Sticking to a budget can feel a lot like sticking to a diet. Both are a form of restriction, and you do need discipline (and often sacrifice) to see results. And like with yo-yo dieting when you try to “eat healthier,” it’s easy to find yourself trapped in a cycle of unhealthy habits with money, too.
Sure, a budget requires discipline, planning, and making trade-offs. But just as Lifehacker’s senior health editor Beth Skwarecki advocates for losing weight without buying into diet culture, I’m here to say you can save money without buying into inane “financial guru” culture. Follow these tips to treat your budget like a successful weight-loss plan.
Calculate your budget “calorie” allowance
For any trouble with spending and saving, making a budget is necessary—something like the 50/15/5 rule is a great place to start. To really help your healthy money habits stick, here’s how you can think of your budget like a diet.
First, tally up your monthly take-home pay. This is the total amount of “calories” you have available to “spend.” List all your fixed monthly expenses like rent, car payments, insurance, etc. These are the essentials you can’t cut from your diet. What’s left is your budget calorie allowance. This is your monthly limit for variable costs like dining, entertainment, shopping, etc.
“Meal plan” your expenses
Plan out how you’ll “spend” your budget calories for the month. Just like meal prepping, decide ahead of time how much to allocate to each spending category. Build your budget around needs before wants. Allow some wiggle room for unexpected treats, but limit them. Automate savings transfers and bill payments so the money isn’t tempting to spend.
Stick to your list at the store
My tip is to physically write down the things you want to buy before you buy them. Use those bank statements to inform what items make your official “to-buy list.” When you read over items on this list, you’ll be able to make a more thoughtful decision as to what you really need.
When you shop with a list, you’ll find it easier to resist impulse purchases. Avoid browsing aisles aimlessly like you’re hungry at the grocery store. Unsubscribe from store emails tempting you to overspend. Focus on needs over wants.
Control portions and leftovers
Spend only the amounts allotted in your budget and don’t let excess roll over or go to waste. For example, if you have $US50 budgeted for dining out this week but only spend $US40, don’t justify spending the “leftover” $US10 on something else. Transfer that $US10 to savings or your next week’s dining budget.
Allow yourself to splurge
Eliminating all treats can lead to bingeing when willpower runs out. Similarly, allowing a small budget splurge now and then prevents you from rebelling and overspending.
For restriction to really work, you need to be flexible and gentle with yourself, too. Otherwise, you risk financial bingeing—overspending or avoiding budgets altogether). Forming a healthy relationship with money means indulging thoughtfully. Ask yourself, “How do I expect this purchase will make me feel? What do I want it to make me feel? What feelings am I trying to avoid by buying it?”
Just be selective, limit frequency and quantities, and make room for the splurge in your budget ahead of time. If you’ve let your compensatory spending go overboard, here’s more on how to fight against so-called “revenge spending.”
Be flexible and adjust as needed
Re-evaluate your budget needs monthly. Make adjustments based on changing financial circumstances, goals, or overspending triggers you’ve identified. Just like with dieting for weight loss, a solid budget leads to financial fitness. The key is give yourself some kind of structure, but allow yourself the wiggle room necessary to have sustainable results.