The fundamentals of budgeting don't require any great financial genius. But once you've created that budget, you have to follow it, and that's where feelings of constraint or frustration can set. Here are four simple money management "life hacks" you can employ to help you stick to your budget more easily and enjoyably.
1. Put Wants and Needs in Separate Categories
When you write your budget, categorize items in terms of whether you must have them or you'd simply like very much to have them. For instance automobile payments, registration, inspection and repairs count as necessary expenses, especially if you rely on your car to go to work. A shiny new care in place of your drab but reliable old one, however, can wait until your clunker costs more to keep than to trade in. You may find it more cost effective, yet still satisfying, to have your existing vehicle repainted or re-upholstered, giving you a nice ride without the sticker shock. (But a spray can of "new car smell" to complete the illusion.)
2. Build Instead of Buy
Do you enjoy carpentry, decorating, handicrafts, or other forms of arts and crafts? If so, you can put these skills and hobbies to work for you as a means of controlling your budget. The simple fact is that it usually costs less to construct, repair or refinish something it would to pay retail price for a new version of the same item. If your beloved chair breaks, for example, fix it, or find a friend with the carpentry skills and the willingness to fix it for you, and you'll pay only for materials (or maybe lunch for your friend). You may actually find that you prefer this approach when it comes to keeping a beloved family heirloom rather than replacing it with something less personal to you.
3. Take Your Budget High-Tech
If you're still scribbling pencil marks into a paper ledger as your primary means of accounting for every budgetary detail, you're probably making costly errors while missing out on some spectacularly clear and helpful ways of visualizing your financial picture. These days even a financially-strapped budgeter has access to a stunning variety of online and software-based money management applications and programs. These options enable you to enter and check information on the fly from your computer or mobile device. They also let you see charts and graphs revealing just where your money goes so you can get a clearer picture of where you need to divert it. You can even use cloud-based debt management programs to help you calculate the quickest and easiest ways to pay off burdensome debts.
4. Budget for Fun
Keeping to a budget doesn't mean never splurging on fun and games. Far from it -- a properly managed budget can and should include planning for vacations, visits to distant relatives, parties for friends and other special moments. This is your safety valve, a reassurance that you're still enjoying yourself while remaining financially smart. Set up a savings account for that dream trip or other fabulous reward. Once you've saved the money for it, no one can say you haven't earned it -- and the incentive to save will help you keep yourself honest where other areas of your budget are concerned. In the meantime, take the opportunity to explore the multitude of free or cheap events in your community. You might be surprised at how much fun you have, and for how little money!
The right attitude and strategies can help you learn how to manage your money without feeling deprived or frustrated. Take the tips listed above as your starting point for achieving a happier, more secure, and more rewarding financial life.
William Reynolds has been a freelance writer since 1997.
Photo credits: artur84 and Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot /FreeDigitalPhotos.net)