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6 Habits of Highly Successful Budgeters

Most clients come to me because they need help getting their budget set up for the first time. But what happens after you’ve done all that work? You’ve learned the foundational “4 Rules” of budgeting, you’ve chosen your budget structure, and your budget is funded, gorgeous, and ready to go.

Now what?

This is where the real nitty gritty of budgeting begins. Here are 6 of the best habits you can cultivate for budgeting success!

Habit 1: Enter your income into your budget right away.

Paycheck, birthday money, a refund from something you decided to return — whatever the source, the best thing you can do for yourself is to enter that money into your budget right away. This habit helps you keep your budget up to date, teaches you to only budget money that you have, and makes paydays a little extra special.

Habit 2: Budget down to zero.

The magic of zero-based budgeting only works if you actually budget down to zero. Income that is not assigned a very specific purpose can be accidentally spent on a lot of silly things (just take a gander at my online shopping history). We’ve taken all this time to build out this beautiful, values-oriented budget, so let’s use it.

Be sure that every dollar is assigned to the envelope or category of your choice, and you’re done budgeting to zero.

Habit 3: Check the budget BEFORE you spend.

This habit alone, in my opinion, this is the most important thing you can do to start shifting your spending mindset.

You may be standing in a grocery store the day after payday, thinking, “Why bother checking the budget, I know I got paid yesterday.” This thought seems harmless, but sets a tricky precedent — you’re building a habit of spending without considering your budget. So, no matter what you’re about to buy (parking, gas, food, clothing), check the budget first.

Sometimes you’ll check the budget and it will confirm what you already know, which is that there’s plenty of money for groceries. Other times, you’ll check and realize that you forgot you spent extra on food last weekend, so you might not be able to buy as much during this trip.

But because you checked BEFORE you spent your money, you can take some things out of your cart and avoid spending more than you originally planned to.

Habit 4: Enter day-to-day spending as you go.

YNAB has a mobile app, and it’s the easiest way to enter a transaction on the go. Rather than trying to remember that $4 coffee a week from now, why not enter it on your phone while you wait for the coffee to be made? Maybe you start entering the transaction while gas is still pumping. Don’t drive home from the store until you finish entering the transaction. Future you will be grateful!

You don’t necessarily have to do this for every single transaction — just the day-to-day ones like coffee, lunch, gas or groceries are a great place to start.

Habit 5: Reconcile frequently.

Have you ever had to sit down for an hour or more to reconcile your accounts? Maybe you’re sitting down with your partner asking, “Hey, what was $2.78 last Tuesday at SPG THL?” and neither of you have any idea what it was, so you start googling and looking through your calendars trying to remember where you were, and 30 minutes later you still have no idea. You’re starting to get stressed out and overwhelmed, so you throw up your hands and categorize it to Fun Money.

Yeah. All that time and stress, all for less than $3.

I promise that reconciling is so, so much easier the more you do it. In the beginning, I recommend that clients reconcile every day. It makes it much easier to catch weird things before they happen, and you are much more likely to remember what you did yesterday vs a week ago.

Reconciling is like doing any chore you’re putting off. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Habit 6: Roll with the punches

Change your budget constantly. Especially in the beginning.

When your first build a budget, a lot of your estimates are based on very rough numbers, so maybe you thought you needed $400/mo for food but it turns out you need more like $600/mo. And that is a GREAT thing to realize, because now you can update your budget and plan accordingly.

So this habit is all about “Finding the money first.” You can buy whatever you like, as long as it’s funded in your budget. If it’s not funded right now but you still want it, pull the money out of another category of your choice. Yes, it’s okay to change your budget — I give you permission.

Budgeting looks different for everyone, and there are a million little things you can do to shift your mindset with money. If you’re not sure where to start, these 6 habits have helped so many of my clients stick to their budget. Try them for yourself!

Have you picked up any of these habits? Which is your favorite? Let me know in the comments 🙂

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