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Making a budget

How to make sticking to a budget easier

A budget helps you understand your income and spending. This helps you save money and manage your debts.

A budget gives you a structure to help manage your finances. But it only works if it shows what you really need.

Here are some reasons people struggle to budget, and our tips to make it a success.

1. Do not sacrifice to make your budget ‘work’

People often start budgeting when they need to see change quickly.

This may be because they want to:

They may decide to cut back on food, clothing or other basics to make savings.

This is not healthy, helpful or sustainable.

Your living costs are just as important as your household bills. Make sure you can cover them each month.

2. Make space for what makes you happy

Finding a balance between saving money and enjoying life is key.

Your budget should include things you can enjoy or look forward to.

This could be:

  • Attending a sporting event
  • Visiting family and friends
  • Other hobbies

It is easy to lose motivation if you do not have things to look forward to.

Take a look at what you spend each month, and think about what truly makes you happy.

Set money aside to cover whatever it is you love.

Remember: You do not have to deprive yourself to budget.

3. Have a financial goal to work towards

You may know exactly what you want. Or you may just want to feel less worried about money.

Save money for an emergency. Or work towards a financial goal.

Take some time to think about what you want to achieve in the future. For example:

  • Do you want to go travelling?
  • Do you want to move home?
  • Is there a chance you might have or adopt a child?

All of these life events cost money. As with emergencies, it is good to be prepared.

4. Talk to your partner about budgeting

You may be trying to be careful with money but your partner is struggling.

Try to find out why the budget is not working for them.

  • Did past budgets not work for them?
  • Do they find money conversations stressful?
  • Do they find it easier to ignore their problems?

No one likes to feel 'forced' into doing something.

Instead, share your financial goals with your partner. They may feel less pressure if they understand the future you want to share with them.

In the meantime, try making stealthy savings wherever you can. For example:

Are you in charge of the big food shop?

  • Try switching to some cheaper items
  • Many own brands are just as good as the premium brands

Do you have children?

When was the last time you switched utilities?

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5. Take budgeting one step at a time

Break the budgeting process into manageable 'chunks', like:

  • Taking an hour to open all of your letters
  • Taking five minutes to check your credit file
  • Do this through Experian, Credit Karma or Equifax
  • Taking ten minutes to go through your recent bank statement
  • Find all your regular bills
  • Look at how much you spend on living costs

6. Build a budget that reflects your life

Many people find it hard to stretch money until payday.

Be honest about this in your budget.

You can try increasing your income by:

Extra earnings must be declared to His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

7. You do not need a regular income to budget

Self-employed and zero hours contract roles do not usually have regular incomes.

You can still make an effective budget.

1. Think of the lowest ‘net estimate’ of your income each month

  • Build your budget based on this minimum income amount
  • By doing this, you can ensure that your priority expenses are covered
  • Any extra money can go into savings or towards debts

2. Put extra money into a ‘Hill and Valley’ fund

  • This is a fund you dip into during low income months
  • Put extra money in this fund when your income is higher than expected
  • This gives you something to fall back on if needed

StepChange cannot give debt advice to self-employed clients.

Business Debtline can give you free and confidential debt advice.

8) Do not feel bad for 'failing'

It does not define you when something does not work out.

Remember: It is rare to get something right on the first attempt.

Did a previous budget stress you out? Was it hard to stick to?

Maybe that budget was just wrong for you.

It is normal for a budget to grow with you. Every time you update your budget, you learn more about your situation.

You are not alone.

Our debt and budgeting tools can support you.

And there are people who have been through this and know how it feels.

I am not a StepChange client. Can you help me put a budget together?

Use our online debt advice tool to build a budget.

We can help you pay off your debt quicker.