We all know intuitively that when it comes to money, we should be saving more and spending less.
Creating a budget isn’t terribly hard. It’s sticking to that budget that can be a challenge, especially when there are gifts to buy, holiday sales galore and fun Christmas activities around every corner.
We rounded up some of the best tips to help keep you from blowing your budget—these steps may seem small, but they’re surprisingly effective for keeping your finances on track.
1. Set Yourself Up For Success
If you typically spend $300 a month eating out, don’t budget for $50—you’ll most definitely fail, which may lead you to throw in the towel on budgeting altogether. The key to successful budgeting is being realistic, and taking baby steps.
EveryDollar recommends that you start by cutting back just a little, then inch your way forward until you’re saving what you want. You don’t have to make a drastic change over night to start saving more and spending less. In fact, if you do, it may not work.
2. Make A List
Seriously, don’t even think about stepping foot inside the grocery store without a list. Your wallet will thank you later.
We’re all so busy that it’s easy to hustle over to the store after work to pick up a few things, but that type of behavior is sure to lead to overspending.
Take a few minutes on Sunday, or whatever day you have a bit of free time, to look at your schedule for the week. If you can, make a detailed meal plan so you know exactly what ingredients to buy at the store. Consider the power of leftovers and try to use foods that are versatile and can do double-duty.
Jacob and Vanessa Lumby, who run the blog Cash Cow Couple, suggest planning your meals while looking at the weekly ad from your grocery store, too.
“Your list should consist of what’s on sale each week,” they wrote. “Learn to appreciate variety in your diet and it will save you a fortune over time.”
3. Track Your Spending
Sure, you may not feel guilty about spending when you’re dropping just $3 here for a latte and $10 there for a movie. But when you see your credit card bill at the end of the month, you may regret all the times you carelessly swiped your card.
By tracking your spending on a regular basis—daily or weekly—you’ll be much more aware of how things are going as the month progresses, rather than having a panic attack when you open your credit card bill.
Lifehack recommends getting a receipt for every purchase or writing your own. Sit down and tally them up at the end of the day or week, then group them into categories so you can visualize areas in which you might be overspending.
Just the process of asking for a receipt or writing down each purchase will bring more awareness to the money you’re shelling out, and this awareness will probably ensure you’re not spending with abandon.
4. Make It Automatic
By setting up an automatic transfer into your savings account, you won’t even have to think about saving—it will just happen each month. If your employer offers a workplace retirement account such as a 401(k), set up an automatic deposit—the money will be taken out of your paycheck pre-tax and before it hits your bank account. You won’t even have a chance to miss it!
Before you know it, you’ll have stashed away enough money for that vacation you’ve always wanted to take, and you’ll be well on your way to a comfortable retirement lifestyle.
5. Set Goals, Then Think About Them
If you’re waiting in line at J. Crew because you just have to have that sweater (and hey, it’s on sale!), remind yourself of why you’re saving in the first place, says SmartAsset.
Humans are particularly bad at choosing long-term gratification over getting what they want in the short-term, which is why you must keep your financial goals front of mind, 24/7. If you’re saving for a car, think about how much longer you’ll have to save if you buy that sweater.