It can feel quite overwhelming when you are trying to find a budgeting system that works well for you.
There’s the zero-based budgeting method – perfect for those wanting total control. Or maybe you prefer the percentage-based budgeting system, which is less restrictive and great for those trying to pay down debt. However, once you’ve navigated your way through the task of choosing the perfect system, you are then faced with the question: ‘How often should I review my budget’?
In this article, we’ll take a look at whether or not you really need to review your budget, the benefits of reviewing your budget, and how often you should be taking a look over your budget.
Do I really need to review my budget?
Yes, you do. ‘Oh no!’, I hear you groan. But don’t fret. Once you have a budget in place, checking over it from time-to-time needn’t take very long at all. In fact, you’ll probably find yourself quite looking forward to doing it once you get into the swing of things.
The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations
Most people’s circumstances are ever-changing and their outgoings and bill payments very rarely all stay exactly the same month-to-month. Therefore, we need to continually review and adjust our budget, otherwise, it will never be a true reflection of our finances.
If we don’t regularly review, we run the risk of payments being missed, running into our overdrafts, and frittering away any disposable income that could be going towards savings. Reviewing your budget will also highlight any problem areas that may otherwise go unnoticed.
Benefits of reviewing your budget
1. Better Planning
Reviewing your budget regularly allows you to better plan for your future. At a glance, you are able to see if you are paying for things that you no longer need.
For example, maybe the new mobile contract you took out last month comes with a free Netflix subscription. When reviewing your budget, you notice that your Netflix direct debit is still active. You can now take steps to cancel this recurring payment, effectively saving you £8 per month. You can direct this money elsewhere – maybe send it to your savings or ISA account instead or use it as extra payment towards your debt.
By regularly reviewing, you are able to adjust where needed, enabling you to work towards your financial goals.
2. Takes less time overall
If you are looking over your budget on a regular basis, you will quickly become proficient in this task and it will start to take less and less time.
Additionally, if you decide not to regularly review, you will, at some point, have to face the mighty task of redoing your whole budget again, as the one you put in place six months ago no longer resembles your present financial situation. Writing out a budget from scratch ultimately takes a lot longer than a quick review.
3. Highlights any surprises
One of the main benefits of regularly reviewing your budget is that you will avoid nasty surprises.
Imagine if your toddler had managed to accidentally spend £200 on in-app purchases while using your tablet. If you never took the time to look at your budget from one year to the next, you’d not know about this until it was too late.
Or maybe you’re spending £50 less per month on groceries than you had budgeted for. If you never checked over your budget you wouldn’t know. Simply checking in with your budget from time to time enables you to take practical steps to make your money work better for you.
How often should you review your budget?
Even though a weekly budget review may seem a little over-the-top, research suggests that people are much more likely to stick to a weekly budget than a longer-term one.
This is because, over the course of a month, there are many more bills to think about and deal with. If you are reviewing your budget weekly, it can be a little less overwhelming as there is less to deal with during any given week. Weekly budgeting is also a great choice for those who are paid weekly.
Write down all of your variable expenses – groceries, fuel, spending money, etc, and break down how much all of these cost you over the course of a week. If your grocery shopping costs you £350 each month, then make sure you are spending around £87 per week on groceries.
By reviewing your budget weekly, you will be able to see if you are on track or if you are likely to shoot past your target. If you notice that you are going to go over budget, you will be able to adapt your spending in order to reign in a little so that you stay on track.
Budgeting monthly is the most popular frequency. I review my own budget a day or two before the start of each month and adjust where needed.
If you negotiate your policies each time they come up for renewal (you should be!) you will need to ensure that any savings you make by doing this are reflected in your budget.
For example, my pet insurance is due for renewal in February each year. I always do a price comparison search at the time of renewal to make sure that I am getting the best deal possible. My March budget needs to be adjusted to reflect the savings I make in this area. If I didn’t do a monthly budget review, these savings would potentially be frittered away without me realising it. But, because I do review monthly, I am able to put this monthly saving to good use.
One of the main benefits of budgeting monthly is that it is far easier to match up with your expenses, as the majority of expenses tend to occur monthly. For most people, council tax is taken monthly, as is car insurance, life insurance, gas and electric, water rates, pet insurance, etc.
Budgeting by pay period
When you’re starting out, it can be helpful to budget by pay period. Budgeting this way can be helpful to those trying to break the paycheck to paycheck cycle. Set up all of your bills to be taken out at the start of your pay period. By doing this, you don’t need to set aside any money from your paycheck to cover your rent, etc. You will be able to see right away roughly how much money you have to last you until your next paycheck.
Budgeting when there’s a change in your finances
Whenever there’s a major change in your finances, you’ll want to review your budget. Be it a change in income (an increase in pay or a decrease in hours and, therefore, pay), a significant windfall, a new addition to the family (be it a new baby or the furry kind – both are expensive!), a debt that has been paid off, or a new debt that you have had to take on – all of these things mean that major changes to your budget are likely to be needed.
If you find yourself having less money available each month, you will need to look at your budget to find areas in which you can save. Can you cancel that Netflix payment? Or end that magazine subscription? Could you further reduce the amount you spend on groceries?
If you have had an increase in income, you’ll be wanting to direct that extra money to your savings or investments, or possibly arrange or increase any mortgage overpayments.
Reviewing your budget vs. tracking your expenses
It is important to differentiate between reviewing your budget and tracking your expenses. Simply doing one or the other is not enough. You need to be doing both in order to gain total control over your finances.
To get a true reflection of your spending habits, you should be tracking your expenses daily. You can do this on a specialised tracker or simply on a piece of paper or in the notes app on your phone. The most important thing is to get into the habit of doing this daily so that you can see exactly how much you are spending and on what. By tracking your spending daily, you will quickly notice any problem areas and spending triggers and can take steps to remedy this.
Reviewing your budget is a deeper analysis of how accurate and effective your budget has been. It allows you to see where the bulk of your money is going and can be adjusted in order to remain aligned with your short-term and long-term financial goals. Reviewing your budget allows you to assess the things you are doing that are working and the things that aren’t working.
Budgeting is a long-term process and reviewing your budget regularly is critical to your financial success. You may need to experiment a little to see what works for you.
Whether you find that reviewing your budget weekly or monthly suits your lifestyle better, the key is to be consistent. Make a note in your diary if you’re likely to forget. Set a reminder on your phone if need be.
I block off half an hour in my diary at the end of each month. When budgeting time comes around, I grab a coffee and some snacks, take myself off away from everyone else, and lose myself in my figures. It’s bliss. But I’m kind of a nerd like that!