Sticking to a Budget: Set a Goal, Stay Focused

This is the third post in a 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!

Did you ever hear the phrase "save your money" when you were younger? Or maybe you still hear that today. Did it make you want to save your money? Yeah, me neither. I never understood why we should save money. It always seemed pointless to me.

I think the reason it seemed pointless was because there was no explanation why I should be saving my money. Just that I might need it for a rainy day... whatever that means...

There was a point in life where my mom told me she wasn't going to buy me a car. And as a 14-year-old with a part-time job, that was all I needed to start saving my money so I could buy a car by the time I was 16. Being motivated to get on a budget and stick to a budget comes down to taking a little time up-front to think about what really matters to you.

Of course, there are things we don't like paying for like insurance or property taxes, but for those things, or experiences we want to do some day, we'll need to set a goal. And unless you've got more income than you know what to do with, you'll likely have to prioritize your goals and fund them with leftover money at the end of the month after you've taken care of all the other obligations you have.

Setting a goal for something like a vacation will make you appreciate the experience all the more. You'll work hard for the months leading up to it, stashing away the cash needed for the adventure. When the vacation finally comes, you have all the money needed to fund it, you stick to your vacation budget) and you come home guilt-free. Ah! Feels nice, doesn't it?

We used to just plan weekend trips without thinking about money or saving up for it. We'd throw all the expenses on our credit card and worry about it when we got home. And we sure worried when we got home, trying to figure out how to cover the expenses at the expense of making progress in other important areas of the "budget."

Setting goals for your budget helps keep you focused on what's most important to you. This will be different for everyone, but everyone should definitely decide and be intentional about what they hope to accomplish with their budget.

Here are a few big areas to think through:

  • Debts: Tired of being in debt? Want to crush it to a million pieces?
  • Emergency Fund: How big of a safety net would you like to have? What would constitute an emergency for you and your family?
  • Health: Gym membership worth it? Want to invest in chiropractic (we do) but it's not covered by your insurance?
  • Vacations: Want your dreams to come true in Disney World some day? How much will that cost?
  • Retirement: When do you hope to retire? Do you know how much it will take? What's your game plan?
  • Education (for the kiddos): Did mom and dad pay for your college? Do you hope to do the same for your kids?
  • Vehicles: Do you like car loans? What would it take to pay cash for your next car?
  • Housing: Does your current situation work? When will your mortgage be paid off? Or, when do you want to buy a house?

All great questions to ask yourself and/or your spouse from time to time. At least on a yearly basis. For us, vehicles will be our Achilles' heel. We don't really care about the vehicles we drive. By that I mean we don't desire to drive fancy cars. So we'll resort to buying used cars for a really long time.

But, we're not actively saving for our next purchase. Shame on us. If one of our vehicles broke down right now, I would guess we would pull a few thousand from our emergency fund to buy a used car (not what the emergency fund is really for). Or, I'd try to ride my bike to work. With winter coming up in Iowa, I'd have to get really good at cold-weather biking fast....

Or, we could probably manage with one vehicle, it would just mean adding a lot of extra miles and longer car time for everyone. Something we definitely need to think through and set a goal for. I drive a '98 Grand Prix that Kelsey's parents bought her in 2002. The engine will likely run forever if the wheels don't fall off first (it's had a few off-road experiences ... before it became my vehicle ;) ) So we'll see...

What goals do you have for your budget right now? Long-term? Short-term?

Other posts in this series: