Cool, so you’ve totalled everything up, you’ve plugged the leaks, you know exactly where your money is going and how much you have each month for food, transport, clothes and family activities. All you have to do now is make it work.
The budget only works if you stick to the budget
My number one trick for keeping the budget on track
It may sound obvious, but the biggest hurdle I’ve found in the two and half years since we’ve been trying to turn our finances around — is making sure we don’t stray from our budget.
It’s far too easy to go off piste, to stray from your plan. With so many distractions such as sales, fast food and cheap coffee it’s easy to think that this little purchase won’t dent things too much. It’s too easy to say “Oh, I’ve had a rough week, I’ll just buy this one thing and borrow the money from the day trip fund”. Don’t. It isn’t worth it.
What we found when starting out, is that the first few days of the month were the most dangerous for us. Payday would come and we would see it as a small reprieve from the difficult task of trying to clear a mound of debt. We never went mad, but we’d spend the first few days not being as strict as we should have been.
Naturally, something would crop up later in the month that we didn’t expect and before we knew it money would get tight. Before long, we’d near the end of the month and end up in our overdraft. “Mission failed” we thought, again.
So we implemented a simple strategy to ty and keep our budget on track for as long as possible. We implemented a challenge to see how long we could go after pay day without spending a penny, on anything. We called it the no spend strategy.
When payday would come, instead of thinking we had a few days to lighten up and enjoy life, we knuckled down, used everything in the cupboards and freezer and left our wallets at home when we left the house. Instead of heading for the day we’d stay at home, play board games, build dens with our daughter and focus on family time.
Sometimes we’d do well and we wouldn’t spend anything for three or four days, sometimes we’d not even make it through payday. Like any journey there are good months and bad, but by recognising that our ability to stick rigidly to our budget every month wasn’t always dependable, we were able to implement a simple strategy that maximises our long term success.
By challenging ourselves to rack up as many no spend days at the start of the month as possible, you are both starting the month with a real sense of achievement, and are also reducing the number of days you effectively have to deal with in the month ahead.
Whilst it seems simple, the beauty of the no spend approach is in the psychology. For us, we went from a position where we normalised a lack of discipline at the beginning of the month, which would ultimately end up with us feeling like failures mid month, and exasperate the wait till the next pay pay at the end of the month. Now, the start of the month is a challenge we look forward to. A new month is a fresh opportunity to make progress.
When you manage to get to the fifth of the month without spending any money it means you’re way more inclined to stay on budget for the remainder of the month, and are especially more likely to keep it tight during the close of the month.
When we manage to do well with the no spend strategy, we find our months are more enjoyable, and we have way more to show for it at the end than before.