Do you love to budget? Do you look forward to planning out your budget for the next month? Do you brag to your friends about your budget?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
But you still want to save money and be frugal, right? It’s a conundrum a lot of people face, since the best way to save money is to have a budget that you stick to. For those of you who don’t have the time, energy or inclination to keep track of every single penny you spend, don’t worry. I’ve compiled a list of budget alternatives that can still help you keep a handle on your finances.
First, let’s look at the three reasons most people hate budgeting their finances.
1. Record Keeping
Who wants to keep track of all this stuff? I take both my finances and my fitness very seriously. Yet, it’s difficult to keep track of either of these. Tracking my morning coffee? Counting my calories from that coffee? Recording the cost? No thanks.
Some of us don’t want to spend our free time putting together balance sheets and looking at daily spending habits. And even if we do want to do it, it’s hard to find the free time or establish a routine, even with the best time management skills and techniques.
3. The Stinging Slap of Reality
If you do write down everything you spend money on, you’ll realize very quickly that you’re making plenty of mistakes – mistakes that make you feel guilty. Who wants to feel guilty? Life is supposed to be fun with some splurging every now and then.
Now let’s get to the important part. How can you save money without following a strict budget?
1.The Envelope System
What’s the envelope system? This is not a systematic budget where you need to track every single penny. This is a simpler and powerful way to manage your money more effectively. You do, however, need to be responsible with your spending.
Here’s a simple summary of how the envelope system works:
- Keep a few envelopes in your room.
- Label each envelope as a spending category (e.g., entertainment, grocery shopping and eating out, clothing)
- Put a set amount of money from every paycheck in each envelope. Try to be as realistic as possible. Most of us will easily spend more than $100 every two weeks on food or entertainment.
- Do not spend any more in that category when the envelope is empty; you’re done until can you refill the envelope with a portion of your next paycheck. If you blow your entertainment allotment in three days, then you’re clearly not being realistic. The point of this strategy is to passively track where your money goes. For instance, my food envelope never lasts as long as it should!
You can also utilize the envelop budgeting system with an online tool called Mvelopes.
2. Set Up Different Accounts
This pseudo-budgeting system is fairly straightforward: Open a checking account that’s just for paying bills, a checking account that’s for living expenses, a savings account that’s a nest egg for your future house or kids’ college funds, a savings account that’s for fun stuff like vacation or concerts, or whatever you want to have an account for. Then divide up your paycheck each month into the various accounts.
Every week, I try to put $20 toward my vacation account. This works for me personally because twenty bucks a week isn’t that much. Yet at the end of the year, there’s around $1,000 in this account. Nice! Get the sunscreen ready and ditch the snow. Sub-accounts provide the visual motivation I need to stay on track.
3. Use Your Credit Card
If you’re free of debt, and responsible with credit card use, your credit card can be an excellent tool when it comes to tracking your spending. For one month, use it for all your purchases, then at the end of the month, print your monthly credit card balance and track where you spend your money. Once you see where you spend your money, you can slowly work on improving your problem areas. Bonus? Most credit card companies offer cash back rewards or other incentives, so if you can pay off your balance each month, you can actually earn more money. Chase Freedom and Discover it are two good ones. If you are in a grave amount of credit card debt, or have trouble paying off your balance each month, this solution is not for you.
4. Shoot For Small Victories
You don’t need to budget every purchase. However, it does help to set smaller goals. For instance, slowly save for that new smartphone you want. Instead of crashing your budget in one month, plan ahead for the purchase over a few months. If you wait until you have the money in your bank account and feel as though you earned the purchase, you will have tangible evidence that the savings process is worthwhile. These small victories will get you started in the world of sound money management and will ultimately help you to reach your long term financial goals.
5. Reward Yourself
I don’t know about you guys, but I love rewarding myself. A reward can be something as simple as eating out every Friday evening or treating yourself to a vacation once a year. You should enjoy the fruits of your labor and pat yourself on the back for setting goals and reaching them. That doesn’t sound too painful, does it?
I hope this has helped provide some budget-alternatives. How do you save money without following a strict budget? Share some of your tricks in the comments below.
(photo credit: Shutterstock)