4 Expert Tips to Make a Budget You Don’t Hate

how to make a budget

For many people, making a budget sounds about as fun as getting a filling at the dentist.

But believe it or not, a budget doesn’t have to feel restrictive. Done correctly, it can actually make it easier to do the things you enjoy.

For advice on how to make a budget, we spoke with four personal finance experts. Here’s what they had to say about how to make a budgeting plan you’ll actually enjoy.

1. Make budgeting easy with an expense-tracking app

If you hate budgeting, Holly Weidman, the financial blogger behind Mrs. Savvy Saver, says you might be doing it wrong.

“[People think] budgeting takes an enormous amount of time,” she said. “Budgeting is complicated. Budgeting is restrictive. Budgeting takes all fun out of life. These are all true — if you aren’t budgeting correctly.”

According to Weidman, people spend too much time worrying about their expenses. Instead, they should outsource the heavy lifting to an expense-tracking app.

Weidman’s favorite is You Need a Budget (YNAB). “It’s easy to use and you can enter your spending as it happens,” she said. “Look at your categories and see exactly how much you have to spend.”

Instead of guessing how much is in your bank account, you’ll know exactly what’s going on with your finances. As a result, your financial choices will get easier. “Decision-making based on facts keeps you from frustration,” said Weidman.

To get started, download an expense-tracking app such as YNAB, Mint, or Digit. Enter your income, expenses, and savings goals, and the app will do the rest of the work for you. As you meet your goals, you might feel motivated to keep going.

“A great working budget gives you amazing power,” Weidman said. “When you pay off your student loan because of your budget or take a vacation debt-free, you will find that budgeting is exciting.” Instead of feeling restricted by your budget, you might just feel liberated.

2. Balance short-term happiness with long-term goals

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley is a money coach and founder of the Fiscal Femme who loves empowering her clients to reach their financial goals. To that end, she encourages people to work happiness into their spending plan.

“Be sure to allocate your money in ways that maximize your happiness in the present but also set you up for financial freedom and joy in the future,” Gerstley said. She recommends working a “fun” category into your spending plan, rather than eliminating it altogether.

Of course, you also need to set money aside for essentials, including rent, food, and student loan payments. Plus, it’s wise to put money into an emergency fund. But don’t neglect space in your budget for things you enjoy.

“We typically think of budgets as being very restrictive; they make us think about having to say no to things and deprive ourselves,” said Gerstley. “But budgets can actually be freeing and powerful.”

To get started, take a look at your monthly income and expenses, and create different spending categories. Then, figure out how much you can spend in each while still staying on track for your savings goals.

That way, your budget will show you how to afford the items and experiences that make you happy, rather than force you to eliminate them completely.

3. Don’t let special treats become routine

Christine Luken is a certified financial counselor and author of “Money is Emotional: Prevent Your Heart From Hijacking Your Wallet.” According to Luken, we overspend when we allow special experiences to become routine.

“Many people get into financial trouble because they haven’t put reasonable limits on their spending,” said Luken. Instead of giving into the “treat yo’ self” mentality, Luken encourages people to treat themselves less frequently.

That might sound dreary, but according to Luken, this approach to budgeting could improve your quality of life. “Placing limits on our financial fun actually makes us happier,” she said. “We enjoy the little pleasures in life, like massages, Belgian chocolate, and fancy lattes more when we have them less often.”

If you can relate, take a look at what you’re spending on special treats. You don’t have to cut them out completely. Luken recommends working “portion-controlled fun” into your budget — but you need to set reasonable limits.

Not only will you save money, but you might enjoy those treats even more when they’re not part of your regular routine.

4. List your spending categories in order of importance

Jen Smith, the saving and frugality expert behind Saving With Spunk, knows how hard budgeting can be when you’re paying off debt. She and her husband paid off $78,000 in two years, and they learned big lessons about budgeting along the way.

“The biggest thing we learned about budgeting is to budget by priority,” said Smith. “I like to use a grouping method. Group one is basic groceries, housing, utilities, and transportation. Group two is internet, cell phone, and medical expenses.”

For the third group, Smith puts money into an emergency fund, savings goal, or debt repayment. “Whatever’s left goes to group four, all things I can live without but make life more fun,” she said.

For Smith, this system of grouping helped make her spending plan a success. “Declaring what the priorities were in my budget made saying ‘no’ to things in group four a little easier, and gave me more confidence in budgeting,” she said.

If you’re struggling to curb overspending, this grouping method could help. Figure out what your priorities are and how much you need to spend in each category. When it comes to “group four” expenses, you’ll know exactly how much you can spend — and when you need to cut back.

If you ever find yourself with nothing left for group four, you could try a “no-spend” challenge for the week or month.

Learn how to make a budget that works for you

Taken together, the advice from these four personal finance experts share a common theme: Budgeting doesn’t mean you stop spending money on fun. On the contrary, it shows you how much money you have every month to treat yourself.

Plus, making a budget means setting reasonable limits on your spending. By tracking your expenses, you can both live in the moment while staying on track to meet your long-term savings goals.

If you’re ready to take control of your finances, check out this guide on how to make a budget, step by step.

Interested in a personal loan?

Here are the top personal loan lenders of 2018!
LenderRates (APR)Loan Amount 
1 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for SoFi.

2 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Finance Lender Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)
  2. Personal Loans: Fixed rates from 5.49% APR to 14.24% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 5.29% APR to 11.44% APR (with AutoPay). SoFi rate ranges are current as of December 1, 2017 and are subject to change without notice. Not all rates and amounts available in all states. See Personal Loan eligibility details. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, to qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including evaluation of your credit worthiness, years of professional experience, income and other factors. Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at 14.95%. Lowest variable rate of 5.29% APR assumes current 1-month LIBOR rate of 1.34% plus 4.20% margin minus 0.25% AutoPay discount. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Personal Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2017, the one-month LIBOR rate is 1.23%. Variable interest rates range from 6.02% – 15.97% (6.02% – 15.97% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of your loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms and presence of a co-applicant. Fixed interest rates range from 5.99% – 16.24% (5.99% – 16.24% APR) based on applicable terms and presence of a co-applicant. Lowest rates shown are for eligible applicants, require a 3-year repayment term, and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
  2. Loyalty Discount: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower has a qualifying account in existence with Citizens Bank at the time the borrower has submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, student loans or other personal loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, Citizens Bank checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI and VT. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) disclosed in the Truth-In-Lending Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan, and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  3. Automatic Payment Benefit: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7.39% - 29.99%$1,000 - $50,000Visit Upstart
5.29% - 14.24%1$5,000 - $100,000Visit SoFi
8.00% - 25.00%$5,000 - $35,000Visit Payoff
5.99% - 16.24%2$5,000 - $50,000Visit Citizens
5.99% - 35.89%$1,000 - $40,000Visit LendingClub
5.25% - 14.24%$2,000 - $50,000Visit Earnest
Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print, understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.