Almost 70 percent of us don’t know how much we spent last month. Thankfully, experts promise it’s easy — and rewarding — to create a budget that’ll help you accomplish your goals without sacrifice.
Flip to the positive.
When we hear the word budget, the emotional weight of it can make us feel like something is about to take our pleasure away, says psychologist Maggie Baker, PhD. Instead of looking at a budget as something that subtracts, focus on what it can add. “Maybe it’ll boost your cash flow or allow you to spend on things more in line with your passions. Reframing it as giving you freedom demystifies it and lets you take control.”
Draw happy faces.
Tracking your spending creates the basis of a budget, and it can actually be fun. “I ask clients to jot down everything they buy in a month, and I give them a bookmark with sad faces on the left and happy ones on the right,” says Baker. “When they look at each item, they pick the face that best matches their emotion.” This helps them make more discriminating spending decisions. Just draw a face next to your buys to help you see what brings you joy as well as what you can let go of.
You are worthy!
We all have attitudes about money that are shaped early on, says expert Kelley Keehn. “I was raised by a waitress single mom, and that ‘poor kid syndrome’ created a deep propensity in me to overspend.” Changing the script begins with valuing yourself. “You won’t save until you say, I deserve to hold on to X percent of my money each month. It’s like adding a drop of lemon to a glass of water: One small change makes it different, just as one small commitment to yourself changes your outlook.”
Make your budget attainable by pinpointing money goals, urges Keehn. Ask yourself two questions: What can I cut out without sacrificing? and How can I find creative ways to save? “There was a time when I was spending $300 in credit card interest,” she recalls. “I just asked myself, Does my bank have a better card? If I could go from 24 percent interest to 12.99 percent, how much would I save? Put it on your calendar to call the bank this week, then next week, take another step. Momentum starts with focusing on what you want to achieve.”
Lean on a budget buddy.
As with so many things in life, budgeting is easier with a friend. “Find someone who’s doing it right,” says Keehn. “My mom, for example, will negotiate with anyone — she inspires me to this day.” Agrees Baker, “It makes such a difference to have someone to celebrate with, like, I quit smoking, and I saved $100 this month! Sharing your wins keeps you excited.”
Take your time.
Be patient with yourself as you iron out the kinks of your plan. “Research shows it takes 90 days to make a budget work,” reveals expert Rachel Cruze. In the first month, we devise it; in the second, we implement it; and by the third month, it finally begins to stick. And the effort is worth it. “A budget lets you be intentional with your money and spend on the things you truly value — it’s something you do for you and your dreams.”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.