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Tips on Using Self-Discipline to Stick to Your Budget

Thinking About Budget

You have created your budget on paper – a plan on the best use of your money.  This plan will help you achieve your financial objective – whether it is to eliminate debt,  save for a car, or invest for retirement.  These financial objectives help you to use your money for a prosperous and stress-free life.

Sticking to your plan, however, is not the easiest thing to do.  It is a mind game.  You are surrounded and bombarded by distractions and temptations that make you divert from your plan.  TV and online ads, a great store display, an irresistible bargain entice you to spend on something that is not on your budget.

Human nature is also pre-disposed to enjoy something today than delay gratification.  By sticking to your plan, you have to defy your very nature.

But the reality is, your behavior today will determine your future.  Feeling good today may have payback years from now.  Having a plan to eliminate your debt and not consciously sticking to your budget may make your life enjoyable today, but will give you much misery in the future.   Being unable to save for something you want like a good education will make you feel a failure in the long run.

Yes, it is not easy to use your mind or self-discipline to stick to your budget.  Below are tips to make this easier:


Be specific about your goal.

Give numbers and deadlines to your goals.  For example, instead of “My goal is to earn enough for a down payment on a great house”, a better one would be “My goal is to earn $50,000 for a 20% down payment on a $250,000 house in 24 months”.  Specific goals give you an objective measure of how well or how poorly you are doing with your goal.  Concrete goals tend to make your mind deal with concrete actions since your mind does not see it as “soft goal”, which is subject to interpretation.


Divide your big goal into sub goals.

Sub goals are more easily attainable than a big main goal.  When attaining sub goals, you can taste success more frequently and immediately.  This becomes reinforcing, and your success becomes habit-forming.  In the above example, you can divide the goal above to “My goal is to save $2,084 monthly to earn 20% down payment for a $250,000 house in 24 months”.  By having sub goals, you will be able to monitor your progress monthly.


Be realistic about your goal.

Do not create a goal that you know is not reasonable, and you will not be able to accomplish from the start.  If you know you are unable to starve yourself, for example, do not make it your goal to save money that involves not eating lunch or dinner.


Appreciate the reasons for reaching your goal.

Remind yourself of the importance of reaching your goal.  Acknowledge how it will make a difference in your life.  List down these reasons.  For example, if you reach your goal of being able to earn enough for a house down payment, you know you will enjoy:

  • *Living in a safe, pleasant community
  • *Kids will have a backyard where they can play safely on
  • *Live in a more spacious area, thus improving your quality of life
  • *The proud of ownership of having your own house, etc.


Remind yourself of this list every day.

Better yet, put your list in a prominent place like your mirror or your workplace.  It is also a good idea to put your list on an area near where you are faced with the temptation to break your budget  (like your computer monitor if you shop online a lot).


Remind yourself about the bad consequences of not reaching your goal.

For example, if you are not able to save enough for a house down payment, this means:

  • *You will continue to live in a sordid, cramped environment
  • *Your kids will not havie a good environment to grow up, and this might affect their future
  • *You will continue to live in a stressful environment with the relative you are living (or your landlord if you are renting)
  • *You will not be free to do what you want to do, etc.


Solve problems that keep your for reaching your goal.

If your sub goal is to avoid eating breakfast in fast-food places to save money, give yourself time in the morning to cook breakfast at home.


Say “No” to excuses.

If a merchandise you see is too tempting to buy, you may say to yourself, “It’s okay to buy this now even if it’s not on the budget, I will never find a bargain like this again.” Or “It’s okay to buy this now, I’ll just save on other things tomorrow”.  Acknowledge that you are fooling yourself, and just say “no” to these excuses.


Acknowledge that time is important.

Time is money.  The longer you put off working on your goal,  or the longer you attain your goal, the more costly your goal becomes.  Also, you develop your habit by doing the same thing regularly, and not skipping it.


Reward yourself.

When you divide your goal into sub goals, reward yourself with the little chunks of success that build up to the attainment of your ultimate goal.  Your reward may be as simple as a giving yourself a mental pat on the back (“I’m good!”) or giving yourself something pleasurable that you do give yourself only if you have attained your sub goal, such as a movie or an ice cream (as long as it is still within budget)

See also How to stick to your budget

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