Getting Back on Track After Going Over Budget

By Jacqueline DeMarco · May 08, 2023 · 6 minute read

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Getting Back on Track After Going Over Budget

Even people who closely monitor their spending might go over budget now and then. What’s important is how they handle getting back on track.

If you go over your budget, there are a few different steps you can take to get back on course. And combining some of them might help speed up the budget repair process. Here’s what you need to know.

Keep an Eye on Spending

Reviewing account balances and statements once a week is an easy way to keep track of money coming in and money going out. A few big purchases can easily upset an otherwise balanced budget.

Waiting until the end of the month to check in on accounts leaves you at risk for excess spending and potentially overdrawing a checking account or having a higher credit card bill than you anticipated.

Checking in once a week leaves time to self correct and adjust the budget to help balance the numbers.

Identify What Went Wrong

Going over budget sometimes means there’s uncertainty about where the money went. Overspending can mount quickly, putting the budget out of balance. It might only take a few extra additions to your grocery cart, an unexpected car repair, or a couple of splurge purchases.

When there is general overspending or if it’s just in a specific budgeting category, looking at recent bills and credit card statements might help identify where the money was spent. Were there too many restaurant meals, increasing food spending as a result? Was there too much temptation to shop online sales? Identifying budget lapses can make it easier to avoid them in the future.

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Cut Unnecessary Expenses Temporarily

When a budget is too restrictive, it can feel punishing. A budget can account for the unnecessary spending that makes life fun like travel, dining out, shopping, gifts, and beauty treatments. If these expenses create a problem in the budget, you can temporarily cut back on those categories. Once your budget is balanced again, those expenses can be put back into the mix. Balance is key.

Use a Budgeting Tool

A free budget planning app can help you customize your spending categories and even keep track of your bills. It will send you updates on your progress and let you see where your earnings and spending go each month. This can make creating a realistic budget even easier.

Build an Emergency Fund

One thing you can do to get back on track after going over budget is to make sure you have an emergency fund for financially difficult situations, such as expensive medical bills or necessary home repairs.

Emergency funds can also be used to prevent emergencies. For instance, an emergency fund might provide extra support if a debt payment is at risk of being paid late, which could incur fees and interest and add to your debt load.

💡 Quick Tip: If you’re faced with debt and wondering which kind to pay off first, it can be smart to prioritize high-interest debt first. For many people, this means their credit card debt; rates have recently been climbing into the double-digit range, so try to eliminate that ASAP.

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Explore Different Budgeting Techniques

Sometimes the trick to sticking to a personal budget—or bouncing back after going over that budget—is to try a different budgeting method. Not all methods work for all personality types. Take some time to find the right budgeting fit, even if the first few rounds don’t go according to plan. There are a few different popular budgeting methods that might help someone get their budget back on track, such as:

1. Line-item budget. This is probably what most people think of when they think of a budget. With a line item budget, the income and expenses are usually in a spreadsheet format where each expense is listed by category with the goal being not to exceed spending targets in any of the categories.

2. Proportional budget. This type of budgeting system requires dividing monthly income into three categories—needs, wants, and savings—based on percentages. The budgeter will allocate a spending percentage to each category and aim to stick to that budget. A common proportional budget is the 50/30/20 budget, with 50% of income going to needs, 30% to wants, and 20% to savings.

3. Paying-yourself-first budget. For those who want to keep their budget simple, this method is pretty straightforward. You simply “pay yourself first” which means you put money towards savings or financial goals first (perhaps 25% of your take-home income). Then you can spend the rest of your income exactly as you need or wish to.

4. Envelope budget. This technique provides a hands-on approach to spending that can be helpful for people who tend to swipe their credit card without fully realizing the potential consequences. With the envelope method, you use envelopes to hold cash that represent different spending categories. You then make all your purchases for the month in cash. If an envelope runs out of money, spending in that category stops until the next month — unless you borrow money from another envelope, limiting spending in that category.

5. Zero-sum budgeting. With zero-sum budgeting, you “spend” every dollar you have, allocating each one to a specific purpose, like adding money to your savings account. Once every dollar is allocated, there are zero leftover dollars, hence the name zero-sum budgeting.

Recommended: 15 Creative Ways to Save Money

Cut Out Temptations

Temptations happen, and it’s generally better to learn from budget mishaps than agonize over them. However, if there is a certain temptation that seems to rear its ugly head again and again while wreaking havoc on your budget, it might be time to send that temptation packing.

Common Triggers of Overspending

There are many things that might trigger overspending, but some common ones to look out for might be:

•   Email sale and coupon promotions

•   Social media advertisements

•   Friends who pressure others to spend

•   Grocery shopping when hungry

•   Shopping when emotional

•   Shopping as a reward

💡 Quick Tip: When you feel the urge to buy something that isn’t in your budget, try the 30-day rule. Make a note of the item in your calendar for 30 days into the future. When the date rolls around, there’s a good chance the “gotta have it” feeling will have subsided.

Launch a Side Hustle

For someone who wants to get their budget back on track, a side hustle can be one way to bring in more cash and maybe even build valuable career skills and opportunities. Launching a side hustle might allow you to pursue a passion outside of your day job while benefiting your budget.

The Takeaway

Sticking to a budget can be challenging. If you go off track, don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, determine what went wrong and how you can prevent it from happening in the future, cut your expenses for a few weeks, and figure out the best method to get your spending and savings back on track. You may even want to try another type of budget that could be easier to follow going forward.

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