If you are struggling to slash your budget or to make a workable budget, you may be reading as much as you can about how to cut corners and balance your budget. You might be cutting out little luxuries you enjoy like a fancy coffee or meals out with friends. You might have slashed your grocery budget and are now staring at empty cupboards every night.
While you might be able to handle life on a bare bones budget for a few months, after a while you will become unhappy and will likely blow the budget. You will rebel. You will spend money, sometimes a lot of money.
Instead, try this simple technique–just ask yourself what you value.
That is it.
Determine Your Top Three Current Priorities
What is important to you? Take a second to list the top three things that are important to you right now.
For my husband and I, there are three things that are important to us right now: paying down debt, paying for our children to get a good education, and eating good, quality homemade food. It just so happens that besides rent, those three items are the largest items in our monthly budget.
We have chosen to put money into those things we value and have cut those categories that aren’t priorities for us.
I can tell you that if I gave up my organic, homemade food and instead went to coupon clipping and eating boxed foods that I could buy for pennies, I would be miserable and unlikely to stick to my financial plan.
However, I don’t care much about fashion, so I am happy with one nice pair of dress pants and one nice pair of jeans. I work from home, so I don’t mind looking at thrift stores and buying clothes from Goodwill. Clothing is an easy expense for me to cut; it doesn’t matter to me if I only spend a few dollars on my clothes or only buy them every few years when the ones I have literally wear out. I can painlessly cut this category.
Of course, I am just giving you our priorities for an example. Your priorities are likely different, but the point is, cut your budget and increase your success of sticking to your budget by tailoring it to your priorities. If you don’t really care about meals out, cut that category and funnel the money into something you do care about.
Determine Your Top Three Future Priorities
After you have determined your current priorities, take a bit of time to think about your future priorities. My husband and I went to buy a house in the next two to three years, have a decent retirement so we can enjoy ourselves, and help our kids pay for part of college. These are our future goals, but we have to start working towards them now, so they also have line space on the budget. (Actually, until the debt is completely gone, all but retirement is shelved. Once the debt is gone, we will aggressively save for our goal of owning a house and then for our kids’ college funds.)
When setting a budget, to make it workable and long lasting, you have to let yourself spend in the areas that are important to you. There is no right or wrong answer here. You (and your spouse or significant other, if applicable) determine how you should save and spend your money. Let go of the categories that you don’t really care about and only keep those that are most important to you.
Have you arranged your budget in this fashion? If so, how has it worked for you?