4 guaranteed ways to fail at budgeting

It’s something that can be nice to have, hard to get, and nearly impossible to keep.


I’ve actually talked a lot about money on the blog because I get a lot of questions about how we can afford to do the things we do – particularly purchasing rental properties, renovating houses, and most recently, building a house.

  • It’s not voodoo magic.
  • It’s not because we’re independently wealthy.
  • It’s not even (all) because we’re living in the Midwest, where cost-of-living is lower.

Here’s the bottom line – it’s all about our priorities. Since we got married, Ryan and I focused on saving as much as possible and finding ways to provide future income opportunities (like our rental properties and interest income from savings).

And we’re always (ALWAYS) trying to get better at this money thing. Always. There is always room for improvement.

That’s why my major goal in 2014 is to fight the norm – this is a major financial and philosophical shift for me. We’re nearly halfway into the year and I’ve made some progress on this goal. But I have also had some setbacks.

And most of them are just me. I’m my own setbacks.

But through our financial journey as a couple, I’ve learned what NOT to do the hard way. I’ve made tons of mistakes.

So, I thought that instead of sharing what I would recommend for budgeting, I’d recommend a few surefire ways to fail at budgeting. I know they don’t work because I’ve made these mistakes myself.

Four Ways to Faiil at Budgeting

And while they are very intuitive, I think that’s the point.

Fail #1 – Don’t know what your goals are.

Our financial priorities and goals are sort of unconventional. And I don’t believe our they are the only way or the right way.

But I do believe that every person and couple needs to KNOW their financial priorities. And I believe that not knowing is the top way to fail at budgeting. Because if you don’t have a financial destination, how will you ever find your way?

If you don’t know why you need to save, why would you ever save?

How can you ever punch in the destination in your financial GPS?

Fail #2Don’t track your spending.

I know that budgeting sucks. Normal people don’t think it’s fun. Okay. So I don’t think it’s fun. (I think Ryan does, which leads me to believe he’s not normal.)

But if you want to save more money, I believe that tracking your spending is the only way to do it. Period.

When Henry was born, I fell off the budgeting bandwagon. I didn’t want to think about it because I had enough to think about. But it meant that I spent more frivolously. And I had no clue where our money was really going.

So, now, I’m back to tracking our spending diligently. You can do it in whatever way works for you – I prefer to use an app to categorize all my spending throughout the month.

And we look at our spending together on a regular basis. What’s working for us and what isn’t. Where we are spending ungodly amounts of money (EATING OUT) and where we could really cut back.

Fail #3 – Focus more on MAKING money than on SAVING money.

This is actually something I’ve struggled with a lot this year. Since I left my day job, I’ve been spending more time on freelance work from home.

This is a great way for me to keep my “foot in the door,” so to speak. It sharpens my skills, maintains my network, and even makes a little money for our family. I actually really enjoy the work, too.

But what I’ve found? When I work more, I spend more. Because I’m busy. That means I eat out more. I spend more on clothes. I fill up my gas tank more. I’m more likely to splurge for convenience.

So Ryan and I have been having a lot of conversations about what the “sweet spot” is for freelance work. Instead of focusing on making lots of money on my freelance business – which also causes me more stress and more time away from Henry – I’ll be taking a few select jobs (for the reasons above) and then will spend more time focusing on ways to save more and spend less.

Fail #4 – Don’t talk about money. Ever.

I’ve talked before about why I believe talking about money is so important in any relationship. It’s why I believe in being an open book with your spouse when it comes to money.

But do you want a surefire way to fail at budgeting? Don’t talk to your spouse about money ever. Just do whatever you want and pretend that it doesn’t affect the other person at all.

I’ve done this. There have been times that I spent willy nilly and just pretended that I deserved it and it didn’t matter.

But it did. And it didn’t help Ryan and I move toward our goals. Which is unfair to both of us. And that’s not a recipe for healthy finances or a healthy marriage.

The bottom line

I’ve failed at budgeting in the past.

There. I said it.

But with finances, I’m always learning and growing. And this year, I’ll continue to fight the norm.

What about you? What’s your best budgeting tip?

At SunTrust Bank their purpose is lighting the way to financial well being. They help you get organized, make a plan, and stay on track so you can get and stay in control of your finances. When you are confident about your money, you can save for your goals and splurge knowingly on what matters most to you.

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SunTrust Bank. The opinions and text are all mine.


  1. says

    I love those tips. I am all about the budget. Sometimes I do get a little spendy, but what is spendy for me might be very frugal for other people. I love that we have a solid plan in place that we are working towards. It feels good.

      • says

        And as for the question about combining spending, we only have joint accounts and it is all in the system. (It pulls our credit cards/checking/etc. into one place and I categorize.) Ryan pretty much never spends anything (outside of renovation stuff thats easy to spot) – that makes my life easy. But sometimes he’ll buy something that I don’t know what it is. So, I just have to ask before categorizing.

  2. says

    That other comment box got me, too.

    We use Mint.com and LOVE it. We’ve had a budget through there since day 1 of our marriage (before, actually) and I credit that (and our quarterly financial “pow-wows”) with our never having really had any financial problems.

    My best tip would be to schedule regular meetings to discuss where you are, where you want to go, and how you want to get there financially. Quarterly is what works for Kevin and I, but just having something on the calendar helps to make sure you don’t avoid tough conversations.

    PS. We always have our “pow-wows” in public so we can’t argue!

  3. Joyce Fowler says

    Hi Kim, Always enjoy your posts and what you are doing. There is a book called the Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey that has helped me a lot. He also has a radio show that you can listen to while you are doing other things. You sound like you are mostly on track, but always good to take a look at where you are going and how you are doing in the process.

  4. says

    What app do you use? I’m single so I’m pretty sure I don’t count in any of the marriage budgeting but something that helps me is writing down what my budget is, it helps me stick to it.

  5. says

    Great post, Kim! Except I’m already really good at the failing part.

    We use Mint, too, and I like being able to see where we’re spending way too much (ahem, FOOD) and knowing where all our money is going. That definitely helps me budget more realistically, instead of being all, “we’re going to spend $100 on food this month!” Yeah right. We eat too much.

  6. says

    great post Kim, we are working on our finances this year too. We have already hit one MAJOR goal and are working towards the next few…I’m going to post about it soon, but I’ve been taking my time writing the post since it’s been such a big part of our lives lately!

  7. says

    I love this post! I’ve tracked my money using Microsoft Money software (no longer made) since 2003. Tracking spending is tedious, but it’s SO important. I know how much seems “reasonable” for us to spend each month and keep that goal in mind and if we go over one month, I review where we’ve spent money to see where we’ve strayed and how we could do better. I’ve always been fairly frugal – when I go shopping I often end up with the thought “I dont really NEED that” – which is a good thing too. It is nice to treat yourself from time to time though :) Many friends have done Dave Ramsey which I think is a great idea – cash budget doesnt work for us when I think of all the rewards we get on our credit card that we pay off each month. When we “budget” we dont budget around the “everything else’s” — for us it’s 1. savings/emergency fund 2. giving 3. bills/house note 4. everything else

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