Bought that coffee after promising yourself you wouldn’t? Grabbed one too many meals out this month? Got a surprise bill in the mail? It happens to all of us. A budget is easy to make, but it’s a lot harder to stick to.
A blown budget can be a painful lesson in personal finance. But don’t give up. Whether you’ve made a big mistake or you’ve just had a bit of a hiccup, you can get back on track. Don’t make a messy situation even messier. Go ahead and get started cleaning that mess up.
Check Your Numbers
The first thing you need to do is figure out how you got off track. Did you not account for a spending category? Were you unrealistic in your numbers? You will never be able to keep an unrealistic budget, so you should definitely take another look at your numbers to determine what went wrong.
Fix the Budget
Once you have a better idea of what you should be spending and what you actually spent, don’t beat yourself up too badly. Budgeting is not an exact science, so it is reasonable to take a few months to finesse the finances to find the spot where the numbers make the most sense. Of course that can be expensive if you’re trying to pay off debt or repair bad credit, but giving up is always worse. So give yourself some grace with a realistic learning curve.
Having trouble sticking to your budget, but you can’t always determine why things get messy? You can predict a bit of unpredictability by adding a line to your budget that accounts for “flex spending” or “unexpected expenses.” Of course if you intentionally spend that line item instead of saving it for a true surprise, you’re just perpetuating the harm you’ve already caused.
Automate to Remove Emotion
Money can make you feel emotional. If you feel flush with cash on pay day and then find yourself without money to pay the bills by the end of the month, you might benefit from changing the way you’re paying them.
Pay your bills first. And even better than that, check into your bank’s services to see if they have an automatic bill pay. Your paycheck comes in, your bills go out the same day and then you can use what’s left over to live on knowing that you are handling your finances well and repairing previous budgeting damage.
Plan for the Future
Leave yourself a bit of money in your budget for future purchases. These are called “sinking funds” in some personal finance circles, and the idea is that you drop some money into the sinking fun every week or every month to pay for future expenses like Christmas presents, birthday gifts or trips you’re anticipating in the future. If you leave these out of the budget, you will wind up breaking your own budget down the road to cover the costs of something you should have been preparing for.
Get Your Bills Paid
If you are facing a budgeting crisis and you don’t have money to pay the bills, find the money. This might be a situation where you dip into your emergency fund. If you don’t have an emergency fund built up just yet, you can create one quickly by investigating personal loans. A quick loan can get your bills covered, but you will be need to include the payments for that loan in your budget for the coming weeks and months to be sure it gets paid off again.
Freeze Your Spending
If you’re already over budget, don’t make the problem worse. Stop spending. Pay your bills, of course, but anything else will just have to wait for the next month’s budget. By not buying groceries for a week or two, you will also be able to dip into the stash of food you probably have stashes in the freezer or in the pantry of your home.
You can save quite a bit of money by using up the food you already have, making yourself some creative meals at home. Not only will you be saving money and getting your budget back on track, you’ll also be cleaning out your refrigerator and your pantry at the same time.
Make Some Money
It’s unlikely you will get a big raise or that you will score a brand new job in the next few days, but you can still make some extra money to help cover the gap in your budget. Look for items around the house that you can sell for a profit. A few small items from your closet might be all you need to close the gap.
You can also make money with a few side gigs or by working overtime and picking up extra shifts at your job. A side gig that you maintain regularly can give you a bit of cushion and provide an easy way to make some extra money the next time your budget expands a bit beyond your comfort zone.