What to Do When You’re Having a Little Trouble Sticking to Your Budget

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Joanne Poh


Inspired by dreams of attaining financial freedom, you, like many Singaporeans, probably made the New Year’s Resolution to stick to a budget this year, and let your savings grow. But lo and behold, it’s now February and you’ve already busted January’s budget. Not good.

If you find you’re consistently busting your budget just a little, or spending just a bit more than you’re comfortable with, don’t flog yourself for being a failure—you’re almost there.

So long as you’re not talking about making an unrealistic change such as shrinking your budget from $2,000 a month to $500 while still indulging in lots of retail therapy, all you need is a little push to bring your spending down. Here are some tips that can help you to finally attain your savings goals.


Brainstorm to restrategise your spending in each area

If you’ve already drawn up a detailed budget, you should already know which are your problem areas—the areas in which you always end up spending too much. For most of us, there are one or two categories that are our achilles heel. I never have any trouble sticking to my budget for shopping (the fact that Orchard Road on a weekend makes me break out in hives helps). But I struggle with lowering my spending on drinks.

The good thing is that figuring out how to lower your spending in a particular area without making your life a complete misery really isn’t rocket science. You just have to brainstorm some ways to make it easier to meet your budgeting goals, rather than simply vaguely promise yourself to “spend less next month”.

For instance, if you’re always busting your groceries budget, you might commit to replacing expensive processed foods (like breakfast cereal) with cheaper alternatives (bread and kaya). If you’re busting your transport budget because you keep waking up late for work, you might want to start sleeping earlier or buying a crazy loud alarm clock.

At the end of the month, review the success of your new scheme, and if it didn’t work tweak it till it does.


Write down a list of rules to live by

Now that you’ve come up with some strategies for achieving your savings goals, it’s time to put them into action.

If you’re finding it impossible to stick with your budget, it could be that your entire lifestyle isn’t conducive to not bleeding money.

To alter many aspects of your behaviour in one fell swoop, try writing down a list of rules to live by, and then carry them everywhere with you. Don’t make the rules unrealistic—if you promise to “sleep by 8pm every day” or “stop drinking alcohol”, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Instead, keep each rule simple and specific.

If you find yourself stumbling home drunk each Friday with an empty wallet, set a rule that you will stop buying drinks after the second glass.

Do you always find yourself having dinner out because your fridge is empty? Commit to doing the groceries every Thursday.

And if you’ve got a wardrobe bursting with clothes you spend all your money buying each month, establish a rule that you’ll wait for 3 days before making a purchase, just to be sure it’s something you really want.


Track your spending and check where you’ve broken the rules

Chances are, you’re not going to get this exactly right immediately. Sure, you might be able to beat yourself into submission the first time, but eventually old habits die hard and you might see your spending start to rise again.

That’s why it’s important to track your spending—download a budgeting app like Expense Manger and enter everything you spend on.

At the end of every month, look at your spending patterns and check where you’ve broken the rules.

Did you fail to stick to your shopping budget because you were stressed out this month and felt the need to pamper yourself? Then maybe it’s time to think of alternative ways to deal with stress, and write them down so you remember.

Did you spend so much on food because you were very sociable this month? Then maybe it’s time to introduce your friends to cheaper restaurants, or to start having dinner at home and then showing up in time for drinks.

Sticking with a budget is easier for some people (like cavemen) than others. But just because you’ve failed a few times doesn’t mean it’s impossible to consistently lower your spending. Seriously, I spent twice as much when I was 21 than I do now, except now I also pay for groceries and rent.  Tweak your strategy, put in place some good habits and you’ll be closer to meeting your savings goals than you ever thought possible.

Do you have trouble sticking to your budget? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.