8 reasons it can be hard to stick to a budget – and how to beat them



We can all find it hard to budget at one time or another, and many of us have been guilty of committing to cut back on our spending, only to go back on our promises a few days later. Budgeting can be tough, and you may feel deflated if you’re having trouble sticking to yours. Here are the most common problems people can have when budgeting, and how you can beat them.

Problem 1 – setting unrealistic budgets: if you budget to spend no more than £100 a month on groceries when you know you won’t be able to stick to that, you may go over every time. Not being able to stay within your planned budget could make you feel like a failure, so you’re more likely to quit.

Solution – only give up or reduce spending on what you can afford: there’s no point in saying you’ll reduce your spending by more than you know is possible. Set realistic budgets that you know you’ll be definitely able to stick to, and if you’re finding it easy, you can always budget to spend slightly less next month.

Problem 2 – having nothing to aim for: you might know that you want to reduce your spending, but what for? If you don’t have a specific end goal in mind, or something to work towards, you won’t be able to track your success and see how well you’re doing.

Solution – create goals: targets give you something to aim for, so you can see when you’ve succeeded. Whether it’s saving up for a mortgage, a holiday, or something smaller like a night out with friends, you could feel more motivated to save when you can track your progress towards an end point.

Problem 3 – other people are making you spend: when you’re trying to stick to a budget, being around friends and family who aren’t as interested in saving can be tough. It can be difficult to hold your resolve and not ring up for that takeaway if your partner is encouraging you to spend.

Solution – get someone else to budget too: whether it’s your significant other or just a friend, it could help you feel more inspired to stick to a budget if you’ve got some moral support. Your ‘budget buddy’ can help you to stay on the budget during moments of weakness, and you’re not as likely to feel as though you’re the only one making an effort to save.

Problem 4 – your budget isn’t flexible enough: so you’ve carefully planned out all areas of your budget but after the first month, you realise you’ve massively underestimated one area of your spending. This is the point where you may feel tempted to give it up, because you haven’t allowed for any changes in your budget.

Solution – prepare to change it around: see the first month of your budget as a ‘test drive’, and realise that you’ll probably have to adjust some aspects of it for the second month. You may find that you spend more on something than you’d planned, but you could also find that you’re able to save more than you thought on something else. That’s fine – it’s all part of the learning curve.

Problem 5 – your budget’s too strict: if you’re someone who thinks living on a budget means you’re not allowed to spend anything on treats or leisure activities, this could be putting you off saving. Denying yourself any snacks or days out when you’re saving can make budgeting seem like a chore, meaning you’re less likely to stick to it.

Solution – allow money for some fun things: budgeting doesn’t have to mean the end of all spending on leisure activities. Factor spending on fun things into your budget, so you know how much you can spend on afternoon snacks or nights out with friends over the month.

Problem 6 – you aren’t budgeting to your means: if you work out your own budget from a template you find online or off someone else’s spreadsheet, you could be in danger of calculating what to spend based on someone else’s salary. There’s no right amount to spend on an aspect of your budget, it all depends what you’re earning.

Solution – create a budget around your income: when you’re calculating your budget, work out how much you have to spend by looking at your actual take-home pay, with any taxes or deductions taken off. Work out your budget based around this, so you can keep your spending within your means.

Problem 7 – emergencies knock you off budget: you may feel that as soon as you decide you’re going to stick to a budget, it can seem like everything from your car to your washing machine starts to break down. Having to fix expensive items in an emergency can make it difficult for you to budget, especially if you’ve not accounted for any extra spending.

Solution – plan for emergencies: obviously you can’t predict when certain crises are going to strike, and sometimes appliances just break down out of the blue, but keeping on top of car maintenance and jobs on your home could make it less likely that you’ll have a disaster.

Problem 8 – you don’t have self-control: if the problem is that you just can’t stick to your budget no matter what commitments you make to saving, it might just be that you find it difficult to put money aside. Not everyone finds it easy to manage their finances, and if you have trouble with budgeting, it could put you off saving.

Solution – don’t keep your credit card with you: if you know you’ll be tempted to buy when you should be saving, try to limit your access to easy credit. Leave your card at home, so you won’t be able to spend money when you shouldn’t.

Problem 9 – you forget to budget for one-off expenses: similar to the point about not budgeting for emergencies, annual payments such as your car tax or MOT could trip you up if you forget to budget for them. As these don’t come around every month, you could miss them out of your plan, meaning you might be off budget when you do have to pay them.

Solution – count them as part of your monthly budget: try to put aside money every month for these one-off payments. If you save up a little towards annual expenses each month, you’ll have a pot saved up when it’s time to pay. This could also help for budgeting for birthday or Christmas presents.

If you need help sticking to a budget, a ‘jam-jar’ account like thinkmoney’s could help. The Personal Account, for which monthly fees are payable, sets aside how much you have to spend on certain bills, so you can’t go over budget.

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