Realistic Budgeting

When it comes to making budgets, I admit I can be a little OCD. I like to budget out my year, complete with financial goals and the hope of raises and other little life bonuses, like tax returns (there’s no harm in dreaming). When I budget with my overall financial goals in mind, I create a budget that is very, very strict. The problem is that when it comes to actual spending, I am not.

A self-professed spender, rather than saver, I like having the restraint of a budget only to keep me from homelessness, hunger, and having the electricity turned off. Everything else is fair game. So when I create a “very, very strict” budget, it usually means I’ve created something I’ll never be able to adhere to, which equates to overspending.

That’s where realistic budgeting comes in.

Having goals is great. It gives you something to strive for. But you have to match your goals and ability to meet those goals with what kind of spender or saver you are.

Case in point: I decided that in order to save $50 a month, I would forego my gym membership. I wasn’t using it as often as I thought I should and the extra money each month would certainly help me reach my goals faster. The problem was that going to the gym, even once or twice a week, helped me feel good about myself, kept up my quest toward lifelong health, and gave an outlet to my son who would play at the pool.

It came down to a question of worth. Is having a gym membership worth spending $50 a month on? I decided it was. My goals could wait a bit longer, but my health and my son couldn’t.

Another example: I love eating out at restaurants. In my strict budget, I only allowed $100 per month on eating out. That wasn’t just for me—that was for my family of three, which would translate into 2-3 meals out per month.

I would budget that amount with great expectations, thoughts of snug homemade dinners in my mind, but the reality of what happened in a month’s time was that we ate out roughly 8 times, completely blowing my dining out budget out of the water. When that happened, some other important categories in my budget suffered—like my savings or payments to our debts.

I had to sit down, take a look at how I actually live my life, and adjust the budget accordingly. As a result, we upped the eating out budget considerably, while taking a bit of money out of the grocery budget to make up for those meals we weren’t eating at home.

When you set your budget up as accurately and realistically as you possibly can, you’ll be much more likely to have success with it. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing yourself fail each month in terms of your spending. Giving yourself the wiggle room to live as you do will help you stick to a budget while still maintaining a lifestyle you’re comfortable with.

While you may not reach your goals as quickly as you’d like, the difference won’t be too much—especially when you look at it in terms of a lifetime. Let’s say you have a goal of saving $5000. Your strict and well-meaning budget has you saving $1000 a month, having you reach your goal in only 5 months. That’s great, except you like going on fancy dates with your spouse once a week, as well as buying a nice bottle of wine a few times a month.

You can either: skip your weekly date nights (which keep you and your spouse connected and happy) and skip the bottles of wine (which might also keep you connected and happy) or, still reach your goal in 10 months by saving only $500 a month yet still having those extras that add so much joy to your life. Either way, your goal is met, but which way sounds more like something you’re going to stick to?

Don’t waste your time by creating an overly strict and unrealistic budget—the budget that truly reflects your lifestyle is the one you’ll be more likely to stick to.

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