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The Challenges of Starting and Sticking to a Budget


It’s one thing to build a budget, but it’s another thing all togther to stick to one. Here are the obstacles standing in the way of better financial health.

Budgets tend to be a lot like many of our new year’s resolutions. We talk a big game about them, then as quickly as we built them, they seem to evaporate into thin air.

budget starting sticking finance planning financial

It might seem inconsequential at first, but as our budgets fade into the rearview mirror, our other financial goals disappear with them. There goes that car we wanted to purchase, or those new upgrades to our office. And what’s worse, the items we wanted to get rid of — the debt that’s constantly looming over our shoulder or the insurance and tax payments that always seem to pop up unexpectedly – well, those have a habit of sticking around.

Getting Started

So, for 2019, let’s get more of the things we want and fewer of the things we don’t. Let’s make a resolution to make a budget, stick to it, and prepare ourselves to handle the obstacles that will try to slow us down. The fear of beginning something new is normal, so don’t start off too big and put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Write your financial goals down for the next week, then the next month, and repeat until you have a year of goals written out. Incremental steps will make sure you aren’t overwhelmed and help build your big picture forecast from the ground up.

Letting Go of the Past

You might also find yourself fretting over the aesthetics and usability of your budget. If you’re design-savvy you can create templates in programs like Excel or Google sheets, but for a more intuitive approach try services like, which automate the process. By linking accounts to a service like Mint, you can outsource most of the heavy lifting involved in manual budgeting and track your finances in real time.There’s a reason they say, “Old habits die hard.” Breaking a routine is challenging, and behaviors you’ve built, no matter how detrimental they might be, take more than changing — they take outgrowing.

In order to stick to your new budget, you will have to outgrow your previous spending habits. You might have to cut back on how many times you eat out, or even change your regular shopping list to reflect what amount you allotted for groceries. However, it doesn’t have to be drastic.

Much like the approach to building your budget, we recommend starting out small and identifying the habits you can live without in the immediate future. Instead of getting your caffeine on the way to work every morning, buy it in bulk and make it at home. Also, consider your burn out rate before you actually make a grocery list. If you aren’t using an entire item before it expires, downsize or cut that item out. Cutting down like this gives you perspective into where you’re wasting beforehand and allows you to cut off old habits without big repercussions.

Unexpected Spending

Key Takeaway

Here’s another suggestion, sell or donate unused items that are cluttering your living space. You can make extra money if you find the right person to buy an item through sites like eBay or Facebook. You can also donate these items to charity, and in the process of doing a good thing for your community you can also receive a receipt to submit as a charitable contribution for a tax write off. Getting rid of old baggage, (literally in some cases) can give you a fresh start as you decide what is truly valuable.The last and most unpredictable obstacle to starting and sticking to a budget is the unknown. No matter how hard you try you can’t predict the future, and it is more than likely that you will face an emergency that will require dipping into your funds a little deeper than normal. It’s easy to use this as an excuse to avoid budgeting in the first place, but a good budget can also make sure you’re ready for these emergencies by building an emergency fund in the first place. To avoid rocking the boat too heavily, try adding an “unexpected expenses” category to your budget. You can pull or push funds around to accommodate as the year moves on.Budgeting is all about staying in control in an unpredictable world. It can help you gain a more complete awareness of your spending habits, so you can reign in the ones that don’t align with your current goals. And with a little time, some hard work, and a solid dose of vigilance, the rewards will be yours for the taking.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice