5 creative budgeting ideas for people who hate budgeting

Budgeting not your thing? These 5 tips will help simplify the process—and make it fun.

If living on a budget sounds like the ultimate restriction, you’re not alone. It’s easy to think that a budget only has room for practicality, and the things you enjoy just for fun don’t belong. However, if you haven’t been tracking your income and expenses, it may be difficult to know where to start.

So how do you make a budget if you hate budgeting? Avoid thinking of it as a test with only one right answer. “A lot of people hate budgeting because they think of it as something you either pass or fail,” says Bola Sokunbi, founder and CEO of a financial resources platform.

If you’ve been resistant to budgeting but are looking to reshape your finances, consider these creative budgeting ideas to simplify money management and make it more enjoyable:

1. Don’t call it a budget

If you’re trying to make a budget when you hate budgeting, try naming your budget after something that excites you. Something you can get behind. “You can call it a ‘wealth building plan’ or something fun or inspiring that will keep you motivated to use it,” Sokunbi says.

A woman writes a note on a sticky note and adds it to a wall with other sticky notes.

If you’re looking for creative budgeting ideas, consider labeling your budget with the specific financial goal you are working toward. Is your financial plan centered around buying a new home? Maybe “dream home plan” would be more appealing.

2. Start with the basics

Financial coach Joshua Schumm recommends a strategy called “four walls budgeting” to help clarify your needs and wants if you’re trying to make a budget when you hate budgeting.

“Four walls budgeting is where you start making a budget by looking at your true needs to survive and keep a job,” Schumm says. “The four walls of your budget are housing (including utilities), transportation, food (not including eating out) and clothing.” Paying off debt should also be considered when you’re focusing on how to budget when you hate budgeting.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of your regular expenses, creating a basic four walls budget can provide a simple, manageable way to prioritize. “It should reduce the emotions of budgeting for wants,” Schumm says. “If you don’t give yourself a simple place to start, you’ll never get started,” he adds.

“The four walls of your budget are housing (including utilities), transportation, food (not including eating out) and clothing.”

Joshua Schumm, financial coach

3. Focus on saving

So you’ve got the basic expenses covered. Great. Now it’s time to factor in saving. And no need to stress, even if you’re learning how to budget when you hate budgeting. When it comes to saving for your financial goals, “it does not have to be an overly stressful situation,” says financial professional Richard E. Reyes.

Reyes recommends a simple creative budgeting idea to prioritize saving: pay yourself first, then spend what is leftover. Determine how much you want to save each month or each paycheck, and then deposit that amount into a savings account before you spend it on anything else. You can even remove the temptation to spend by setting up a recurring automatic transfer from your checking account to savings.

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Once you get in the habit of saving regularly, you can start to direct that energy toward specific financial goals. For example, Reyes recommends setting aside at least 10 percent of your monthly income in a retirement account.

4. Make room for fun

That’s right, fun! Your budget doesn’t need to be limited to the “four walls” and savings. When considering how to budget when you hate budgeting, you should also make room for the things you enjoy.

After adding up the costs of their basic expenses, Schumm encourages his clients to build out the rest of their budget by adding in other expenses and obligations, including any fun “wants”—non-necessities like entertainment. Remember that, as long as you’re paying your bills on time and saving for long-term goals, spending money on what you love isn’t a detriment to your financial health.

Reyes agrees that fun is an important part of any budget. “Life is sometimes short and yes, it’s OK to do something cool with your money, like take a trip, stay at a nicer hotel or eat at a nice restaurant,” he says.

5. Reward yourself

Remember the part about feeling like living on a budget is restricting? It really doesn’t have to be. As you consider how to budget when you hate budgeting, find room in your budget to reward yourself for making financial progress. If you’ve made headway toward a big financial goal, celebrate!

Tracking your progress is a key part of making a budget when you hate budgeting, and Schumm recommends doing this with charts, graphs, and even a “thermometer.” One creative budgeting idea is to draw a large thermometer on a piece of poster board (or create a digital representation), add marks for different milestones and color it in as you get closer to your goal. Then, decide when to reward yourself. Once the chart shows that you’ve paid off 50 percent of your debt, for example, treat yourself. Maybe ordering takeout from your favorite local restaurant or streaming the newest release for movie night?

A man and a woman laughing together, as they enjoy a meal at an outside café.

Your budget is your best tool

If the word “budget” has negative connotations for you—if it makes you feel anxious or overwhelmed, like you’re focusing too much on what you can’t afford—try thinking of your budget as a guide to help you build a better future. It is possible to make a budget when you hate budgeting.

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