How to budget: 6 reasons most people fail

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Here’s the money word almost all of us hate… “budget.”

The word conjures up feelings of restriction. Keeping track of everything you spend sounds overwhelming, exhausting, and downright unfun. Who has the time, the discipline, or the fortitude learn how to budget?

Cash in on learning how to budget

73% of Americans say they don’t regularly follow a budget. What’s more, 1 in 10 respondents say they don’t keep any sort of budget at all.

Source: CNBC

Is this surprising? No! Clearly, most Americans don’t know how to budget and many don’t have a clue where their money is going. But why?

We all know that a budget is helpful in reaching our financial goals, but the process of actually keeping tabs of our money stops us in our tracks.

Is it really worth it? There’s got to be an easier way, right? How can we get the results of budgeting without all the work?

There’s a reason why you aren’t budgeting.

Here are 6 reasons why most people fail to budget long term:

1. Stop calling it a budget

The word budget has a bad rap. We think of cheap, frugal, restriction, and so on when we hear that dreaded word. Instead, say this…a spending plan. A spending plan is a modern twist on the age-old word budget.

A spending plan is what it sounds like: a plan for your spending. You get to tell your money where you want it to go. Your spending plan can restrict you in some areas, but on the flip-side, it can fund what you are passionate about. If you love to travel, put money towards your next Disney vacation each month.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, this still sounds pretty much like a budget. Well, yes…and no. And here comes point number two.

2. Budgets are reactive

A budget is not always a plan; it can be, but often it just tracks spending. It’s reactive. You add up your monthly spending at Chick-fil-A and want to go back in time and get out of that fast-moving drive-thru.

A spending plan is a real-deal plan. You’re not just tracking your money to feel a whopping dose of guilt and shame. You know what you want your future to look like (and your present) and you’re lining up how you handle money to get you there.

We budgeted for years, and it was the worst (well, maybe I’m being a little too dramatic). We had big financial goals, but we kept fumbling month after month. I never knew if I would go over on my groceries while in the store.

It wasn’t until we sat down and went over our budget, then I’d really know if I went over or under. Meanwhile, I was constantly trying to keep tabs in my head, and that was exhausting.

3. Looking at your numbers can be terrifying

Budgets can bring up a lot of emotions and feelings, and typically they aren’t pleasant. We often avoid knowing where we are at financially because it probably will be bad. Avoiding our financial reality never works. You HAVE to take a good look at your money.

If your net income (income minus expenses) is a negative number, then you’re spending more money than you make. The problem isn’t the budget, it’s your spending.

Source: thebalancemoney.com

Budgeting is like a scorecard of all the money you spend. It’s revealing and shows the areas of weakness that no one wants to see or address. If you have guilt and shame rising up, don’t ignore it. Try to pinpoint why you are feeling the way you are and make the changes you need. We help our clients through this entire process of discovering their current financial situation.

Let’s look at this from a different perspective. Imagine you start writing down every single thing you eat for a week. I’ve started doing this for my son (for health reasons). Writing down what he eats adds a level of accountability I’ve never had.

Just yesterday I was looking at what he had eaten and thought, I should’ve fed him more veggies, and he didn’t get enough fruit. I started to feel guilty about serving him an unhealthy diet.

When we look at any area of our life with a fine-tooth comb, we typically feel guilty that we’re not doing what we think we should be doing. We’re ashamed of the little progress we’ve made, just like my reflection on my son’s food logs.

4. No one has time to budget

Going through your spending every month feels a lot more like a chore than a celebration. It takes time to budget, and we’re all super busy.

For many Millennials, finding a good job, spending time with friends and paying back student loans often take priority, and it’s almost impossible to find the extra energy to establish a personal budget.

Source: usatoday.com

Maybe there are a few people in the world who absolutely love to budget, and I am not one of them (even though I’m a financial coach).

I don’t love spending hours each month reconciling receipts and categorizing every purchase. I know, because we did that for years. Honestly, my husband is the reason we were so faithful to budgeting.

Back in the day, we would take a picture of every receipt using an app that doesn’t exist anymore. It would then connect it to mint.com. Then we’d spend a few hours every month going through those bad boys. Sometimes we’d forget to take a picture, and then we had to try and recall what we spent that money on. Costco’s purchases were the worst. We’d do the math to divide out our food purchases from our home purchases and so on.

You may be shaking your head and thinking we’re crazy for doing this, and you may be right. We did this for over a decade, a whole DECADE. James has been on a constant search for a better way to do this. And finally, he found an answer (more on this later).

5. Budgeting is HARD to maintain

Have you ever tried to budget, and it ended up just like New Year’s Resolutions – totally forgotten? It’s so easy to try budgeting and be all in, and then life happens. We get busy, we get off track, and we just stop tracking spending.

For many people, budgeting can be similar to dieting. You might eagerly create a new budget or start a diet in the hopes of saving enough to go on vacation or shedding a few pounds, respectively. However, after you’ve slipped up by eating a slice of cake or by spending too much on a new winter coat, you might be tempted to tear up the budget or say ‘screw the diet’.

Source: cnbc.com

Dieting is incredibly hard to maintain long term, just like budgeting. If you don’t have an easy system in place, it’s just not going to happen. However, if you make lifestyle shifts that make eating healthy a no-brainer, you’ll be able to keep it up long term.

We have food allergies in our house, and we’ve been working on shifting things in our home to be healthier. We ditched our plastic Tupperware and water bottles and bought glass containers and stainless steel water bottles. Those simple purchases have made it easy to avoid plastic containers in our home.

In the same way, when we set up simple systems and tools into our financial life, we’re able to easily make better money decisions. The less will-power we need to use with our money, the better.

6. You’ve tried to budget, but nothing seems to work

You can Google budgeting tools and find countless options out there. Hello, information overload! Where to start? If you’re anything like us, you’ve tried finding a solution.

We’ve tried every budgeting software, app, you name it, we’ve tried it. At first, I tried using pen and paper, and that was way too impractical. We tried the cash envelope system multiple times, hoping that using sheer will would make that work. And yet, we couldn’t maintain it longer than a few days. We tried countless apps and software, and nothing solved it all.

If you’ve struggled to commit to a budgeting software, you’re not alone. It takes a lot of time and effort. What if you do go all-in, just to find that it isn’t a good fit?

If you’ve tried budgeting, and it just didn’t work out, join the club. It’s not easy tracking everything.

Finding methods and tools that work for you and can be maintained is key. We help our clients take the fast lane, so they don’t end up wasting time and energy on a sub-par budgeting tool.

How to Budget without a Budget

The Spending Plan Solution

When we work with our clients, we recommend two different options for creating a spending plan. One way is by using their existing banking system. It takes a little bit of set up to get the automations set, but it works like a charm. Once this system is set up, you’ll spend way less than an hour a month on it, and you can be as general or specific as you’d like.

The second method is our favorite! The way we stick to our spending plan is by using Qube Money. We’ve found that our clients on average save over $440 per month when they use it. Qube is essentially a digital cash envelope system for today’s world. You budget as you go. It’s more than an app, Qube is connected to Choice Financial Bank.

Here’s how it works. You get a Qube debit card that sits at a $0 balance until you open up a Qube category you want to spend from on your phone’s Qube App. (This makes your card extra safe.) If you’re buying groceries, you’d open up your grocery category and press that Qube. If that fund has $392 in it, that’s all you can spend (just like it was $392 cash). This adds friction at the time of purchase to help you keep to your spending plan.

We’ve loved how Qube has solved pretty much all of our frustrations around keeping track of our money. It takes hardly any time, we’re able to spend without guilt or shame, and it’s proactive instead of reactive.

If you’re interested in Qube, we asked them if we could give you a good deal (and they said YES!). Just click this link, and you’ll get two months of premium for $1 automatically without having to type a coupon code in. Woohoo!

There’s a better way

Creating a spending plan that fits your lifestyle and supports your financial goals is key. If you’ve struggled with keeping tabs with your money, you’re not alone. It can feel like a garbled-up mess that seems impossible to untangle. Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic pill or easy fix.

If you feel financially stuck, this is the first place to start. You have to start looking at where your money is going and gain control of it. Gaining clarity on your unique financial situation will give you the ability to get to where you want to go. I know this task can feel daunting, and you may have no idea where to start.

When we work with our clients, we walk them through this whole process of discovering where they are at financially. Then we help create automations and processes to help simplify their money situation.

You don’t have to do this alone. You can get our expert advice along with tools to make it so much easier for you. Book a FREE Q&A Session with us to talk about your current financial situation and how we can help you reach your financial goals.

Written By Amberlee Rich

Amberlee is a Money Coach, content creator, podcaster, and avid reader who is passionate about intentional living. She's a recovering couponing addict and aims to help others break free from survival mode. With her husband, James, they're certified financial coaches and have been helping people experience joy with their money for over 15 years.

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