How to Get Back on Track with a Personal Budget

Holidays, vacations, and a number of other reasons exist to tempt you out of your normal budget discipline. One unplanned purchase can lead to another, and before you know it the mortgage is late and credit card bills are piling up.

Falling off the wagon, so to speak, happens to nearly everyone. The most important thing isn't worrying about how you got there, even though that plays a part. Planning how to move forward and correct it is where most of your focus should be.

Here's how to pull those threads back together before "just this once" turns into a new set of habits.

Start From the Drawing Board

If your budget went out the window, maybe that's because the old version didn't account for all of your needs. Expenses happen year-round, and don't have to come with a holiday or event.

When it's time to get back on track, consider starting over again from scratch, or at least evaluate what you had to see where you can improve.

One of the biggest reasons people go over budget is lack of access to discretionary funds for unplanned purchases. There will always be a TV on sale or something else that you just can't pass up. If you build up your discretionary savings account, you won't have to resort to credit cards, dipping into another account, or letting a bill slide in order to have what you want.

Take a Holiday from Spending

When you're sorting through a budget mess and trying to straighten it all back out again, think about taking a holiday from spending. This takes some of the pressure off your daily budget, and might help add some money back into savings where it belongs.

If you can't stop spending entirely, since everyone needs gas in the car and groceries in the fridge, cut back as much as you can. Pack lunches, skip entertainment outside the home, and even lower the thermostat to save money on your upcoming utility bills.

Other ways to reduce spending might include switching cell phone plans, cutting back on your cable package, and hosting a yard sale. Every little bit helps.

Make Everyone Responsible

Bad habits can trickle out to everyone who has a stake in your budget. Unless you're the only adult in the household, you can't be solely responsible for the family finances.

You and your spouse could surrender credit cards and checkbooks to the family safe or desk drawer and start using the envelope system, at least for a while. If your teens earn a healthy allowance and have their own credit cards, it might be time to rethink that strategy, too.

Cutting back isn't fun, and it's less fun when everyone is affected. But it can help reduce a tremendous amount of stress in the future and put you back on the road to financial fitness.

Budget busters can happen from out of the blue. Hardly anyone plans to spend too much, lose track of debt, and find the family budget in threads. It's not what you've done, but what you do next, that matters.

With renewed discipline, you can tug those threads and tighten up your budget, and perhaps make it better than it was before.