What to do if you budget didn’t work out well

Too Much Detail

I am an accountant and love the details, sometimes too much. This was a real problem when I first setup my budget I wanted to break apart all my transactions to make sure they were categorized just perfectly. I realized that I would have dozens of categories and having that many categories wasn’t helping me be more frugal. So I recommend starting out with these simple categories:

     Simple Categories:

     Housing (Rent or Mortgage)

    Transportation (Car Payment, Gas, Insurance, Repairs)

    Food (Anything purchased at a grocery store)

   Savings (All savings)                

   Miscellaneous (Everything else) 

Taking up too much time

The key to making a budget work for you is to be consistent. The best way to stick with it long-term is to spend just a short amount of time working on it. Don’t spend more than 20 minutes on the budget at one time. I know when I would originally would put my budgets together I would spend hours setting it up and re-evaluating it. I felt exhausted when I was completing it that I didn’t take any action steps to actually solve my financial problems.

Don’t Cut Spending 

Cutting spending is unrealistic. When people set a budget they tell themselves this is all I’m going to spend on this category and I won’t go over my limit. This might help if you are very excessive spending, but most people probably believe that they are pretty frugal. I think the goal should be to seek alternative opportunities to spend.

 I used to eat out once or twice a month and realized that was too much. I started to think about why I like eating out and determine that it just tastes better. I started to spend more money on buying some nicer things to eat at home. If I just said, I’m not going to eat out anymore, I might have had some short term savings, but it’s a life style I was not prepared to live. 

Tackle one area at a time

Since you are only spending 20 minutes on your budget you should only be tackling one area at a time. Think about your housing, maybe you could get a roommate, maybe move, or rent a room as a storage unit. Think about groceries, maybe buy a cheaper brand, eat everything on shelves, or go shopping less often. Small frugal step can make a huge difference.

Take a deep breath and get back on the horse

If you have fallen off track take a deep breath. No one is perfect just getting back on the horse.


06/10/2013 10:50am

When people are heavily in debt or facing a money crisis, sometimes they DO need to cut everything extraneous and not just spot-reduce. That said, your budgets looks a whole lot like mine! I like them easy. Some people need more detailed budgets, especially at first, but a simple budget is best for people who aren't trying to radically modify their behavior.

06/10/2013 1:58pm

Hey Jenny, thanks for the comment. No doubt some people need to make dramatic changes, and they should evaluate that when making a budget. I know for me I would focus on cutting my categories, basically saying I'm only going to spend $100 on groceries. I would realize that either it wasn't a realistic goal, and/or, I needed a plan to actually change my lifestyle to meet that goal. Such as changing shopping, diet, or cooking habits.

I made a bunch of budgets starting out and would soon discard them after creating them. I found that making them simple really helped me pay attention to them and stick with them. I now keep it on mint and it has gotten a bit more complicated, but starting out simple help me to make it a habit.


I think cutting spending is fine - expected, even - but just one line at a time. If you try to cut ALL of your spending at once you will surely fail. Trying one item, and then the next once you've done that successfully will help.


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