I’ll never forget the feeling of writing out my first ever budget. I felt so grown-up and sensible and I remember thinking ‘This is it! this will be the end of our financial worries’. I showed it to my husband, who made all the right noises and praised my brilliant piece of work. Then we forgot about it!
The following month, we were back to square one and spending beyond our means, wondering why on Earth were we failing. We had a budget, right? Things were supposed to be getting better.
Unfortunately, budgeting isn’t just a case of set and forget. It needs to be reviewed regularly.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the reasons why your budget may be failing and what you can do to rectify the situation.
Why your budget is failing
1. It’s unrealistic
Everyone starts a budget with the best of intentions. They are enthusiastic and eager and make as many cutbacks to their spending as they can. But so many people fail at the first hurdle and this is often because they have set themselves a budget that is just too unrealistic.
If you’ve ever tried to lose a stone before an upcoming holiday by just eating apples and carrots and failed miserably, you’ll have some idea about how unobtainable it is to stick to a very restrictive budget.
If you leave yourself no wriggle-room within your budget, you are just setting yourself up for failure.
You may be able to follow it for a month or so but something will eventually crop up, as it invariably does in life, and your too restrictive budget won’t be able to accommodate it. This will just leave you feeling disheartened and reluctant to keep going.
Be honest with yourself about your lifestyle and your expenses. You may wish you only spent £150 on petrol each month but there’s no point budgeting £150 on fuel if you usually spend £200. It’s far better to overbudget than to underbudget and leave yourself short.
If you’re a family of 6 and typically spend £400 per month on groceries, don’t be afraid to write that down. Just because your friend is able to feed her family of 3 on £250 per month doesn’t mean that you can feed your larger family on that amount. By all means, you can actively try to save money on your grocery bill but don’t set yourself up to fail by being too restrictive.
If you see that you’re consistently overspending in certain areas, this means that your budget wasn’t realistic in those areas.
You need to go back and realistically work out what you typically spend. Don’t be afraid to increase your ‘allowance’ in certain areas. But do also see if there is somewhere else you can cut back.
2. Your spouse, family, and friends aren’t on board
It is going to be very difficult to stick to a budget if your family and friends aren’t on board.
If you set yourself a ‘fun’ allowance of £100 per month but find yourself consistently exceeding this amount because you find it hard to say ‘no’ to friends’ pleas for you to meet up, then it’s time to have a serious talk with them.
If you’ve not told them about your budget, it’s going to be hard for them to understand why you suddenly can’t go out as much as you used to. Tell them why you have created a budget and why it’s important that you stick to it. Talk to them about your goals and explain how having a budget in place will help you to achieve those goals. You may even inspire them to create a budget of their own!
Don’t be afraid to tell them your spending allowance for the month. They might even feel a sense of relief once they realise that they too will be able to save money as a result of going out less with you. You could find free things to do together instead, such as taking a picnic to the park or taking it in turns to cook for each other instead of going out to eat.
Marriage is a partnership, and couples can’t win with money unless they’re doing the budget as a team
If you thought handling friends and money was difficult, then spare a thought for couples and their money troubles. Studies have found that money is the number one issue couples argue about. So, if this sounds like your life, you’re not alone.
To live successfully on a budget, you have to ensure that you aren’t simply imposing the budget on your partner. A budget doesn’t just affect you, it affects your partner too and it’s only fair that you include them when you are drawing up a budget. Talk to your partner about your short and long-term goals. Ask them about theirs. Hopefully, you share some common goals and you can talk about how the budget can be the tool to help you reach these goals.
If you can convey how sticking to the budget will bring more to their lives than less, then you stand a good chance of getting them on board. Show them how cutting back on eating out can help towards your joint goal of paying the mortgage down. Show them how less impulse spending means that you can save more quickly for that holiday you both want.
3. You aren’t budgeting for everything
If you forget about some expenses, this can really throw you off track. You may end up without enough money in your account to pay for these things, forcing you to ‘borrow’ from another category or even worse, having to put it on credit.
When sitting down to write out your budget, it’s easy to forget things like birthdays, or car repairs, or getting the dog’s nails clipped. I get it! The list of bills is usually so long that you think you can’t possibly have forgotten to include anything. But it’s so, so important to really have a good think about this. Take it month-by-month. Break it right down so that you can focus your thinking.
Here’s a list of things that are typically forgotten about when drawing up a budget.
- School uniform
- Tax if self-employed
- Home repairs
- School trips
- Car repairs & MOTs
- Days out
I find that setting up sinking funds for such expenses is really helpful.
I have my sinking funds set up in my Starling bank account. Starling is totally free to use and they allow you to have numerous saving pots under one account. Each week, a certain amount of money is automatically transferred out of my current account and into my Starling account. I then divide this money among my mini saving pots. For example, each week I make sure I transfer £15 into my Christmas saving pot. I do this all throughout the year, and by the time Christmas comes around, I have £800 to spend. Because I save these small amounts regularly, I hardly notice it leaving my account.
4. You aren’t keeping track of your spending
If you aren’t keeping tabs on what you’re spending, how are you going to know if you’re keeping within your budget?
Say you’ve set yourself a spending target of £300 for groceries for the month, how will you know how much you have left to spend if you haven’t tracked what you’ve already spent?
Tracking your expenses daily is essential for keeping you within budget. You might forget at first but it’s important to keep going as it will soon become second-nature. Every time you purchase something, whatever it may be, make a note of it on your expense tracker. You’ll then be able to keep referring to it to ensure that you’re still working within your budget.
5. The math doesn’t work
Unfortunately, for some people, the numbers just don’t add up and this can be a big problem.
Sometimes, the figures don’t work because you have underestimated your expenses. Go through your bank statements for the last 6 months and highlight everything that has left your bank account. Have you been including these things in your budget? If not, add them! Don’t leave anything out otherwise your budget won’t work. All of these things have to be paid for and just closing your eyes to them won’t make them go away.
Are your expenses too high? Are you frittering money away on things you can’t really afford? Do you really need to go to the cinema 3 times a month? Was that last jumper you bought a need or a want? Try to cut back on some of those expenses and try to negotiate some of your bills down.
There are plenty of ways to get ahead. The first is so basic I’m almost embarrassed to say it: spend less than you earn
However, sometimes it’s an income issue. Even after cutting back in every area, there still isn’t enough money to cover everything. If this is the case I’m afraid that you are going to need to look at ways to increase your income. Can you increase your hours at work? Or could you take on some extra work elsewhere?
When I was trying to pay off my debt and balance the books I took on some side hustles to bring in some extra income. I sold things from around the home that we no longer used and I also started completing surveys online and signed up to do matched betting. Both were a Godsend for me and I was able to significantly increase our monthly income. In fact, I still do both now, time permitting.
6. You’re not practicing self-control
Right, I know this is hard, but can you look yourself in the eye and say that you aren’t giving in to your spending compulses? Are you spending money when you know you really shouldn’t be?
It’s ok to make mistakes! But it’s important to learn from them. As the saying goes – if nothing changes, nothing changes.
Try to figure out what your spending triggers are. Does it happen when you’re out and about browsing the shops? If so, try to stay away from shops that you like spending money in. There’s absolutely no point in putting yourself in situations that you are going to find difficult. Just stop going! If you do happen to find yourself in a situation where you’re about to buy something you’ve not budgeted for, put the item back on the shelf and walk out of the shop. Tell yourself that if you still want it after 20 minutes you can go back and get it. Nine times out of ten you won’t go back.
Is online spending your trigger? Maybe the lure of Amazon is too much to bear. Try unsubscribing from the email lists of your favourite shops. You can also adjust the settings on your computer so that companies can no longer target you with their adverts. Delete the Amazon app from your phone, as it is far too easy to spend money on there. Believe me – I know! Delete your card details from the payment option section too. Make it as difficult as you can for yourself to spend money easily. I do all of these things and I can say that they 100% work.
There are many challenges to budgeting and you won’t get it right the first time around. But you shouldn’t give up. It takes time and effort to find a way to budget that suits you and your lifestyle, and it can be a huge source of frustration. Persevere though, and you will end up with a system in place that can literally turn your life around! You’ll be able to see how you can achieve those goals that you always thought were out of reach.