I received a comment from a blog reader who mentioned that the main problem with a budget is getting the rest of the family to stick to the plan; I agree completely.
To many people, budgeting is like visiting the dentist: not a lot of fun, not something you look forward to, but something that must be done.
I had actually begun considering this dilemma with budgeting last week, after being contacted by a friend to help her out with moneysaving and menu-planning in the kitchen. I do have other friends who "cannot´ stick to a budget, or who do so only for a month before falling off of the money wagon.
I´ve asked my friends in the past why they can´t stick to a budget, and there have been as many answers as there are friends. My best friend, for instance, grew up in a family that believed in overspending. Each weekend her mother bought new clothes and shoes. She never learned the value of money as she grew up and unfortunately this caught up to her later in life, after she had married: She dug herself into a debt of over $50,000, which she is still trying to climb out of today .
Other friends say that they don´t have the energy to maintain a budget or the desire to really change their lifestyle in order to accommodate the change in spending habits that would have to take place. Some of my friends say that they work to spend so why should they start saving?
So the big question is this: What can a person- one who desperately needs to begin budgeting-do in order to make it work?
I´m not sure that I have the ultimate answer that will fit every household, but I can tell you what I´ve found that has worked in mine: rewards.
I have believed in reward systems ever since I student taught back in 1993. I worked with children who had behavioral problems, and the only way that I could get one of the boys to come down off of the top of the filing cabinet and begin the worksheets that needed to be completed was to offer him a reward. Finish the paper and earn a sticker or five minutes of free time.
Now that I have my own daughter, I use rewards as well. Clean up your toys and we can spend ten minutes reading your favorite story. If you behave at the store, we´ll visit your friends when we get home.
And I use rewards with myself as well. After all, how do you think I began actually enjoying this budgeting thing in the first place?
I was not interested in cutting costs at first. I did it because I needed to save some money. I loathed the fact that I could not go out and drop as much money as I wanted on new clothes, a CD, or a trip to an exotic location. I dreaded sitting down and balancing my checkbook and inputting numbers into a spreadsheet each time I went out to shop. I hated the fact that before stopping at the grocery store I had to consult a sales flyer and my coupon book.
So with each successful budgeting month that passed, I rewarded myself. I thought of one "thing´ that I wanted at the end of the month and that is what I got myself if I was able to stay within my budget. The "thing´ cost no more than $50.00, but when you have watched your money carefully all month long, that amount seems like a lot.
Somehow over time, my reward changed. Rather than needing an item to congratulate myself on money well spent, I began checking my savings at the store each time I shopped. For instance, I grocery shopped today for the week. I saved thirty-five dollars in coupons, which brought my bill down from triple digits to the eighty-five dollar range. I prided myself on the fact that I bought a container of orange juice for fifty cents, a box of cereal for seventy-five, and a container of laundry detergent for one dollar. All were named brand products that had cost at least three times that amount originally.
This reward won´t work for everyone, and even if it does, it will probably take a while before you get to the point of actually being rewarded by money that you are NOT spending, rather than being rewarded by an item on which you spend some money. However, I did a little research for you (as always, my dear readers) and below are some additional tips I found that might help you remain on budget, even when you are at your weakest.
1. Take an allocated amount of money each month and use it to purchase a reward treat. Use the same amount each month. Decide what you want to purchase with that amount at the beginning of the month and if you remain on budget, purchase the "treat´ at the end of the month. You can lessen the amount that you spend for your reward over time, and, eventually, if budgeting becomes habit, you´ll probably phase this reward out entirely. But use if for as long as you need. Don´t look at the reward as a weakness; remember, we all work for something, and if we didn´t, we wouldn´t get up each day and go to work.
2. If you meet your budget at the end of the month, rather than purchasing a reward, set aside a certain amount of money in a savings account or piggy bank that will be used for a family vacation, trip, or fun activity. Start with a small amount-enough to visit, say, a local theme park. This way the trip will be more apt to happen soon after you begin budgeting. Next save for a weekend trip out of town. You´ll work harder at saving if you know that in the end you will get to do something fun with the people that you love; and once you are on the trip you´ll realize just how important budgeting can be for the entire family.
3. Remember that rewards do not have to be "things´! Oftentimes we think if we could only have that one pair of shoes life would be so much better, but perhaps an even better reward would be to spend the day with the family at the zoo, or, even cheaper, the local park, with a picnic basket, bikes, and other accessories that you already have at your home.
4. Accept your mistakes and then get right back on the budget train. One day you might find that you have accidentally-on-purpose purchased that ridiculously over-priced clothing item that had been hanging in the store window and taunting you for weeks. If this item happens to make its way into your closet, do not let it defeat the budgeting experience altogether. Instead, if you have not removed the tags and you can bear to part with the item, return it to the store. And if you can´t take the item back, take a deep breath, forgive yourself, and wake up on budget the next day.