5 Ways You're Sabotaging Your Budget

Do you always feel like you can't manage your money successfully? Here are 5 ways you're sabotaging your budget.

Budgeting certainly isn't always the easiest activity and there may be times where you feel like you just can't manage your money successfully.  You are not alone! If you feel like you're struggling, then you don't want to miss my guest post at Shoeaholic No More(which is an awesome personal finance blog, by the way) called the 5 Ways You're Sabotaging Your Budget.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclaimer for more information. 

Don't forget to check out these other reasons your budget may be failing and the 9 steps I use to create an awesome budget!

I'm sure you've all seen my book, The Beginner's Guide to Budgetingso you know by now that I've done a ton of research and personal testing on this topic! To every problem, there is a solution and I was sure to include them in my guest post.

Do you have any budgeting questions? Comment below and let me know!

Budgeting When You are Paid Once a Month

Do you receive a paycheck only once a month? If you do, then you certainly know how difficult it can be to stay within your budget. The last weeks in the month are particularly hard as they seem to drag on forever. Receiving a monthly paycheck can be both of lifesaver and a curse at the same time. For those of us who love to spend, we find ourselves spending all of our money once the bills have been paid. And then we hit the middle of the month only to realize we need extra money for groceries or odds and ends.

I used to be paid only once a month and I wasn't a fan. Granted, I would derive great satisfaction from paying all of my bills at the beginning of the month. But once that was done I would run wild and spend the rest of my money. I'm glad to say that my shopping habits and budgeting process are very different now!

Here are a few tips for budgeting when you are paid once a month.

Clearly Define Your Budget

It takes a lot of self control to be able to stretch your paycheck to last the entire month. Once the stress of the bills are off of your shoulders (most likely in the very beginning of the month) it can be easy to look at the cash leftover as "fun" money. We all know how easy it can be to burn through this extra cash like wildfire.

Have a clearly defined spending plan and use a budgeting method like the 50/20/30 Method or the Zero-Sum Method. Also, some of my readers suggest that it's easier to follow their set limits by using only cash once the bills are paid.

Pay ALL of Your Bills as Early as Possible

Since you're only being paid once a month, I will assume that your one paycheck has to cover all of your bills for that month. Do yourself a favor and avoid running out of cash by paying all of the bills as soon as the money is in the bank.

I know some people may feel more comfortable letting that money sit in their account until the bill is actually due. But if you find yourself lacking in funds when your car payment needs to be paid on the 15th, leaving the cash in the account until then isn't a luxury that can be afforded.

Create Category Limits Per Week

Getting paid once a month is a fantastic way to work on financial discipline!

Setting a weekly limit for flexible expenses such as groceries or date nights is one of the easiest ways to make sure your cash lasts the rest of the month. When I was in college (and only being paid on the 1st of each month), I would pull out fours weeks worth of grocery money and separate it into envelopes. It's an old-fashioned technique but it certainly works if you don't want to keep track in your online banking.

Change Your Due Dates

Adjust all of your due dates for larger bills (such as a mortgage, car payments, student loans, etc.) to the beginning of the month. This forces you to pay the bills first and foremost. However, be aware of the temptation to go on a spending spree with the money that is leftover. While there is security in paying all of your bills in the first week of the month, there's a chance that you may not have any in the middle or the end of the month if you're not careful.

Budgeting isn't always easy and when you are only paid once a month it can be even harder to manage. These tips may not work for everyone but they could help ease the stress of running out of money.

How do you handle being paid once a month? 

FREE BOOK DOWNLOAD! "The Beginner's Guide to Budgeting" (EXPIRED)


"The Beginner's Guide to Budgeting: How to Organize Your Finances, Choose a Budgeting Method, and Successfully Manage Your Money" is available on Amazon!

I'm running a Free Book Promotion from 12/30/2015 - 01/03/2015 so grab it while it's FREE and don't forget to leave a review!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclaimer for more information. 

How can this book help YOU?

This compact guide will help you:

  • Identify potential budgeting weaknesses
  • Choose a proper budgeting method
  • Guide you through the implementation process with step-by-step instructions.

These chapters were written with your questions and concerns in mind!

Various budgeting methods are covered, including pros/cons and step-by-step instructions for each. By identifying any of your budgeting weaknesses, you can take control of the spending, saving, and planning of your money.

THANK YOU if you have or will download the book! Your support means the world to me! Again, please feel free to leave a review on Amazon to let me know what you think. I welcome all feedback so I can provide exactly what my audience is looking for.

FREE CHAPTER: The Beginner's Guide to Budgeting

I hope you are all having a joy-filled holiday season because I certainly am! I have an ebook coming out this month and I'm giving away a chapter for FREE! The Beginner's Guide to Budgeting: How to Organize Your Finances, Choose a Budgeting Method, and Successfully Manage Your Money is a fully updated guide to finding the budget that works for YOU.

  • Pinpoints Budget Weaknesses: An entire chapter is dedicated to the many reasons your budget may be failing
  • Budgeting Methods Included: Discover the budgeting method that perfectly corresponds with your financial goals and helps you take control of your spending
  • Easy to Follow Along: Simple, step-by-step process for preparing, projecting, organizing, and implementing a successful budget

Here is a sneak peak at the Table of Contents.

  1. Disclaimer
  2. My Free Gift to You!
  3. Why I Wrote This Book
  4. Why You Should Read This Book
  5. Preparation
  6. Budgeting Methods
  7. Projecting Your Budget
  8. Organization
  9. Implementation
  10. Reasons Your Budget is Failing
  11. Conclusion
  12. Thank You!
  13. About Allison Lindstrom
  14. Connect with the Author
  15. Acknowledgements

Want a FREE chapter? Click below to enter your email and receive instant access.

10 Ways Having a Child Will Affect Your Budget (and How You Can Save) - Part 2

You can find information on thrifty tips and spending traps in Part 1 of this post.

Are you thinking about having a baby or adopting? Congratulations! Having children is the most monumental step you can take in your life. Their love is irreplaceable and your life is going to become beautiful in a way you never imagined.

But before you get caught up in the bubbly excitement and start saving nursery ideas on Pinterest, let's talk about the financial impact a child can have on your budget. I know that doesn't sound like much fun but it's always a good idea to be prepared where money is concerned.

We've already gone through the first 5 ways your budget will be affected so let's finish off the rest in this post.

6. Gear & Necessities

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. This may sound confusing but to save money in the long run, you should splurge on baby gear that really counts. Never skimp on safety items like car seats just to save a few dollars. We tried an affordable option and it was a waste of time and money.
  2. Ask your mom friends if they'd be interested in having a baby stuff swap.
  3. Browse your local classifieds, consignment sales, and thrift stores for items that have a short useful life, such as swings, bouncers, etc. There's no rule that says everything should be purchased brand new.

Spending Traps:

  1. Expensive swings and fancy bath tubs are nice luxuries to have but if you need to cut corners, start there. My friend purchased the $270 mamaRoo swing brand new and only used it 3 TIMES before her son grew out of it. What a waste!
  2. Resist the temptation to purchase any upgraded version of a base model. In most cases, you won't miss the special features when you can have extra money left in the bank.

7. Schooling/College

Education is one of the best investments you can make in your child's upbringing. But don't worry if you're on a budget. There are still many ways you can save without sacrificing the quality of their schooling.

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. Keep an eye out for special Back to School sales. A lot of retailers will mark down some school supplies to $0.50 or even $0.25.
  2. Take advantage of Sales Tax Holidays (tax-free days) when purchasing school supplies. Just remember to arrive early so you can beat the crowds!
  3. Begin planning early if you're worried about saving enough money to cover pricey tuition. Plans like a 529 College Savings Plan, Prepaid Tuition Plans, or a Roth IRA are all great options to explore for college expenses. You should also look into a tax-deferred Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA) as it can be used for higher education and primary and secondary education costs.
  4. Save money on college textbooks by renting them or purchasing used copies. I'm a personal fan of CampusBookRentals. (*This is not sponsored in any way. I just really loved using this company!)

Spending Traps:

  1. Resist the temptation to buy brand new items every single year. If your child has an old binder that's still in good condition, re-use it and spend the money elsewhere. Why replace something if it's not broken?

8. Travel

Costs add up quickly when you add a new travel buddy to the group. As children get older they eat more and take up more space, adding to your food, hotel, and transportation costs.

Related Post: 7 Ways to Save Money on a Road Trip

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. The easiest way to save money on food is to bring it yourself. Pack a cooler full of sandwiches, nuts, fruit, and other snacks to get yourself started.
  2. If you're flying, check with the airline to see if your child is young enough to sit in your lap to save the cost of buying an extra ticket.

Spending Traps:

  1. Gas stations are the easiest spending trap to fall into. Avoid paying $1.00 per water bottle and simply buy a 24 pack from the grocery store for a fraction of the price.
  2. Lack of preparation can cause you to miss out on some great perks when it comes to lodging. I'm a huge fan of signing up for a hotel rewards program and consistently using the same hotel (within reason) to rack up points. This has given me free breakfast and wifi perks, as well as a couple of nights for free.
  3. Overpacking can turn into a spending trap if you find yourself paying for luggage that's over an airline's limits. Save yourself the hassle and the money by weighing your bag at home before you travel.

9. Electricity

I'm always a little impressed by the fact that our son isn't even tall enough to reach the light switch but is still making our energy bill just a bit more expensive.

Related Posts: 7 Ways to Cut Your Electricity Bill

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. Extra dishes and a dirty clothes will increase the number of times you run your appliances. Try to limit their use to the evening so the air conditioning won't have to fight so hard to keep your home cool.

Spending Traps:

  1. Constantly plugged in gadgets (even if they're turned off) are still using energy. Purchase an affordable power strip and turn the switch off when their items aren't being used.

10. Extracurricular Activities/Sports

My son is only 15 months but I'm still faced with the pressure to have him involved in multiple, expensive activities. Swimming lessons in my area cost almost $100 for only ONE visit per week. That's insane!

Related Post: 15 Activities to Help Survive a Spending Freeze

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. Learn how to use the powerful "No." If your child is younger, utilize this magical word when your friends pressure you to sign up for something your kid really doesn't need.
  2. If your child is older, be honest about how much your budget can afford to spend on extracurricular activities and go over their different options. You'd be surprised at how mature kids can be when given the facts and the power to choose between a list of options.

Spending Traps:

  1. Did I ever tell you about how we used to be involved with every free activity in our area, Monday through Friday? Yes, the activities were free but the cost of gas and impromptu fast food lunches were costing us a fortune. Look at how the entire day (not just the activity) may affect your budget.

Raising a child definitely costs a lot of money and it takes a bit of strategizing to make everything balance out nicely.

I certainly wouldn't recommend trying to get pregnant on the idea that diapers and formula will just magically appear. But the cost of raising a child doesn't have to be as overwhelming or as expensive as you think. Awareness is one of the best ways you can begin to be financially prepared to have a baby.

What do you think is the most surprising cost of having a child? 

10 Ways Having a Child Will Affect Your Budget (and How You Can Save) - Part 1

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclaimer for more information. 

"Babies are expensive."

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me this while I was pregnant, I'd still be living off of the proceeds.

The United States Department of Agriculture states that it will cost $245,340 to raise a child, not including college costs. Keep in mind that this figure will depend on multiple factors that will be specific to your family. For example: Public or private school? Daycare or stay at home? New clothes or thrift store finds?

My husband and I budgeted having to spend a certain amount of money during the first year of our son's life, but it actually cost usless than we originally planned. The same situation can be true for you with a little bit of awareness and planning!

Here are 10 areas of your budget having a child will affect, as well as some options for saving money.

Note: This post has been split into two parts because, let's be honest, there is a lot of adjusting when it comes to budgeting for a baby! 

1. Food

For newborns, the obvious budget-friendly option is to breastfeed. But there are cases where you may not be able or may simply choose not to. Either way, your kid needs to eat so count on spending a good portion of money in this area, especially as they grow older.

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. Sign up for manufacturers' formula programs like Similac StrongMoms. They will periodically send out brand "checks" or coupons.
  2. Buy formula in bulk.
  3. Breastfeeding Mamas: Some insurance plans will cover a free breastfeeding pump. I made a 5 minute phone call to my provider and a $200 pump as soon as my doctor was able to fax over proof of my pregnancy. It doesn't hurt to ask.
  4. Meal planning and freezer meals can help you avoid expensive take-out on busy nights. Always be prepared when it comes to hungry kiddos!

Spending Traps:

  1. Stay far away from novelty nursing items until they become absolutely necessary. You typically won't need things like pumping bras or nipple shields in the early weeks following a baby's birth.
  2. For older children, junk food is one of the easiest ways to rack up an expensive grocery bill. Stick to healthy fruits, vegetables, and meats and simply stock up and freeze them when something goes on sale.

2. Diapering

You can save a lot of money by going the cloth diaper route but if that's not your thing (no judgement here, it wasn't for me either) there are still a lot of options to save money.

Be cautious about buying large packages of newborn sizes in only one brand. Your child may be sensitive to some brands and not all retailers are willing to let you return a diaper package that's been opened and used.

Thrifty Tricks:

  1. Once you find a brand that works for your child, you can purchase to your heart's content and save money by buying in bulk, using coupons, or stocking up when there's a good sale.
  2. Subscription services like Amazon Mom can help you save up to 20% off the retail price.
  3. Don't feel like you have to buy the same brand in wipes as you do your diapers, even for the rewards points. We buy Pampers diapers but find that the affordable Aldi brand wipes work great too.
  4. Some parents take the 50/50 approach to saving money. Use cloth diapers at home during the day and disposable diapers during the night and outside of the home. It's like the happy medium of diapering.

Spending Traps: 

  1. Items like wipe warmers and changing tables aren't considered necessities when you're on a tight budget. Warming the wipes in your hands and placing a changing pad on a dresser can work just as well.

3. Insurance (Auto/Health)

If you're not already participating in a family insurance plan, your costs will likely increase once you add a dependent. Additionally, your car insurance rates will also increase once your child is old enough to drive.

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. Most car insurance companies will offer a discount if your child has participated in a driver training course or is a good student.
  2. Ask your employer if they offer a Flexible Spending Account, which lets you set aside pre-tax dollars for out-of-pocket healthcare costs.
  3. Ask your healthcare provider for a list of all the free services they offer. My hospital offered a free, 24/7 call center with labor/delivery nurses. When I was having complications during my pregnancy, I would just call them and describe my symptoms so we could determine whether or not a paid visit was necessary.

Spending Traps: 

  1. Settling for the first program you come across or not shopping around could leave better deals out on the table. Be patient and compare companies for the best deal.
  2. Pride can cost you in the long run if you're not willing to ask for discounts. There's never any shame in trying to save money so don't feel bad asking your providers if there's a discount you qualify for.

4. Delivery Costs

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. Don't be shy about asking the hospital staff if you can take the baby items in your room home with you. My nurses were practically shoving diapers in my bags as I was leaving and I used every last one in the first 7 days we were home.
  2. Ask your insurance provider for very clear details about what you are financially responsible for during your stay at the hospital. Induction of labor and special room requests are just a few examples of what may not be covered under your plan.

Spending Traps: 

  1. There is a dangerous spending trap my husband and I like to call the hospital cafeteria. Avoid the late night munchies trap by making sure you have snacks and water bottles packed before you go into labor. Preparation is key to saving money when you're having a baby.

5. Clothing

Continuous clothing costs are inevitable because kids grow so darn fast! Don't you wish there was a membership program that would let you exchange clothing your kids have grown out of for larger sizes?

Thrifty Tricks: 

  1. Hit the thrift stores, ask for hand me downs, or shop at affordable options like Walmart and Target. I have absolutely no shame shopping the budget-friendly Garanimals brand when my son is constantly growing out of his clothes. Who cares where the shirt came from when he's going to run around and get it dirty anyway?

Spending Traps: 

  1. Personally, I've found that my biggest spending trap is the pressure I get from my fellow moms to have brand loyalty. Just because everyone else is spending $20/shirt doesn't mean you have to as well. Shop alone if the peer pressure is too much.
  2. Buying ahead of season and shopping the clearance racks can be a waste of money if you're not careful. I don't recommend buying ahead of season if your child is still going through major growth spurts since it's hard to guess what size they'll actually be next year.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post!

What do you think is the most surprising cost of having a child? 

11 Reasons Your Budget is Failing

Tired of feeling like your budget isn't working? Here are 11 reasons your budget is failing or might be weak. It could be an easier fix than you think!

Your budget should never be a failure. Detailed? Yes. Exhausting? Sometimes. But an outright failure? Never. And here's why.

Budgets should be created to suit your needs, not someone else's. They are there to help you, not hurt you. They are created as a guide to the happy place of your personal finances. Budgets will help highlight where your finances are going wrong so that you can change them to become stronger.

You're reading this because you're budget may not be working. Are you ready to fix it? Let's take a look at 11 reasons why your budget is failing.

1. There's no organization

Organization is key to getting a clear picture of your financial health. How much are you saving every month? Do you have an emergency fund? What percentage of your income is expenses?

Without organization you are essentially "winging it" which is not something you want to do when it comes to cold hard cash.

2. There is no game plan

Do you know what your long-term goals are with your money? Successful personal finance management is not just about having enough money to pay all of your bills every month. You should also be making strategic financial decisions about how much you spend on food, retirement, housing, fun, and everything else in between.

3. Your expectations are unreasonable

I hate to discourage you from reaching for the stars but sometimes our plans need a wake up call. If $2,000 is the most you can make every month and your goal is to save $10,000 then you'll probably run into a few problems or, at the very least, a TON of overtime work. Be hard on yourself but don't be stupid.

4. There are too many opinions and ideas

How many voices are you listening to when it comes to building your budget and financial plan? Multiple opinions may start to feel overwhelming. If you're trying to please everyone, that needs to stop right now. Heed only the sound advice you're given, then make sure your goals are in line with your future plans and that you're taking steps to see that goal fulfilled.

5. You have no patience

Patience is a virtue but it's also a necessity when it comes to money. The get-rich-quick success story is usually one in a million. I wish paying off debt happened overnight for all of us but it just doesn't. Be patient with your money and yourself or you'll burn out before you give yourself the chance to be successful.

(Pssssst! If you like this blog post, then you will love my book The Beginner's Guide to Budgeting, now available on Amazon.com!)

6. There's a lack of clarity and focus

This ties in with the game plan idea in Reason #2. How clear are you on what your goals are? "I want to save a lot of money" is very different from saying, "I want to save $10,000 by December 31." Make your game plan and then specify exactly what you intend to accomplish within that plan.

7. There's no reevaluation

People change and so do budgets. The budget for an unmarried woman is different from the budget for a married couple with four children. Make a habit of reevaluating your budget at the end of every month. This will help you identify what's working and what needs to be kicked to the curb.

8. You hate the budget you're using

There's a reason you hate the budget you're using and it might be because it was never intended for you. Are you using the 50/20/30 Budget Rule but aren't happy only saving 20%? Change it!

If you're paying off debt and have eliminated those weekly shopping sprees, then yes you are going to hate your budget for a while. But once you see your debt balance slowly decrease you will find happiness in your hard work and dedication. If you consistently hate the budget you're using, it could be time to reevaluate (#7!) and apply some modifications.

9. You have no confidence in your ability to follow through

If you don't think you're going to stick to your budget then you are exactly right. This type of mentality eventually turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you convince yourself it was never going to be successful and you blow your rent money on shoes just to prove it.

Trust in yourself and your financial abilities. You made the budget because you were smart enough to realize you needed one. Following through is just the next step.

10. You aren't prepared for the unexpected

Pregnancies, flat tires, and leaky roofs all have the potential for being very unexpected. The first situation is the only one that is a joyful occasion, while the rest are rather unwelcome. This is where your Emergency Fund should swoop in to save the day. I can't tell you how many rainy day emergency bills we've had to pay on our Jeep. Thankfully, we're never caught in a bind because of our determination to save as much as possible.

11. Expenses are slipping through the cracks

What are you spending your money on?  If you can't answer this question to the dollar then you need to start paying closer attention to your expenses. I'm a huge fan of using the Zero-Sum Method of budgeting because it requires you to have a purpose for every single cent you earn every month. Costs like daily Starbucks or weekly movie trips should be monitored and accounted for at all times. Don't let pennies slip through the cracks!

Look over your budget to see if any of these weaknesses can be found. Sometimes the difference between a successful budget and a failing one is simply identifying weak spots and making a slight modification.

The idea that you can't be successful with your budget is a lie that we tell ourselves to cut some slack on our spending and expenses. Your budget may not be pretty, but as long as it works for you on paper and you have the dedication to follow through, it should work for you in real life.

What are some of the other ways your budget might be failing? 

 Linked Up

Budget Your Money with the Zero-Sum Method

Are you tired of living paycheck to paycheck and never having any savings? Budget your money with the Zero Sum Method to take control of your spending!

Interested in starting a blog and making money from home? I earned my first $200 within 3 months of starting Frugal on the Prairie then went on to earn a full-time income from home about 6 months later! If you're ready to get started, I have a step-by-step tutorial for setting up your domain and hosting here, which can be a headache to figure out by yourself if you've never done it before! I also highly recommend and use Bluehost for my hosting! (<---That's an affiliate link but girl, I never recommend something I don't love or use ;) 

Does your budget need a makeover? I previously talked about the 50/20/30 Method but if it's not for you, then maybe the Zero Sum Method is what you're looking for. The frustrating thing about budgeting is sometimes, despite our best efforts, we find the bank account empty and unable to pay a bill until the next paycheck comes in. Or we may feel like money just slips through the cracks with miscellaneous expenses and purchases.

If you're tired of living paycheck to paycheck or of losing track of where your money is going, then the Zero-Sum Method may be your perfect guide.

How Does the Zero Sum Method Work?

The Zero-Sum Method has two main elements to it.

  1. Every dollar of income should be allocated to a specific purpose so that monthly income minus monthly expenses equals zero
  2. For added financial security, you should use the previous month's income to pay the current month's expenses

This budgeting method works as a powerful tool because it requires you to be purposeful with every single cent of your income by "spending" it. Now before you jump up and head to Target (which I recommend banning, by the way), you should know that the spending you do in this method isn't what we would normally consider spending at all. Categories like savings, charity, etc. are viewed as what you should "spend" your money on.

Also, I know you might be looking at that second part thinking, "Um, that sounds easy to do once you get there but how do I get a month ahead on my paycheck?" I'll give you a few pointers in the step-by-step section down below.

Are you feeling a little confused? Don't run away just yet because it's simpler than you think!

(Pssssst! If you like this blog post, then you will love my book The Beginner's Guide to Budgeting, now available on Amazon.com!)

Zero Sum Method Examples

Good Example:

Total Monthly Income: $3,000

Total Monthly Expenses: $3,000

Monthly Expenses:

  1. Mortgage $1,200
  2. Savings/Emergency Fund $400
  3. Car Payment $200
  4. Auto Insurance $150
  5. Groceries $500
  6. Utilities $150
  7. Cell Phones & Internet $200
  8. Clothing $50
  9. Charity/Tithing $150

*I made this budget extremely basic for the sake of this post. I'm assuming health costs and retirement contributions are already taken out.

This first example falls in line with the Zero-Sum Budget as every dollar has been allocated to a specific purpose, including savings and charity "expenses." Since total monthly income minus total monthly expenses equals zero, we are following the rules perfectly.

Bad Example:

Total Monthly Income: $3,000

Total Monthly Expenses: $2,800

Monthly Expenses:

  1. Mortgage $1,200
  2. Savings/Emergency Fund $200
  3. Car Payment $200
  4. Auto Insurance $150
  5. Groceries $500
  6. Utilities $150
  7. Cell Phones & Internet $200
  8. Clothing $100
  9. Charity/Tithing $100

This next example does not fall in line with the rules as total monthly income minus total monthly expenses equals $200. If you have paid all of your bills, spent all of your fun money, contributed to your savings, and still have a balance, then it's time to adjust your budget.

Zero Sum Method Step by Step Tutorial

Step 1: List all of your income

List all of your income, making sure you underestimate figures for flexible income. Like I mentioned in this post about creating a budget, you need to stop depending on any above average paychecks. It only causes problems if you find yourself coming up short on cash when the flexible income is low.

Step 2: List all of your expenses

It's time to get through the rough stuff! List every expense you normally have and even the extra ones too. Don't be worried about how it looks or how long the list may be. The important thing is that you're taking control of your finances so, whatever you do, don't hold anything back.

It's importatnt to list even your daily Starbucks' coffee or weekly trip to the movies. Excluding even the smallest expenses won't give you the clear picture you deserve to have of your finances.

Step 3: Do the math and make adjustments as needed

Let's look at the Bad Example listed above. Income minus expenses resulted in a leftover of $200. So we adjusted the charity/tithing and savings/emergency fund categories in order to bring the balance to zero. You may find that you need to adjust your expenses up or down. You may need to turn off your cable or lower your grocery bill. Just keep working on the numbers until you reach zero.

Step 4: Use the current month's paycheck to pay next month's bills

For example, you should pay for September's bills with August's paycheck(s).

It is suggested that you live one paycheck ahead of time on the Zero-Sum Budget, though no one's going to penalize you if you don't. This is especially helpful for people who depend on a variable salary as it gives them the added security that their bills will be paid every month.

But actually getting a month ahead of your paycheck can be very difficult. I recommend starting by lowering your expenses as much as possible and finding additional ways to make money.


  1. Cut out unnecessary expenses (Check out my Rockstar Budget post on how to tell the difference between needs and wants.)
  2. Sell stuff around the house you no longer want or need
  3. Pick up extra hours at work or find a temporary weekend or night job
  4. Set aside or use your current savings to get a month ahead on your bills
  5. If you receive a paycheck every two weeks (as opposed to the 1st or 15th of the month) you should end up with a few additional checks throughout the year. Be prepared to set these checks aside until you have saved enough to get a month ahead on your bills (Example: Someone who is paid every other Monday might receive 3 checks in the month of August 2015.)

The frustrating thing about budgets is that sometimes we don't know where to start. It can be disheartening to know our personal finances need to change but are stumped with where to begin. This budgeting method provides very clear, easy-to-follow guidelines that can help get you started.

Do you use the Zero-Sum Method to budget your finances? Do you love it or hate it? 

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