Managing your money

The art of sticking to a budget

5 min read

Michelle Summerfield

You already know you’re supposed to have a budget. All the money gurus shout it from the rooftops – it’s the key to feeling good about your finances.

Maybe you’ve even done it yourself, sat down and roughed a budget you thought would work. Maybe you've tried KOHO's ultimate budget template (found at the bottom of this article). But now, a week or a month or a year later, it’s … not quite going as well as you planned. Every month something always goes horribly wrong — is it too many lattes? Do you need to shop solely at Costco? You end up over spending, under saving, or just generally not, y’know, sticking to the budget. And then you feel unmotivated, and it becomes harder to get back on track. We’ve all been there. The good news is that the problem probably isn’t with you (or even the lattes). Staying motivated with your financial goals is hard work, and it might take a while to figure out the right way to plan and save.

If you’ve done the work of making a budget, even a failed one, you’ve already got a one up on a lot of people: Gallup says that two-thirds of people don’t even bother creating a budget at all.

We know how hard it can be, and it’s tricky to develop the knack of working steadily toward your goals. But it doesn’t have to be so dang difficult. Being a little bit more mindful of what you’re doing is a really rewarding way to actually save and stick to your money plan. We’ve rounded up some strategies to make it a little easier.

1. Ban the word BUDGET.

Whoa! Ban the budget? Well…sort of. ‘Budget’ is one of the rare words in the English language that makes people feel anxious and deprived just saying it outloud. This simple little b-word can bring on more stress and anxiety than a first date.

Money expert Brad Klontz makes a strong case for calling the way you organize your money something else. The word “budget” works on our brains the same way as the word “diet” he says—it stresses us out, making us feel deprived and imbuing the practice of watching what you spend with a sense of shame or fear and a strong feeling of lack.

Instead, he advises creating a “spending plan.” By figuring out what makes you (or your household) happiest – do you like eating out three times a week more than an annual two week vacation?— you can make a spending plan that enables you to actually live your best life. Pick a word for what you’re doing that makes you feel good about it makes it easier to feel confident that you’re making choices from the heart, rather than from a sense of gnawing anxiety.

2. Ask yourself why?

Yes, we’re getting all existential right out of the gate. Because if you don’t know why you’re doing something, your heart (and mind) won’t be in it for the long haul.

Let me tell you about my dad. In 1973, he took a trip to Hawaii, and it recalibrated his heart. He fell so in love with the islands that he knew he’d spend his life working to retire there. Hashtag goals, right?

Instead of letting his dream die, he actively planned on making it happen. He was mindful about his money, spending, and, importantly, saving. Our family lived very well, but frugally. And now? He’s happily retired, and for the last twenty years he spends six months each year in yep, you guessed it, sunny and warm Hawaii. Canadian winters are a thing of the past for my snowbird father.

For him, and for all of us, being mindful about our finances isn’t about sacrifice, per se. It’s about knowing what you want from life, and going after it. The dream is just as important as the plan. It’s the reason to have one!

Part of your financial success depends on doing the inner work and resetting your money mindset. Here are a few helpful questions to get you started:

  • What really makes you happy in life?

  • What experiences and/or purchases are the most meaningful to you?

  • What stories are you telling yourself about money? Are they happy or sad?

  • How much money is “enough” money?

  • Which purchases do you regret? Were you emotional at the time or going through a difficult life change?

Make time to work on your body, mind, and emotional life and prioritize doing things that make you happy, so you don’t end up numbing out with online shopping. As Melissa Leong writes in Happy Go Money, “buying anything that improves the way you spend your time is money well spent.”

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Worry and money go hand in hand. No matter who you are, wherever you are in this world, as humans, money is one of our biggest worries. And, there are a lot of things in life that pop up and are out of our control. The housing market rises, pets get sick, for some reason cauliflower occasionally costs up to $6 a head. It can feel expensive just to be alive.

Instead of worrying about stuff like housing prices, surprise outings with friends, or all the weddings you have to go to, focus on making a life for yourself. Create a plan for “surprises,” lean into them when they happen, and double down on a commitment to live your life (not anyone else’s), so you can worry less.

This might take the form of automating the practice of stashing little bits of money away (have you heard of KOHO’s RoundUps?) so the occasional surprise night out does a little less damage, or inviting the crew over for Sunday brunch instead of going out on Saturday night.

The antidote to sweating the small stuff is planning for what you can control, and building in some flexibility for what you can’t.

4. Create new money associations and habits.

Your habits can make or break you. Whether it’s money, exercise, or the take-out lunch you buy every day, habits can quickly become a new norm and leave you feeling stuck.

But here’s the thing…

You can create new habits and associations.

But the first step is looking at exactly where you’re at right now. Melissa Leong, the author of Happy Go Money, calls this “Your Default Settings.” She says, “to be happy with your money, you need to understand what your default is and how you feel about spending, saving and risk.”

The housing market rises, pets get sick, for some reason cauliflower occasionally costs up to $6 a head. It can feel expensive just to be alive.

We all have a money personality that includes natural tendencies, but some of our money behaviours and habits were learned and can be changed.

If you’re tired of always spending $10 on lunch instead of brown-bagging it, it’s more likely the habit will stick if you start taking lunch one day a week. Keep with it until it becomes easy, and then maybe add in a couple other days. Habits are created through consistency and practice, and it takes time. No need to rush and then working up to the whole week.

5. Keep it simple, silly.

Look, the internet is frankly awash in advice for constructing the perfect personal finance spreadsheet or meal prep plan or automated savings ideals. There are a million apps for tracking snowballing debt and managing bills and stretching a buck. But here’s the thing: personal finance is personal.

And take it from me, micromanaging your money will not make you pay down your debt. It’ll just stress you all the way out. No, thanks.

When it comes to sticking to your money plan, simplicity is key. Don’t overcomplicate. And definitely don’t try every strategy all at once. It’s too overwhelming! Instead, no matter how big the goal or daunting the task is, remember it has to start with one small step.

Say you’re working to build an emergency fund (because, hey poop happens), start small with $10, then when you can afford it, begin upping that amount little by little. You’d be amazed at how setting aside a mere $10 every paycheque can leave you feeling empowered about your money situation.

By breaking your savings goal into smaller increments, you’ll build momentum and ultimately achieve more. Eventually you’ll get comfortable with saving, and one day you’ll be stashing away something closer to $200 a month. It’s a lot less scary to watch your savings grow by starting small than it is to start panicking about how you’ll save a cool million dollars for retirement.

In the end…

Sticking to your money plan has nothing to do with what budgeting app you use, or where you think you “should” be in life — it’s all about creating better money mindsets, behaviours, and habits that will lead to less stress and more happy. Start here, right where you are. Choose little actions that build new habits and momentum. You’re right where you need to be.

Get your personal budget template!

See where your money is going and how much you can save.

Michelle Summerfield is a personal finance writer and blogger with seven years experience writing for brands like Borrowell, Drop, and Go Banking Rates. She is the founder and creative director of The Classy Simple Life.

Recent Articles

12 practical budgeting tips for college students10 questions with a bankruptcy specialist KOHO Premium: Is it worth it? Let us work it out togetherPredatory payday loans and why you should avoid themFive financial strategies for freelancersHow to survive a recession: A guide for making the most of your money during a difficult time

Get a KOHO account

Sign up for a free Personal or Joint account (or both!) in minutes.

Get Started

Company

AboutCareersLearnStatus

Connect

The KOHO Visa* Prepaid card is issued by Peoples Trust Company pursuant to license by Visa Int. *Trademark of Visa Int., used under license. **These services are provided by Service Providers, including Visa, Peoples Trust Company and Galileo Processing. Learn more about your finances with Visa’s Practical Money Skills.