Budgeting can give people the jitters. Big time. Everyone knows setting a budget is important, but it’s no fun to think about.
To find ways to make your budget simple sans the headache, we asked several experts in the personal finance community to weigh in. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Budget for the most important things in your life, and nix the rest
Lauren Greutman, frugal living expert and author of The Recovering Spender, suggests budgeting according to your values.
“To set a budget you can stick to, write down everything in your life that’s important to you,” Greutman says. “Next, write down all of the things you currently spend money on: your daily expenses.”
When you set those two lists side-by-side, look for the things that aren’t as meaningful to you, and cut those—or trim back on them—right away. Exhibit A: You’re buying lunch every day simply out of habit (you can really take or leave dining out), and choose to pack your own instead. Take that lunch money and put it toward one of your priorities, like paying off debt.
2. Go back to basics with a cash-only, envelope budget
To get the ball rolling, create a list of your regular expenses, then set aside a certain amount of cash to cover each category.
Take your groceries, for example. “Withdraw the exact amount you want to spend on groceries next month and fill your ‘groceries’ envelope,” Brandt says.
If you tend to overspend with the plastic in your wallet, financial advisor Benjamin Brandt suggests simplifying your budget by breaking out some envelopes for a cash-only budget.
Use the cash from this envelope when you hit the store, but be prepared to stop buying when the money runs out, Brandt says. This may mean you’ll have to learn to make your money stretch further, or come up with some creative, cost-saving meals at the end of the month.
The same budgeting strategy can be applied to your expenses across the board, Brandt says. “Using cash instead of swiping your card will make you feel more connected to your money and might cause you to actually spend less.”
3. Shop only a few times per month
Financial advisor Jeff Rose of Good Financial Cents suggests a way to simplify your budget that should also save you time: set designated shopping dates. Pick one day a week for groceries—say, Sundays. For other types of shopping, set aside another day to get the job done. The rest of the time, try not to spend a cent.
“By not hitting the store every time you drive by, you’ll save money by default,” Rose says. “Plus, setting aside a special day for shopping might make you more intentional with what you buy, leading to more savings.”
4. Give yourself an allowance
An allowance isn’t just a way to reward kids for taking out the trash. It can help keep your spending on track.
“Set aside a certain amount of money you can spend on whatever you want, then stick with that amount month after month,” Rose says. This money can be used for a fun splurge or as regular spending money—whatever you want. Outside of your allowance, try to spend only on regular and recurring bills.
“You’re not depriving yourself completely this way,” Rose says. “You’re just cutting your extra spending to reach your goals.”
5. Let budgeting apps or tools do the work for you
When it comes to simplifying your budget, make technology your friend. With a website like Mint.com, for example, you can create a budget and track all of your spending in one fell swoop. With You Need a Budget, you’ll learn to live on last month’s income and cut the waste from your budget.
Nobody likes the idea of budgeting at first, but those who succeed love the results (no joke). With the right approach, simplifying your budgeting process can be much more of a help than a hindrance.