Lazy days and warm nights. Beachside dining, boardwalk strolling. Surf, sun and fun. Vacation. It’s summertime and the living is easy.
Sticking to your budget, on the other hand? Let’s be honest. Not always so easy.
The warmer weather can bring just the relief you’re looking for after a cold winter and busy spring, but it can also turn up the heat on your wallet if you’re overspending. By the time fall and pumpkin lattes arrive, you may have your work cut out for you to get your budget back on track.
If the lazy days of summer took a toll on your finances, you need a plan for turning things around. Here are some ways to get back on track with your budget when you’ve been blown off course:
1. Say goodbye to overspending
The first step to getting your budget back on track after a binge of summer splurging is to pump the brakes on spending. At least temporarily.
Finance expert Holly Weidman of Mrs. Savvy Saver, a personal finance blog focused on budgeting and saving, says the key to kicking your summer overspending habits is finding a way to make cutting back fun. Yep, you heard right… fun.
If eating out has been a sore spot in your summer budget, for example, she suggests challenging yourself and your family to only eat what’s in the house for a week. You’ll rein in your spending by focusing on your own kitchen and clean out the pantry while you’re at it. Bonus: You may find some new creative meals and enjoy cooking at home.
Finding ways to stay entertained at home is another way to curb your spending impulses and get back on track with your budget.
“Plan an in-house game night and forgo going out,” Weidman says, and consider inviting friends over to join in so you don’t feel like you’re missing out.
2. Get back to basics with budgeting
During the summer months, new spending categories may creep into your budget. You might need new beach gear to hit the sand. Updating your outdoor furniture or grill may be a priority. Or you may be spending on pricey convenience foods if a busy schedule has you running all over the place. That can be problematic if you’re not making time for regular check-ins to see where your money is going.
“Not being able to adjust our budget on-the-go, in real time, is our greatest downfall,” Weidman says. “If your budget is written down at home, in a drawer or in a planner, it’s essentially an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ problem.”
She says that what often happens is people get caught up in doing fun things over the summer and pay less attention to what they’re spending. That can spell trouble if they’re not keeping an eye on their credit card balances or monitoring what’s going in and out of their bank accounts as closely as they normally would. As summer winds down, they may be surprised at just how much they’ve spent.
“To take a truly fresh look at your budget, consider every line item and ask yourself, ‘can this expense be eliminated or lowered?’”
Weidman recommends using a budgeting or spending app to get back on track with your budget.
“This way, you can carry your budget with you at all times,” she says.
Budgeting apps that sync with your checking account or credit cards can record purchases automatically. You can group your purchases into categories to see at a glance which summer expenditures might be dragging you down. Having that information conveniently at hand can help you get your budget back on track.
3. Add up the debt damage
Swiping your credit card to cover summer travel or picking up the tab for dinner and drinks with friends at your favorite rooftop hangout can easily add up. Totaling up your balances at the end of summer may be a bit painful, but it’s an important step in getting your budget back on track.
Charles Tran, founder of CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and financial education website, says that if you’re juggling multiple debts, you need a plan of attack for handling them in order to get your budget back on track.
His recommendation? Use the snowball method to relieve the heat you may be feeling from summer credit card debt.
That means choosing one card to pay extra toward, while paying the minimum balances on everything else. Once you pay off the first debt, you apply that card’s payment to the next card on the list, continuing to snowball payments until you pay off all of your cards.
“The snowball method takes advantage of the psychological power of motivation,” Tran says. “The sense of accomplishment from paying off a credit card will give you an incentive to keep going.”
But which card should you tackle first if you’re getting your budget back on track?
When you have credit card debt on multiple cards, focus on paying off the card with the smallest balance first, Tran says. That way, you may be able to get rid of a debt fairly quickly to maintain your momentum. Alternately, you could start with the card that has the highest annual percentage rate (APR), if you’re hoping to score some savings on interest.
4. Leave room in your budget for saving
Saving is a goal you should be thinking about as you get your budget back on track post-summer. Short-term savings can keep you from having to rely on credit to cover expenses in a pinch, and long-term savings can help you prepare for financial goals.
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Having three to six months’ worth of expenses tucked away in a savings account can be handy when an emergency strikes, so make building up your emergency fund a goal as the leaves start to change and you work on getting your budget back on track. Fall is also a good time to review your contributions to your employer’s retirement plan because you have until the end of the year to max out a 401(k) or similar account.
Colorado-based speaker and money coach Amy Westbrook says finding additional money to save can be a test of your creativity and willpower.
“To take a truly fresh look at your budget, consider every line item and ask yourself, ‘can this expense be eliminated or lowered?'” Westbrook says.
She says simple things like asking for a discount on cable or bundling your car and homeowners insurance can make a difference in what you’re able to save. Cutting out streaming or subscription services, taking advantage of deals and swapping a night at the theater for a movie at home are other simple ways to save money.
Weidman says selling off unused items is another way to find money you can add to savings. There are apps that allow you to post items you no longer need for sale and connect with interested buyers, she adds.
That newfound money could help you get back on track with your budget.
And, if you’re having trouble getting in the savings groove, Westbrook has a solution: “Automate it,” she says. She suggests setting up a direct deposit of a portion of your salary into a savings account. This way, setting money aside is not dependent on your willpower to avoid splurges.
5. Don’t beat yourself up
Getting your budget back on track can be challenging if you’re feeling guilty about overspending.
“Life happens,” says Ryan Miyamoto, a financial advisor and founder of the financial planning blog Second Level Wealth. The key is to avoid dwelling on it. He says feelings of guilt related to summer overspending can actually be a great motivator to get back on track with your budget.
Let’s say you charged a $5,000 backpacking trip to South America to your credit card. Rather than feeling anxious about the bill, work on creating a plan for paying it down so you can get your budget back on track. From there, you can work on saving money for next year’s trip early so you don’t have to rely on credit again.
“Use those feelings to create a sense of urgency to pay off debt quickly and, more importantly,” Miyamoto says, “create a vacation fund to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen next summer.”
Also, remember to look for a positive takeaway. If you made lasting connections with new friends or explored a new part of the world on a summer trip, that can help you keep your debt in perspective.
Not all of your summer spending can be viewed through the same lens. What’s important is getting your budget back on track. While you’re at it, think about how you plan to approach next summer. Drawing a line in the sand on what you want to spend now can keep budget woes from putting a damper on your future fun.