If you make budgeting more of a game (rather than a chore), success is more likely. Short-term choices can lead to long-term debt reduction, greater savings, and sounder investment in your future. Setting (and reaching) category goals can lead to celebrating those short-term, day-to-day wins.
Sleuth Out Slashable Budget Categories
Certified Financial Planner Roger Ma likes to play a figurative whack-a-mole game with expenses he could either cut—such as unused subscriptions—or pay less for, such as monthly bank account fees or internet service fees.
“An hour spent doing this helped me eliminate $200 in monthly expenses,” he told The Balance by email.
Spend Less Than $200
Freya Kuka, founder of the personal finance site Collecting Cents, sets up competitions and challenges with people she knows who are already trying to save, like her fiancé or mother, she told The Balance by email.
For example, competitors might agree to spend less than $200 in a week. The winner is the person who gets closest to the spending goal.
“The point is not the prize, but we do normally use a dinner out or a movie as the end goal,” she said. “Whoever wins pays. It is easy, fun, and even gets you closer to the person you take the budgeting plunge with."
You could also set a spending target goal for just one category—such as dining out or groceries.
Create Fun Challenges
Kari Lorz, founder of personal finance site Money for the Mamas, suggests thinking of budgeting “challenges” to create a sense of fun, she said in an email to The Balance.
Lorz prints out the challenges and puts them on her fridge for visual reminders of budgeting goals. Her print-outs include lists of spending, budgeting competitions, or bar graphs to visualize savings.
Cut Categories to Needs-Only
Lorz engages in a month-long No Spend Challenge to help her calibrate what her needs are compared to her wants.
“I only spend money on absolute necessities such as gas for my car, fresh produce, dairy items, fresh meat, or prescriptions,” she said. “Everything else can wait. This month is also great for a pantry cleanout.”
Play Bingo While Setting Up Your Budget
We created a simple bingo game for your use while you’re first establishing and using your budget. Make a copy of the sheet and print it out, put it on the fridge, and complete it as you work through the milestones on the bingo board.
Keep an “Unspending” Journal
If you've been following along, you’re already tracking your spending. But for a week, track what you saw, wanted, then decided not to buy in a specific category, whether a $2 cookie (groceries) or $50 necklace (clothing). At the end of the week, add up how much you saved through the power of nope.
Celebrate milestones and enjoy your progress. For example, include a small amount of extra money in your budget for surprise expenses such as a gift or an oil change.
“If you stay on budget, take a portion of the extra money to do something fun,” said Steffa Mantilla, a Certified Financial Education Instructor and founder of the personal finance website Money Tamer.
Next Steps and More Resources
You’ve accomplished a lot so far! But don’t rest on your laurels—sticking to a budget takes dedication and hard work.
- You’re building new habits and learning How to Motivate Yourself to Stay on Budget, so don’t beat yourself up too badly if you Can’t Seem to Follow Your Budget right away.
- One of the best things you can do to help yourself stay on budget is learn How to Separate Wants and Needs.
- Need a break? Try a few more Fun Ways to Save or consider one of these Board Games That Teach Kids About Money.
The good news? These habits boost your money-saving mentality, which will serve you well for our next project in the series, All About Saving.