How to Make Your Budget Work for You

Paper cutout family with expenses on torn paper scrapsOne of the hardest things to stick to is a budget. Everyone seems to dislike them. I don’t like budgets myself, and actually refer to what I do with my money as a “spending plan.”

But budget or spending plan, the reality is that it can be hard to stick to your money commitments when something else comes along. My solution to this problem is to create a spending plan that actually works for me. Here’s how I do it:

Identify Your Core Values and Stop Spending On Other Stuff

First of all, it helps to identify your core values. What matters most to you? Building a budget or a spending plan around what’s most important to you, at your very core, means that you are far more likely to stick with the current plan.

Think about what brings satisfaction to your life. Do you like helping others? Would you feel a weight lifted if you could pay off your high-rate consumer debt? Are you focused on early retirement and the freedom that comes with it?

Stop thinking about what you are “supposed” to do, and pay attention to your own values. Then, stop spending money on stuff that doesn’t fit with your core values.

I like travel, I feel it’s important to set money aside for retirement and my son’s college education, and I like charitable giving. I want to have good experiences with the people I love.

These are the things most important to me. But I also have bills to pay and it’s important to buy healthy foods for my family to eat. I know that I need to buy certain things for my home, for upkeep. I acknowledge that these things make my life worth living as well.

Now that I’ve got a solid idea of what’s important to me, and how I want to proceed, I can stop spending on things and experiences that aren’t important to me, and that don’t fit with my overall view of what I want in life. Before I spend my financial resources, I ask whether or not the expense is important, and whether it reflects my core values. If it’s something that I think would be merely “nice,” but not contribute to my overall preferred lifestyle, it’s much easier to decide against the expense and move forward.

In fact, if you identify your values, and use them to direct your finances, you are more likely to stick with a spending plan and feel better about your financial situation at the same time.

Covering the Important Things First

This is where we get to the budgeting/planning part of this situation. My spending plan revolves around my top priorities. The mortgage and other bills (utilities, insurance, etc.) must be paid. An automatic contribution is made monthly to the local food bank, and I tithe. Money is automatically deposited into the retirement and emergency fund accounts, as well as to my son’s 529.

Once those important priorities are taken care of, I’m done with the spending plan part of it. I track all of my spending after that, but I don’t worry about which “category” it belongs in. Instead, I spend on whatever fits my values. Am I saving up for a trip later? Do I want a pedicure? Am I going to Salt Lake for the day, so will I need some cash to hand out to any homeless I see? These are considerations for the remainder of my money for the month.

I don’t need a bunch of budgeting categories because all the important items on my list are covered. The reality is that it doesn’t really matter what I spend the rest of my money on, as long as I don’t go into debt and as long as I feel good about the spending because it is in line with my personal core values.

It’s much easier to get a budget to work on your behalf when you understand yourself and what you want your money to accomplish. Think of it as a way to direct your resources and build the life you want, and it will be easier to create a plan you can stick to.


How to Make Your Budget Work for You — 4 Comments

  1. Treating your spending like a choice instead of a constraint makes it so much more palatable, doesn’t it? You are in control.

  2. I like to call it “being selfish with my money.” I figure out what I want the most, and then make sure that it will bring me the appropriate amount of value add to my life for the money I have to part with to get it.

  3. This is what I need now. I do have a budget plan, but sticking with it is the hardest part (just like what you’ve said). But I’ve got a lot of ideas from this post and I’m ready to start planning again. Thanks a lot!

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