Please enjoy this guest piece by Jen Smith of The Penny Hoarder!
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
Easy for you to say, Oscar Wilde. For some of us, moderation is hard. We have impulsive personalities, and we go all in — or all out — on everything we do.
That’s why budgeting is hard for us. The budget is about self-restraint and discipline, and I’m about buying one of everything on the sale rack at Target.
But as someone who paid off $78,000 of debt in two years, I know that even an impulsive spender can learn to budget. It might not be the best budgeting system, but it works. Here are some tips I use to rein in my spending and stick with my budget.
Write Down Your Budget
Being bad at budgeting doesn’t give you a pass on making one. You should still have a written or in-app budget so you can keep track of your projected income and bills, including when they’re due, and how much you have left after the priorities are taken care of.
After our first paycheck, we pay all of our bills and make whatever our goal student loan payment is that week (making weekly instead of monthly debt payments is clutch for paying off debt fast.) Then the rest of the month, we can spend whatever is left after that weekly debt payment. It’s what we were doing before, minus the student loan repayment.
Make a Plan
When I have an allotted amount to spend in a budget category, it’s gone in the first week. Then later, when I need it, I have to pull from another category. So instead of feeling defeated, I plan when and where I’m going to spend my money.
Coffee is a big impulse buy for me. Instead of buying five lattes at the beginning or end of the month, I pick the days I want them. One month I decided to work from a coffee shop on Thursdays, so I only bought a latte on Thursdays while I was working.
Stop Going Out
You can still go outside, but stop yourself from going into bars and restaurants. If you’re anything like me, you leave for Chipotle and end up at a Mexican restaurant with a margarita in your hand.
Instead of just going out willy-nilly, we started mystery shopping. Mystery shopping isn’t a lucrative side gig, but you do get reimbursed for your meal. There’s always a cap, so when I do a secret shop, I look at the restaurant’s menu at home and plan out the maximum amount of food we can order to stay under the max reimbursement. It’s almost enough to make you forget you have a budget.
Try a Spending Fast
Something that’s helped me spend less is a spending fast. I call them no-spend challenges. The degree to which you do it is up to you, but if you’re not a planner, it’s a surefire way to save money for a period of time.
A spending fast can teach you a lot about yourself, like the things you can and can’t live without. When I knew I couldn’t spend any money, I didn’t go to big stores or malls. I really missed coffee shops, but I didn’t think much about clothes. It goes to show that changing your surroundings changes your spending.
I haven’t been to a mall in six months, but the last time I stepped into Target I spent $150 on home decor. Even people who seem to have it together aren’t perfect. Forgive yourself, move on, and do better next time. You might suck at moderation, but you’re killing it at commitment.
Jen Smith is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder, one of the largest personal finance websites with more than 19 million monthly readers. In 2016, the Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder the 32nd fastest-growing private company and the No. 1 fastest-growing private media company in the United States.