I used to suck at budgeting. I would sit down, write out what I thought I should be spending, and feel really pleased with myself… until I’d need to make a random purchase for something unexpected or life got busy or I just decided that I didn’t *actually* need to follow my budget for whatever reason. I could never figure out why I couldn’t make my budget stick. I thought this was an okay way to live, though, because nothing “bad” had happened as a result of this lifestyle.

One day, though, my air conditioner went out and I realized I couldn’t afford to buy a new one. This was my wakeup call. I realized that I needed a lifestyle shift. I sat down, got serious, and decided I really needed to figure out this budgeting thing.

I’ve finally found a way to budget that works for me, and I hope that if you’re struggling to keep a budget that these steps help.

1. I started with monthly payments and worked my way backwards

There are some things that I will be paying for every month – mortgage, wireless, electric, internet, Netflix, etc. I wrote all of these down and compared it to my paycheck every month. That gave me a good idea of how much I would have left over to spend on everything else. I was actually surprised how much I had committed out each month. The rest of my budget had to revolve around what I had left.

2. I figured out ways to cut down on those monthly payments

After figuring out what my monthly payments were, I realized I didn’t have a ton of money leftover. Some of those monthly payments were either going to have to be reduced or I was going to have to stop some of them altogether.

TV/Internet and Wireless were the biggest two bills that weren’t my mortgage. I wanted to keep my TV package so I could watch Royals games (priorities, y’all), so I contacted my TV provider and told them I wanted a lower bill. I didn’t even have to threaten to cancel and they lowered my bill by $57!

As for wireless, I loved Verizon, but I didn’t love them so much that I was willing to keep paying huge bills. I looked at prepaid providers, as they’re generally cheaper, and after comparing coverage, I went with Cricket Wireless. I got on a group plan, and now my bill is $30 a month. I’m saving $100 a month, y’all.

3. I took note of irregular payments

I’m not going to have to pay my car tags every month, or take my dog to get his vaccines, or buy Christmas presents – you get the picture. I leave enough wiggle room in my budget so I can pay for the irregulars each month. A few times a year, I get an extra paycheck during the month that I will stash away and designate it specifically for certain irregulars

4. I manually entered every dollar I spent with a budget app

Mint and Every Dollar are a couple of free popular budgeting apps. You don’t even even need a budget-specific app – maybe just a notetaking one where you can record everything. I use an app where I have to manually enter everything – it’s easy for me to lose track of my spending if I connect my app to my bank account.

5. I put time into the equation

I know a head of cauliflower is cheaper than a bag of steamable frozen cauliflower, but when I come home from work, I don’t necessarily want to take the time and wash and chop and steam a head of cauliflower. I used to think I was so smart to get a head of cauliflower, but if I was hungry and didn’t have easy to prepare food on hand, I’d run and get fast food and bust my food budget pretty quickly.

Before I budget a purchase, I ask myself if I really will take the time to use whatever it is I buy. That has saved me lots of money.

6. I stopped using credit cards

Credit cards are bad, bad, bad, but they’re a bit comforting, because if a small crisis hits, you can just put your money on your credit card, right? But then the crisis standard starts out as an emergency trip to the vet and devolves into really needing that dress because it’s the last one at the store.

Credit cards are a real budget buster because they give you an excuse not to follow your budget. I use my debit card every time I make a purchase with plastic (and then I notate my purchase in my budget app, of course)

What works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for you, but the things I’ve tried might be worth a shot if you don’t know where to begin or you’ve had trouble with your budget in the past. You’ll have to find a system that fits your life and habits and commit to it. You can do it!