Sticking to a Budget - Why?

This is the first post in a new series called Sticking to a Budget. We've learned that many of you find sticking to a budget a lot harder than creating a budget. If you have a specific question about sticking to a budget, please let us know!

The more we talk and blog about budgeting, the more I am realizing how easily I forget that we used to NOT budget. And then I think about the reason WHY budgeting stuck with us. It seems so many people have trouble sticking to a budget, and I've been thinking about ways to solve that problem.

It's totally understandable, as handling money is an extremely hard behavior to change and discipline to build. For us, once we decided to start budgeting after overspending $1,500 in a single month, we made some rules and started following them. It's like the rules became law, and we weren't about to break the law. For example, here are some of the rules of budgeting that we have followed from day one.

  1. Our tithe goes at the top of our budget, and it's non-negotiable. We didn't tithe consistently before budgeting, and it has been a huge blessing for us.
  2. Never spend money that's not on the budget without talking to your spouse first. Nope, not even $1. Open communication has transformed our marriage in more than just financial ways.
  3. Everything we spend gets tracked. What's the point of making a budget if we're not going to follow it?

As I reflect back on where we were before budgeting, I think about a few key motivators that helped launch us into budgeting and also make the above rules stick.

  1. We realized we had made some really stupid mistakes. We were mad and embarrassed. (You can read our debt-free story and stupid tax if you haven't or if you need a refresher.)
  2. We set out to educate ourselves about personal finance. We highly recommend Financial Peace University to anyone who wants to learn for themselves. It's very educational and motivational.
  3. We set a semi-long-term goal. We decided we wanted to raise our kids in a debt-free home, which was motivating enough for us to stick to it.

Getting to the point of taking action is the first step to sticking to a budget. If there is not an internal drive or motivation to change, it's just too easy to fall into old habits. Once we were able to admit our need for help, we enrolled in FPU to educate ourselves on what to do.

But taking a class is not enough. We had to do the work. It was our mess to clean up. And we accepted the responsibility.

FPU provided some great insight into the overall picture of personal finance and how to be successful over the long-haul. Where I think the class lacks (the content is great as an overview) is that it doesn't talk about budgeting enough. There is one session of 13 dedicated to it, and the rest of the weeks cover other various finance topics. They are all important, but I believe the budget is the one essential tool, tactic, strategy, plan, etc., that must be mastered before moving forward.

Budgeting is the fuel that propels your financial life. Without it you have no road map and end up living paycheck to paycheck for the rest of your life. You can't understand your cash flow if you are not budgeting.

And if you create a budget just to let it sit and collect dust, you're not managing your budget, you're just wasting time.

It's not about what you buy, it's about keeping track of everything you spend money on. The more you look at your budget, study it, breathe it in, ask yourself questions about it, have someone else look at it, challenge it, squeeze it and re-work it, the more you'll understand and the more progress you'll be able to make toward your long-term financial goals.

What rules do you have in place to ensure you stick to your budget?