Getting started on a budget can be challenging! It definitely took us a few months to get it down, where we were estimating the right amounts for each category... not to mention getting the right categories on the page!
But what if you're still going into the red after a few months? If your budget looks accurate, and your monthly utility and credit card bills are lining up, where do you look first? Take a look at your receipts, or check your online banking records. Bucket it all into the categories that match your budget, and see what's out of line. Here are some common places that give people trouble:
Are you budgeting enough for groceries?
Are you budgeting enough your family to actually eat? You might be trying to get by on an unrealistic grocery budget, and you're spending more because you actually need it. The USDA estimates the cost of feeding a family of four (two adults and two kids between 6 and 11) will run an average of about $150 a week on a "thrifty" plan. We typically get by on much less than $600 a month for our family, even in the Seattle area. But take a good look at you've budgeted, and look at your receipts. Do they line up? If you're budgeting enough, are you sticking to your grocery list? (you're using a list, right?)
Are you eating out more than you think you are?
This one ends up being the "death of a thousand cuts." A $4 coffee here and there ads up quickly if you're not paying attention. Even if you're not a coffee drinker, it could take other forms - drive-through stops, popping in to the convenience store for a soda or energy drink, buying lunch at work because you forgot to make it (or ran late). It's too easy to swipe your card and not think about it.
Did an unexpected expense come up?
So getting caught off guard with an unexpected expense should really only happen once in a blue moon. If it's happening on a regular basis, then you're budget doesn't match with your lifestyle. If this is the problem, then look at the category of those expenses. Sometimes this can be a rash of birthday parties in your kids' extended friend group. Other times it's that you or your spouse treated yourself to something new, or you had a night out.
If it's truly something outside your control, like those kids' birthdays, then you might want to add a small line item in your budget to account for those surprises. If it's you shopping for yourself or having a night out, then you need to adjust your budget accordingly.
It's a fact that we need entertainment in our lives, so if you haven't been budgeting for it, then you need to. But you should also take a hard look at how much you're spending on shopping and going out, and make a decision on where your priorities are.
You're not tracking your spending.
Many times, it's when you're not paying attention that you go over. Set aside some time to check in on your budget weekly (at a minimum). If you're using a cash budget, then check your receipts against your budget. Tally things up on a weekly basis so if you need to, you can course adjust as soon as you can.
If you're not using cash and you need some extra self control, maybe you should start. When the cash in your envelope is gone, then there's no more money to spend on that category. That means you can't stop at the coffee shop again, or that your clothing budget is done for the month.
Stop going over budget, once and for all.
So this frustration you feel? Decide that this is the last time you want to feel that way, and then make it happen. Put it on paper, in a budget app, or in an Excel or Google spreadsheet, and then check back often so it doesn't get away from you. You can do this!