Ask the Readers: Do You Keep a Budget?

By Ashley Jacobs on 24 May 2016 71 comments

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It's widely agreed that one of the best ways to take control of your finances is to set up a budget. Experts recommend that you start simple for your first budget and get into the nitty-gritty stuff as you become more comfortable with the process, but many people burn out on a budget that doesn't work for them or the task seems too big to even begin. Alternatively, some people have discovered that budgets in general aren't effective for their situation, and they find other ways to keep their finances in order.

Do you keep a budget? What has been the easiest — and hardest — part of budgeting? If you don't budget, why not? What other method do you use to manage your money?

Tell us whether you keep a budget and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

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Guest's picture
Paige Stewart

Yes I budget. I do everything in excel and budget every cent. Its very time consuming but it brings a lot of benefits to the table because I have all my bills covered and I am able to save money.

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Guest

I do have a budget. I have a few categories that I aim to divide my money into. I try not to get too specific though

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Mami2jcn

I don't really keep a budget. If I feel I'm spending too much, I just cut back.

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Julie Wood

I keep a budget because it shows me how much I am spending and I watch purchases. We do save for big items so I have money put away for those purchases! Budgeting means to me saving and watching what you spend.

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Elena

Yes, I have a budget. The hardest part is inconsistent income.

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Braden Dunlop

I couldn't live without tracking our financial health; from budgeting to calculating net worth to measuring market returns, I am inspired by my own forecasting to day-dream of retirement, of owning a second home and of affording my children everything that I was afforded and more. The inspiration alone marks a total reward for my efforts. I obviously don't know precisely how the future will turn out, but I do know that I'm taking steps to ensure resilience to whatever the future holds.

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Kay

Yes... I keep a budget on excel. I find it much easier to track my spending when I am an active participant in logging my expenditures.

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Michelle Graber

My husband and I definitely keep a budget! It helps us to stay on track with paying off our debt, as well as manage our monthly expenses.

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Jenny D

I keep a basic budget - nothing detailed, just simple and easy to follow. I find it pretty easy for ME to keep a budget - I even find satisfaction in paying just normal bills such as utilities. The hardest part of budgeting is my husband. LOL. He's much more spontaneous than I am and needs to have some lightheartedness. I try to budget for that. :)

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Monique

I do keep a budget and have benefited greatly from it. Just seeing how I spend money helps me to adjust my spending to be more mindful. The hardest thing at first was tracking all the loose receipts. But now I mostly use my Discover card for purchases, and the Discover website is excellent for tracking spending.

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Kellie

I don't keep a written budget but I do pay close attention to my spending habits retroactively via my credit card statement, as that's my primary form of payment due to the rewards I earn. In my day-to-day I do pay close attention to what I spend so I stay within reasonable limits. Still, I think a set budget would be helpful to me but it feels like just one more thing to take care of on a regular basis. That feels overwhelming so I don't do it.

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Elle

Yes, I do keep a budget and stick to it.

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Guest

I do keep a monthly budget on excel. I have a spending limit each month (outside of housing mortgage payments) which includes everything - charity, groceries, pet stuff, clothing, entertainment, incidentals. I try to stay within the budget as much as possible, but certain expenses like medical bills and travel take me outside my budget during certain months. Starting 2016, I am keeping a closer watch on my grocery spending. I realized I was making too many impulsive stops, so am now making a conscious effort to keep my grocery visits to a schedule.

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Amanda

I keep a budget using the YNAB software. The easiest part of budgeting is dealing with routine expenses. The hardest part of budgeting is keeping my spouse involved -- they happen to loathe budget meetings or planning in general.

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Julie Lundstrom

Yes I do have a budget.

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Cindy Campbell

I do keep a budget. The easiest way for me is to track my spending and write every expense I have on a large desk calendar. I can see at a glance what is due and when it is due.. No more forgetting.

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Guest

I budget.

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Gina

I keep a budget. It lets me know where my money goes and what expenses can be trimmed. It keeps spending in check and goals on track.

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MMR

Yes, but we don't always stick to it!

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Mary W

I don't have a formal budget in writing but I do track spending. I make sure we live well within our means and invest and save regularly.

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Emily S.

Absolutely! We live by our budget. It's rolling, so if we're over/under it carries over to the next month. If entertainment expenses are high one month, you bet we decrease the next!

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Anthony Alfaro

I budget every month, the old school way (in a notebook) it's super time consuming, but it works great. Once I saw how my money was being spent, I was able to curb some habits, and started saving BIG monthly.

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Andrew

I've never been able to keep a budget. Many failed attempts have discouraged me, but I manage my money pretty well without a budget anyway.

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Susan P.

I have a budget and keep track of spending. If there is a large purchase we need to make, (like the new water heater going in this Thursday), then I have to allow for that in our budget. I will charge it to a credit card with % back and pay it in full to use the purchase wisely.

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Susan Smith

Yes, I do keep a budget and stick to it as we live on one income so every penny counts.

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Susan Smith

Yes, we do make a budget and stick close to it.

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Guest

I've tried - I bought the old You Need A Budget software at half price ($30) but never was able to stick to it - not sure if it was just the zero balancing thing or what. Might try again with Mint. I pay myself first (money taken from paycheck and directed to a savings account that I have no debit card for) so I've been able to accumulate savings, but I wish I could budget better.

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Olivia

Our written budget had been a life saver. It's allowed us to cover all regular expenses, and encouraged us to save more as we see the balances grow. The hardest part was getting it to accurately reflect our actual expenses. We started by tracking every penny for a month, and had to add on big stuff like buying a car. It was well worth it thugh. Now it's almost automatic from year to year.

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Robert

I religiously budget. With the tools out there like YNAB budgeting is a breeze and you never really know how much money you waste until you track every penny.

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Graeme Hughes

I have worked as a financial planner for the last 13 years, and in that time I have recommended having a family budget to many, many families. I would estimate the take-up rate has been about 1%. Even among people who self-identify as having troubles with spending and saving. I find that sad.
For myself, I use Quicken to set a budget and to track my spending to be sure it is aligned with my expectations. To make it easier, my wife and I have an "allowance" that we take each week, in cash. That way I don't have to spend time tracking every transaction. We both know that once the cash is gone, there is no more until the next week.
The hardest part is getting started. It was hard at first to stay with it, but I've now been managing my money this way for several years and at this point I wouldn't dream of letting it go. It has vastly improved our spending habits and I love looking back to see how far we have come!

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MelodyJ

i don't have a budget. I just keep an close eye on my spending.

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J. Pario

Yes. It's more "what happened" than "this is the spending limit," though. We've found it helpful for making decisions and long-term planning.

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Tabathia B

Yes we do try to keep a budget for bills, insurance and savings. Some times things fall through, like if I don't have all the groceries on hand to make a recipe or running behind on errands so sometimes I will stop and get something to eat always using coupons.

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Rebecca Ross

Yes and no. We keep a close look at our finances everyday, know what all of our expenses are, and are aggressively paying off debt, but we don't follow a written down budget every month.

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Renee

Yes, I have a basic monthly budget that I keep on excel and update regularly.

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Erika

I definitely keep a budget. I've been doing so since my first year out of college as an ensign in the Navy. Same spreadsheet and everything. It's been a lifesaver for my family and assigning a category for every dollar helps me to see where it all goes.

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Michelle D.

I don't really have a written budget but I do mentally keep track and if I spend a little too much one month I will cut back the next month.

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Joanna

I don't have one currently. I know I need to do one. And I plan on tackling that very soon.

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Karen

We don't keep a budget, but at the end of the year we look back at our bills to see where our money went so we can do better the following year.

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Sarah

I don't have a budget but I do know exactly how much I can spend each month for miscellaneous things.

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Miss Kim

I have a grocery budget but that is about the only thing I budget besides bills.

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Kristin Goodson

Yes I do have a budget. I really try not to spend $ on wants. I identify my wants vs. needs. I love the envelope system for a budget.

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Tracy

We haven't kept a strict budget for a few years but the years when we did it worked out quite well. After 50 years, I taught my mother how to keep a budget; she now independent and we don't have to help her with her mortgage so it does help!

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Guest

I don't keep a budget. I naturally live very frugally, so I don't feel the need to really follow my finances that closely.

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Alaister H.

One rule every man must keep. Don't ever spend more than what you have earned. And to answer the question, YES. It is really important to keep track of the daily expenditures and budget.

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Jeff

no, have never kept a budget but I have always saved money and on track for early retirement.

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Donna D

No, not at this time. I keep a close eye on optional expenses though.

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Ernest S.

Yes, I keep a budget. I've been using You Need a Budget (YNAB) for years, and I love it. It's really helped me to stay on track with my financial goals.

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Guest

No but I check my bank balances daily.

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Liz

Yes, I keep a budget through mint.

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Suz_Glo

I don't keep a written budget but, since I am the CFO in our family, I am always aware of our spending/saving. If we have an extra expenses one month then the belt gets tightened the next. The hardest part of this process is balancing savings with having fun/living life. I think our family has found a nice in between.

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Lynda

i don't keep a physical budget right now but it's there in my head. i plan to make a more concrete one after i get my raise

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Stephanie

Yes, I budget every month

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SKB

No, I don't keep a budget but I do keep track of my spending.

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amanda sakovitz

Yes, I do a very basic one.

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Catseye

I don't keep a budget, but I do manage to spend less than I earn. My basic expenses are pretty modest right now, so I don't see a current need for one.

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CF

I don't keep a budget.

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ashley

I do have a budget that I write down and keep track of each week.

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April

I do keep a monthly budget on a spreadsheet.

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Happy Love

I don't have a firm budget, but I try to shoot for a target amount for my discretionary spending each month.

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Pam

I have a budget for monthly expenses and groceries as well.

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Guest

yes, since 2003

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Eliza

I use the envelope system to budget. As an American ESL teacher in Southeast Asia I am paid in local currency. When I receive my salary, I place the amount I have budgeted for each category in the labeled envelope. The remainder stays in my bank account as savings. If I exceed one category, I allow myself to "borrow" from another envelope if I need to. However, I do not make further withdrawals from the savings account until the company deposits my next salary. For some, this may be too limiting, but it forces me to reflect on my lifestyle and make conscious choices on what is truly important/valuable to me. Would I rather eat dark chocolate instead of running the AC every night? For me....YES!

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Michael

I don't personally but my wife does.

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Rich

I don't budget but I am careful about my spending.

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Matt

I try to. I don't have specific amounts for everything, but I track my spending and try to not go overboard anywhere.

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Mark C.

Yes we have a ton of expenses so we need to keep a budget.

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Kat

I don't keep a written budget but I track it in my head.

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Ana

Yes I have one but it's just a general one and not really exact.

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Thomas Murphy

I don't keep a budget

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Dawn

I try. I start one and stick to it and then I give up. But I keep trying.

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Guest

Absolutely! I try to keep as detailed a budget as possible. I use online options like Mint, then keep extra cash as splurge money