Last Updated January 24, 2021
You may wonder “why do budgets fail?” Have you had a hard time making a budget that works? There may be a few mistakes you’re making that’s causing you to be frustrated and ready to give up. Don’t worry, it’s not you. There are many challenges of budgeting. Find out 17 common budgeting problems and solutions you didn’t know.
Why Is Budgeting So Difficult?
I think budgeting can be very difficult for some people because they look at it as a “financial diet.” What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word “budget” or “diet”? Probably things like: scarcity, deprivation, suffering, agony, depression.
Sometimes being on a budget makes you focus more on the things you can’t have, instead of the positive outcome. So how can we change the way we think about budgeting? Let’s go over the secret to making budgeting easier…
How To Make Budgeting Easier?
The secret to making budgeting easier is to look at your budget more like a spending plan, rather than a financial diet. All you’re doing is making a plan on how you can afford to spend your money on the things you enjoy the most. This involves taking some time to think about what you value and enjoy, setting a goal related to that, and then working towards it.
For example, let’s say you love to travel, you can make a goal of taking one vacation every year, then working out your finances to ensure that can happen. Maybe you eliminate something else you commonly spend money on that isn’t as important to you so you can afford to take your trip every year.
What Is The Most Challenging Part of Budgeting?
I think the most challenging part of budgeting is finding a method that you like. There’s so many ways to keep track of your money and it might be hard to find something that works for you. For example, I love budgeting spreadsheets—but you may hate that. Maybe you’re more of a cash envelope kind of person.
To help you figure out a budgeting method you like, read my detailed article “How To Choose The Right Budgeting Method.”
Challenges Of Budgeting
Once you find a budgeting method that you like, I think one of the common challenges of budgeting is tracking your spending. If you want to stay on top of your spending habits, use this FREE Daily Expense Tracker.
If you don’t like to manually track your spending (like me), you can use a third-party website like Personal Capital to see your spending all in one place. Personal Capital is a FREE wealth management tool to help you get a better understanding of your finances.
After you link all your accounts, you can see all your accounts in one place to have better money oversight.
If you sign up today and link at least one of your investment accounts (with a balance of more than $1,000), we’ll each get $50. That’s FREE money for keeping track and staying on top of your finances (something you should be doing anyway)!
Why Do Budgets Fail?
There are so many reasons why budgets fail. Budgets tend to fail because they are improperly planned, poorly executed, or both. Here are 17 common mistakes people make when budgeting and ways to fix that:
Budgeting Problems And Solutions
1. You Didn’t Analyze Your Spending In Previous Months
A very common reason why your budget doesn’t work is because you’re not analyzing your spending in the past. You cannot make a proper budget if you don’t go back and analyze several months of spending first. You have to know where you spend money, and how much you usually spend to have an idea of where to start.
I recommend you analyze at least 3 months worth of past spending when drafting up a budget for the first time. Get an understanding of the trends in your spending.
Based on your spending, what does it look like you value most in life? Is this what you truly value the most? If it is something you value, you need to account for it in your budget; if not, you need to cut back or eliminate spending in that area altogether.
2. Your Budget Isn’t Realistic
One of the major challenges of budgeting is you’re not being realistic. Sometimes we cut back so much on certain things in our budget that it becomes unrealistic. It’s easy to underestimate in categories where the expense isn’t fixed (like groceries and gas).
For example, if after analyzing your past spending you see you normally spend approximately $500 on dining out every month, it’s probably not realistic that you can cut back that spending to just $50 overnight.
If you see that you’re constantly overspending in certain areas of your budget, that means your budget wasn’t realistic and you need to increase your budget in those areas. However, keep in mind if you’re going to increase your spending in one area, it means you have to cut spending in other areas too.
3. You’re Forgetting To Include Some Expenses
Another reason why your budget doesn’t work is because you are forgetting expenses. Forgetting to include some expenses can really through your budget off because you didn’t plan for it. This is one of the common challenges of budgeting that I see in my clients all the time.
Use this list of over 80 budget categories to make sure you don’t forget anything. Don’t feel overwhelmed by this list, because not everything is going to apply to you. Just skim through the list and check off the things that apply to you—then include it in your budget.
4. You’re Not Adjusting Your Budget
Another reason why your budget isn’t working is because you’re not adjusting it. A budget isn’t a “set it and forget it” kind of thing. You should be adjusting your budget from time to time because things change in your life.
Adjusting your budget is so important because certain things that used to be important to you might not be important to you anymore. You might make more money, get married, have kids, move to a different city, get divorced, etc. If your income or expenses change, make sure your budget is adjusted to reflect those changes.
5. You’re Not Budgeting For Fun Things
One of the major challenges of budgeting is you’re not allocating money towards doing fun things. A lot of people’s budget fail because it’s just too restrictive. The first place we look to cut out expenses is our hobbies and entertainment because it’s not what you would consider a “need.”
The problem with that is if you don’t allocate money to some things you enjoy doing, it’s simply not going to work. It’s like having a strict diet and not allowing yourself to have a cheat meal.
Make sure you’re including money in your budget for the things you like to do. Cutting out all the fun things is going to make you hate budgeting. If you hate budgeting, you’re simply not going to do it and quit. So decide ahead of time how much you’re going to spend on things you enjoy doing—but keep it reasonable. You can still have fun and stay on budget.
- Related Article: How To Still Have A Social Life While Living On A Budget
6. You’re Not Tracking Your Spending
Another reason why your budget doesn’t work is because you’re not tracking your spending. You actually have to follow your budget if you want it to work. If you draft up your budget, but then forget about it, it’s not going to work.
Make sure you regularly track your spending and revisit your budget several times during the month to see how you’re doing. It’s essential to know how much you have left in an expense category so you can know when to stop spending.
For example, if you spent more than half of your food budget before half of the month is over, you know it’s time to slow down on your spending for the rest of the month. If you want to stick to the plan, make sure you’re tracking your spending regularly.
Again, if you want to stay on top of your spending habits, use this FREE Daily Expense Tracker. I also highly recommend using Personal Capital to help you if you don’t like to manually track your spending.
- Related Article: How To Track Your Monthly Spending
7. You’re Not Practicing Self-Control
Having a budget will require you to say “no” sometimes. One of the major challenges of budgeting is practicing self-control. You cannot give in to impulse purchases. This is the thing a lot of people struggle with the most and the reason why your budget doesn’t work.
It’s very hard to practice self-control sometimes. So, just avoid putting yourself in a position that’s going to tempt you to blow your budget.
You may not know this, but I LOVE to shop and struggle with this from time to time. So if you’re like me, avoid your favorite stores and websites altogether. Don’t go to the mall “just to see what they have” because you will most likely find something that’s cute, and it’s just too hard to walk away.
Also, unsubscribe from websites you love to shop at. Make it so you don’t even know what sales they have going on! A major sale may tempt you to buy something you don’t even need but bought it only because the sale was too good to pass up.
Another tactic I recommend is to wait at least 24 hours before you make an unplanned purchase. If it’s a more expensive purchase, wait 30 days.
A lot of spending we do is very emotional. By waiting, it helps you get past the emotions. When you step away from making a purchase, use that time (24hrs up to 30 days) to do some research to look for cheaper prices online.
If it’s a more expensive purchase, you can also use that time to save money for the item. If the urge to buy an item doesn’t go away after waiting at least 24 hours, then purchase it. But I’m sure 9 times out of 10 that urge DOES go away.
The point is you should avoid going to places that will trigger you to spend. Also, learn to say “no” or at the very least, delay some purchases. You can take this 31 Day Savings Challenge to help you save some money while you wait to purchase your item.
8. You Don’t Have An Emergency Fund
If an emergency happens, and you don’t have an emergency fund, it will throw your budget off. Not having an emergency fund is one of the major challenges of budgeting.
An emergency fund is a separate savings account that helps you prepare for unexpected expenses. If you don’t have an emergency fund, I suggest you start saving towards building one.
There will ALWAYS be an emergency—that’s just life. You (or someone you love) may get sick, injured, or laid off. Or maybe your car dies, you need a new roof on your house, or you have to fix an appliance.
This is exactly why you need an emergency fund. This money will make sure you can get through the tough times when they arrive. I recommend you have an emergency fund of 3-6 months worth of necessary expenses.
Since an emergency can come at any time, it’s very important to have quick access to your money. Therefore, I recommend you open a high yield savings account to an online bank account.
You get two benefits of banking online:
- They usually pay higher interest on your money than a brick and mortar bank; and
- It reduces impulse purchases because your money is a little harder to access. With online banks, it usually takes a few business days for the money to be transferred to a physical bank where you can withdraw cash.
A good online bank I like is CIT Bank because it:
- offers competitive interest rates (one of the nation’s top rates),
- has no monthly maintenance fees, and
- you only need $100 to open an account.
If you need more help or want to learn about emergency funds, read my detailed article “How To Build An Emergency Fund.” This article will help you figure out how much you need to save for your particular situation.
9. You Didn’t Budget For Irregular Expenses
Another common reason why your budget doesn’t work is because you’re not budgeting for irregular expenses. Not all your expenses happen every month. Some of them occur only once a year or once every several months.
An example of this would be property taxes, car insurance, or Christmas and birthday gifts. If you don’t include these expenses in your budget, it will take you by surprise and throw your budget off.
To be clear, these irregular expenses should not count as emergencies and should not be paid for out of your emergency fund. The difference between irregular expenses and expenses that should be covered by your emergency fund is you know that you’re going to have an irregular expense—it just doesn’t happen every month. Therefore, you should plan for you irregular expenses.
An expense can only be considered an emergency if it is unexpected. Only those unexpected expenses should be paid for out of your emergency fund.
Make sure you include irregular expenses in your monthly budget. You can budget for these annual or semi-annual expenses by dividing your yearly total expenses by 12. Because I had a hard time with this when I started budgeting, I made sure to include an annual to monthly calculator in my budget template. This made it easy for me to account for my irregular expenses.
Once you know how much you need to set aside every month for your irregular expenses, open up a separate bank account to hold your money until the bill is due.
So for example, let’s say you pay $6,000 in property taxes every year. That means you have to set aside $500 every month. Every month, you should transfer $500 to a separate online bank, like CIT Bank, to hold your money until you’re ready to pay your property taxes.
Do NOT touch the money in your “irregular expenses” account unless you’re withdrawing money to pay for that bill!
You can decide to have one account for all your irregular expenses, or a separate account for each irregular expense. If you’re going to have one account for all your irregular expenses, just make sure to track how much money in the account goes to what expense.
For example, let’s say you put aside $600 every month for irregular expenses ($500 for property taxes and $100 for car insurance). By month 3 you would have a total of $1,800 in your “irregular expenses” account. You should have a note somewhere that $1,500 of this money is for property taxes and $300 of this money is for car insurance.
- Related Article: How To Use A Monthly and Yearly Household Budget Spreadsheet
10. You’re Making It Too Much Work
For some people, one of the challenges of budgeting is it can just seem like too much work. You have to track your expenses and evaluate your spending which takes time and effort. Since it can seem like too much of a task, they give up.
I recommend not waiting until the end of the month to track all your expenses and review your spending. Try to do a little bit every day or every week. This will make it much less overwhelming when it comes time to review your budget.
It reminds me of some advice my mom used to tell me about keeping my house clean (yes, I struggled with this as well…lol). She said “if you do a little bit every day, your house will always be clean…don’t wait until everything piles up and you try to do it all at once.” I think this tip applies to your budget as well!
So make sure you don’t let managing your money pile up. Spend a little time every day or every week on yoru finances. Finally, if you absolutely HATE tracking your spending, you can read my detailed article “3 Easy Ways To Track Your Spending.” I personally use the first tactic because I hate tracking my spending as well.
11. You Feel Overwhelmed
If you are working to get out of debt, or to save a significant amount of money, it may feel like an unattainable goal. One of the challenges of budgeting is you start to feel overwhelmed and that makes it hard to stick to your budget. Then you may wonder “What’s the point?”
If it feels like it will take forever for you to accomplish a financial goal, break it down into bite-sized pieces.
For example, when I was saving for my first house, I needed at least $70,000 for the down payment (I live in NYC and the houses are very expensive). To make matters worse, I needed to save this money in one year! I had to act quickly because the prices in my area were rising so fast, and I was afraid I would get priced out of the market.
When I first came up with this crazy idea, I broke it down to what I needed to save every month. So instead of looking at it like I need to save $70,000, I told myself “I need to save $6,000 this month.” Focusing on this smaller milestone made me figure out a way that I could make this happen.
If I only focused on the big number, I would’ve felt overwhelmed and given up.
12. You’re Not Working Together
Are you and your spouse fighting over money? It might be because you’re not working on your finances together. If you’re not on the same page, you may find your spouse is ruining the budget each month. For couples, getting the other person on board is definitely one of the challenges of budgeting. It’s important to work together to avoid these types of problems.
Sit down a few times a month and go over your budget. Identify areas that are problems in your budget or where you need to control your spending. It’s also important to know what categories mean the most to each other, so you can make a budget that works for the both of you.
If you want to learn more about how you can get your spouse on the same page as you when it comes to your budget, read my detailed article “9 Simple Ways To Get Your Spouse On Board With Budgeting.“
13. You Haven’t Set Clear Goals
Another reason why your budget doesn’t work is you haven’t set clear financial goals. If you don’t know why you’re budgeting in the first place, there’s no incentive to stick to it. However, if you know that you’re budgeting because you’re working towards achieving a financial goal, you will be more motivated to stick with it.
Make your financial goals clear and use the acronym SMART. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.
- You want to make your goals as specific as possible;
- Measurable so that you can track your progress and know when you’ve achieved your goal;
- You want to make your goals realistic and achievable;
- Your goals should be relevant to your overall plans in life; and
- Finally, you want your goal to have a time limit where you set an end date to achieve your goal.
Using the SMART method brings more structure and clarity to your goals.
Once you know what you want to accomplish, break those goals down into smaller milestones. Achieving these smaller goals will help you stay motivated to stick to your budget. You can use my FREE Daily Goal Planner to make sure you work a little bit towards your goals every day.
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- Related Article: How To Accomplish Your Financial Goals
14. Your Expenses Are Too High
It may seem obvious, but having too many expenses can be one of the major challenges of budgeting. Your budget simply isn’t going to work if your expenses are higher than your income.
The problem isn’t your budget, it’s your spending. So start by reviewing each spending category in your budget and figure out where you can cut back on your spending. When deciding where to cut back, ask yourself “what do I enjoy the most, and what can I let go of?”
I recommend that you start to cut in areas where you spend the most—such as housing, transportation, or food. Focusing on cutting your biggest expenses first, will allow you to recapture the most dollars and drastically reduce your expenses. Cutting back your $5 latte might not have a big enough impact.
- Related Article: Cutting Your Monthly Expenses: Why It Is Absolutely Necessary
15. You Just REALLY Hate Budgets
Sometimes one of the biggest challenges of budgeting is just that you REALLY hate budgets. If you think that’s the case for you, that might be one of the reasons why your budget doesn’t work.
We all don’t need to budget the same. Some methods that work for me, might not work for you. I personally like budget spreadsheets, but the sight of a budget spreadsheet might turn you off.
If this describes you, explore other methods of managing your money without spreadsheets. For example, maybe use the cash envelope method or some other method that more fits your personality.
If you need help figuring out what budgeting method is best for you, read my article “How To Choose The Right Budgeting Method.” Test out a few budgeting systems to see what works for you.
I’ve tried 3 different ways to manage my money before I found something that can work for me long term.
16. You’re Not Telling People
It’s important to share your financial goals with family and friends. People will invite you out to do things all the time, not knowing you’re on a budget and you have different plans for your money. None of these people mean to put you in a tough situation of having to say no; so let them know what your financial goals are.
If your friends and family are aware that you’re on a budgeting and saving for a financial goal, they will respect that. This, in turn, will help you stick to your budget. Tell people why you’re saving. You might be surprised that talking to others about your goals might inspire them to get their finances in order.
17. You Gave Up Too Soon
I think one of the biggest challenges of budgeting is sticking with it. The reason why your budget may not work is because you may have given up too soon. You may fall off the budgeting wagon one month and just feel like “I can’t do this.”
Learning to say “no” to things and people so you can live within your means is not easy. It can take several months of tweaking and adjustments to make your budget work just right.
If you tried to budget in the past and failed, don’t give up! Take some time to figure out what went wrong. Did you do any of the mistakes I mentioned above? Once you see what mistakes you made, take the time to make any corrections and go into the next month with a fresh start. Keep working on it and adjust the numbers up and down as you need to.
There are many challenges of budgeting. Creating a budget and learning to stick to it isn’t easy. Budgets take time, persistence, and trial and error before you start to see significant results.
Now that you know the many budgeting problems and solutions, go through this list to see if you’re making any of the mistakes I’ve mentioned above. Once you figured out what mistakes you’ve been making in the past, make some adjustments so you can make a strategy works for you.
Having a budget that WORKS is absolutely worth it! When I finally figured out how to budget properly, I was able to accomplish my financial goals and became financially free. A budget is a plan for the money you’ve worked so hard to earn.
So stop throwing your money away, and create a spending plan today! If your budget hasn’t worked in the past, it’s time to give it another shot.
- How To Save 50 Percent Of Your Income
- Paying Debt vs. Saving: Which is Best?
- Free Printable Budget Binder
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