer or box and look at it as your rainy day “fun” fund, just make sure they don’t expire!

8. Keep Your Perspective 

When you feel like your motivation is zapped, take a step back. Remind yourself it’s a slow process —you didn’t get here overnight. It took a long time to end up with debt, and it will probably take a while to build of savings and get back out. It’s not going to happen instantly, but it will definitely happen if you commit to sticking to a budget. 

Don’t aim for all or nothing. When you strive for perfection and think you must go all in or you’re failing, it’s a tough mindset. Instead, stay realistic and take it easy on yourself. 

Think of each budgeting step and positive decision as a way you’re progressing toward your goal. If you falter or experience a misstep, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, and you should give up. Pick yourself up and keep on going! 

Reward your successes along the way. Don’t wait until the end to celebrate and remind yourself of how awesome you’re doing with your budget. Keep reminding yourself as you go along. 

If your motivation is depleted, take a few steps to get yourself back on track. Reward yourself for the progress you’re making and give yourself a break. Budgeting and saving money isn’t a black and white picture. Life happens. Expenses come up. Choose wisely, and don’t let mistakes pull you off track. 

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