Setting Micro Spending Goals to Keep Your Budget on Track

How you structure your budget is a direct function of how your brain works. Some prefer to create their budgets using broad categories and lump various spending inside of those broad categories. ‘Home’ category might include the mortgage, home maintenance, home owner’s insurance, utility bills, and home improvement project goals. These folks might add up those expenses and throw some extra dollars in that category every month so the fund can grow for that last category (home improvement projects). 

If this works for you, your budget stays on track, and you are meeting your goals, then by all means: if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. However, the Williams' household seems to fall on the other end of the spectrum. I’m a big fan of YNAB’s setup of master categories and sub-categories. This structure allows us to have a broad ‘home’ category, and then break down the above list into their own sub-categories. Our budget currently has 10 master categories and 54 sub-categories. Each serves a purpose, and helps Kelsey and I budget effectively. It keeps our budget meetings short, helps us stay accountable, and ensures we have all anticipated expenses funded in our monthly budget.

Inside our giant list of sub-categories, are a handful of micro budgets that we’ve assigned to one another to manage. Kelsey manages the baby category, home decor, Kelsey clothing, and Kelsey entertainment. These all fall under her control and discretion to manage. She ensures we have enough diapers, wipes, and other items that might come up that we need for our baby(I guess we need to change the name of this category. We don’t have a baby anymore! But, you get the point).

I manage the home maintenance, car repairs, Eric Personal, Eric Entertainment, and most of the other bills (auto-pay). When something needs fixed, or we need a new water filter for our fridge, it’s my responsibility to take care of it and manage those micro budgets.

If Kelsey thinks we might have a higher expense in a particular month than the budget calls for, we have a conversation and amend the budget accordingly. And obviously with categories that have our name on it, those are fully up to our discretion. It’s our allowance of sorts, but helps us keep our clothing and entertainment on a budget and fair to the both of us. 

So, while we might adjust the baby category here and there throughout the year, our personal categories are set. We get what we get and we make it work. 

How a Spender Learns to Save Money

Confession: I’m a spender. I’ve never been good at saving my money. That seems to surprise people, but it’s true. Every month when we get new personal money I’m eager to spend it. It’s hard for me to save that $30/month for a larger purchase. Our clothing budget usually gets a bump around our birthdays and Christmas time as that is where we put cash we receive as gifts. But, still I find myself only thinking about the money I have now and what I can buy with that amount instead of thinking ahead and saving for a few months for a larger purchase that might be a more important need and something I might get more use out of. 

At the beginning of this year I tried a different approach to my clothing budget. I decided to first purge my closet of the things I didn’t wear, didn’t fit, or I didn’t want anymore. That provided a good primer to the following exercise. 

I wrote down a list of clothing items that I wanted to purchase throughout the year. Then I assigned a dollar amount to each item. When I added all of them up, I discovered that I likely wouldn’t be able to purchase everything I wanted at the dollar amount I had set. 

This exercise has helped shape the decisions I make with my clothing budget so far. I find my self referring back to the list often to see how I’m doing and pick which items I might want to purchase next. When I see a sweet cycling jersey I really want, I find myself coming back to my list and weighing the decision against the list I’ve already determined to be important. Occasionally, I’ve discovered that there is something on the list I can cross out and I no longer want/need.

Another benefit of having a list of wants written down is that it helps me hunt for deals. None of these items are immediate needs, so I can take my time, shop around, and watch for deals. It helps me be patient. I know that the more I save on each item, is potentially an additional item I’ll be able to purchase sooner. 


  • I had dress pants on my list with a budget of $100 and finally found some that I love, on sale for $65.
  • Sweatshirt I had budgeted $50 for, I found a different brand makes something similar for $25.
  • New dress shirt- budget $50 - purchased for $34.

I’m now a little closer to getting some other things on my list. These micro budgets add up, but admittedly, I’ve never really thought about my clothing budget in this way. I’m usually much more impulsive with my money, and it usually leaves me in a moment of needing something and not having enough saved, or missing out on the sale of something because I haven’t saved enough for those larger, higher priced items. 

Apply as Needed

If you are new to budgeting or have a problem with spending, I hope this helps. It’s helped me tremendously. It can be applied across your budget in a multitude of categories to help save money. It requires a proactive approach, but it can really help keep your budget on track.

Occasionally, we’ll reallocate dollars from one category to another if we’ve done a good job of saving in one category and not so good in another. This micro budgeting of dollars inside of categories helps us keep other dollars free to meet our bigger goals.  

Your budget will be different, but the formula still works. Dig deep into your problem areas in your budget and find a way to get them on track and in line with your overall budget. It should bring you peace of mind and help you feel more in control of your money.

What are your problem categories?