in Basics of Budgeting & My Experience, Finance Hacks, Uncategorized

5 Budgeting Strategies You Can Try When Others Fail

This image has been edited. Smith

Often times we may try something that we don’t always see through ’til the end (New Year’s Resolutions, anyone?). Maybe we set our goal too ambitiously, or maybe the means of achieving the goals are not convenient enough. Maybe something goes wrong (like a birthday cake to a diet), and our mental fortitude slips.

I used to try different diets, and when they didn’t work I resorted to my old ways. I’ve tried gym memberships to places that are not convenient enough for me, and then they never get used.

It’s easy to do the same with budgeting! When you search online or talk among your friends, you may find everyone has their own way of doing it (if they do at all!). There is no reason to quit your attempts at budgeting when one  method doesn’t work. You just need to tailor it for you, or try a different way to go about it.

There is no 1 right way to budget. If it works for you, then it’s a valid and good method. It may work for you and no one else, or it may work for you and others.

Below are different methods you can try when all-else has failed you. You may know right off-the-bat that some will not work for you, but you never know unless you at least consider. That being said, we’ll move on.


The 50/20/30 Rule

You’ve probably seen this floating around. This operates on the principle that you spend 50% of your income after taxes on necessities (housing), transportation, food, utilities). Out of the remaining 50%, 20% is designated to debts, emergency funds, retirement and savings. The final 30% is for everything else; dining out, cable, clothes, travel, etc.

Example: Susan takes home $2000 after taxes monthly. 50% = $1,000 (rent, utilities, gas for her car, car payment, food). She puts $200 away for student loans, savings, etc. $300 goes to everything else (going out to eat, clothes).What I like about this:

Sure, there’s something to be said for this method. 20% of your income would be going to financial security and debts (which I believe should be categorized in necessities – and you can do it this way).

It’s easy!

What I don’t like:

This is unrealistic if you have crippling student loan debt (or other similar debt), or if you live in an area with a high cost-of-living.

Technically, everything on this list is flexible (except student loans). You don’t need to have a $350 car payment, you don’t need to live in a more expensive apartment. You can shop smart at the grocery store.

Finally, if you have a tremendous amount of debt, you may want to cut back on your non-essentials even more to help yourself pay off this debt. You may be doing yourself a disservice by giving yourself all 30% for enjoyment and frivolous spending.

Graduated Savings PLan Screenshot
You can download this exact template for free here.

 Graduated savings plans (saving $20 one week, $40 the next, $60 the next and so on).

You’ll see these infographics often on Pinterest, often titled similar to “Save $10,000 this year!” or “$2,000 by Christmas!” The idea is that every day/week/month you save more and more, or the saving fluctuates. Either way it means that you are going to have some hard times and some easier times.

Example: Susan saves $1 one day, $2 the next, $3 the next, $4 the next day, and so on. At the end of the month she will have saved $465. In that last week alone she will have had to save $212.

What I Like:


…. It’s fun?

You’ll be putting away much more money doing this than you think, which is great. It also gives you the opportunity to get used to saving that money over time.

What I Don’t Like:

Is this realistic for you? If you’re on this blog, you likely want to take better control of your finances. I don’t know if this plan is going to be useful to most of my readers, but if it sparks your interest, then try it!

I believe this method requires too much conscious effort. I’m more of an “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” girl when it comes to savings. If you have to make the conscious effort to take that money out of the bank and put it somewhere, you’re probably less likely to do it. There’s more opportunity for your mind to start rationalizing all the ways in which you could actually use that money now.

The Cash Envelope!

This is like a more customized 50/20/30. The idea behind this is that you are giving yourself a limit on everything (or most things, or just one thing – that’s the beauty of it), and you are giving yourself a savings goal. You may want to appropriate $50 per week on groceries, $20 on entertainment, etc. as well as saving $100 per month.

Example: Susan has several envelopes, each with a certain amount of cash in them. They are labeled “groceries, gas, household items,” and so on. Throughout the month, she will pull the cash from these envelopes, careful not to go over her self-imposed limits.

What I like:

You can customize it to fit your needs/lifestyle. Your expenses are not the same as anyone else’s, so why should your budget be the same?

Apart from the initial appropriation of cash (like Susan is doing), this is a mostly hassle-free way to go about things. You have that amount of cash available to you, and you can see how much you have left.

There are also apps that do this on your phone. The last one I tried was “Level,” although I found that it was often inaccurate (thinking one purchase was from a restaurant when it was from a clothing store, or something like this).

What I don’t like:

I find that this is not always realistic, either. What do you do if you need more gas but you’ve spent your gas budget? You’re still going to go where you intend, you’re just going to pull that money from somewhere else. If you’re hosting a party, you’re going to go over your grocery budget (possibly).

Treat your savings like a loan, non-negotiable

This is more-so a savings hack than anything else, and something I think I am going to try in the near future. This works by setting a designated, realistic amount (let’s say $150) per month. Every month you would “pay” this bill to a savings account. I do something very similar where I take my mileage check and deposit it into a separate checking account. I leave that debit card at home and do not use it, only to deposit my mileage check.

Example: Just like her true bills, Susan transfers a set amount of $100 into a savings account as if she is paying a bill. This happens automatically through her primary checking account. She considers any extra money to be her budget for the month.

What I like:

I believe a lot of challenging things that we do are mainly mental challenges. If you can see your savings as a non-negotiable “bill”, then you’re almost guaranteeing yourself to save that money! If you are absolutely saving that money, then you accommodate your spending habits to reflect a lower budget. Think about it. Have you ever gotten a pay raise and then changed your spending habits accordingly?

What I don’t like:

You need to make this as easy as possible for it to work. Like I mentioned earlier in this post, sometimes we give ourselves time to negotiate and rationalize not saving a certain amount of money. If you are able to set this savings to be automatic, however, then you are doing yourself a favor. It is one thing to have to go to the bank, take out money and deposit it somewhere else, and it’s another to not even notice that the money has already gone to your savings account.

This is literally a screenshot of my sheet at the very beginning of this year (2017) – without income or my balances in my accounts. I’m going to Switzerland in May, hence “SWITZ” in May’s “Travel” column (that will be a huge expense).

Just track your spending!

Note: this is not a “budget” per the traditional meaning.

This is what I do, and it is definitely the method for me! Some months I can save more money than others, and I like to save everything I can! To do this, one way is to just keep track in a spreadsheet. I list my bills for each month, and I update whenever I get gas, go out to eat, etc. It shows my spending habits over time, which have changed dramatically since I started doing this.

Example: Susan tracks every dollar she spends on a spreadsheet, mindful all month long of keeping her numbers low. At the end of the month, she adds up everything she spent, and subtracts that from her income after taxes. Anything that is left over is what she saved!

What I like:

It allows me to be flexible.

I love the level of control I get (though this will be a negative for many people).

It has changed my entire mentality on my money. I was in a deficit every month before I started tracking my spending. I was blowing through my savings because I didn’t really know how much I was spending. Now, I’m actually spending less money than I make most of the time (though a couple months I did go over due to emergencies, etc.). I still saved $3,000 last year just from doing this!

What I don’t like:

Spreadsheets are not for everyone. If you don’t have a desktop/laptop or Excel – this is probably not a user-friendly way to go. It is something you would have to update once a day, maybe more (I usually open it up at work and at home thanks to Dropbox).

This might be too detail-oriented for some people. I love to see where every dollar goes, that’s why it works so well for me. It has become addicting to track my money, or even just to evaluate month-to-month what I spent on food, what I spent on clothes, etc. If you are a control freak with your finances, this might be a great place to start.

And there you have it! Thoughts, questions, comments? Please let me know below! I would love to hear what you’ve tried, what works for you and what doesn’t – and why? Will you try any of these?


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