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Tired of Budgeting? 5 Ideas to Battle Budget Burnout

Tired of being frugal? You’re not alone. If you’re battling budget burnout, it’s time to change your viewpoint about spending and saving when money is tight.

Unless you’re rolling in dough, budgeting is key to your financial well-being. It allows you to track your spending and ensures that your bills are paid and your essentials are taken care of before you start spending any extra money.

Unfortunately, it can also turn into a major chore. You start out strong, listing your expenses and figuring out “buckets” where your money will go; for example, utilities and food. Then, you get off-budget one month and find yourself having a mini-meltdown over the cost of apples at the grocery store. True story.

There’s a phrase for this: frugal fatigue. It describes the frustration and tired feeling you get from constantly tracking your spending and saving. To help you stay on track toward your financial goals and combat frugal fatigue, here are five creative ways to battle budget burnout:

1. Figure out what’s most important.

When you’re trying to keep expenses low in every area of your life, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Instead of stressing about keeping grocery costs down or driving less to save gas, focus on the things you DO care about and give yourself goals related to that category. If you’re a home chef, don’t skimp on food costs. Love sports? Set aside $30 a month for ESPN channels or game tickets.

If something is low on the priority list, or goes against a goal you’ve set, trim all unnecessary costs in that area. If you’re trying to eat healthy, ditch dining out. If you want to spend less time looking at a screen, pare down your cell phone plan or cancel extra digital subscriptions. By prioritizing things you love and avoiding frivolous purchases that don’t bring you joy, you can live more frugally without accounting for every cent.

2. Explore the “This, Not That” method.

One of the biggest hurdles that dieters face is feeling deprived of their favorite foods. Cut to three weeks later, when you’re huddled in your room stuffing your face with donuts because you can’t take it anymore. Similarly, if you completely cut activities you enjoy out of your life to save money, you risk going on a buying binge.

Take a tip from Eat This, Not That! authors David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding and replace unhealthy (read: expensive) items in your financial “diet” with leaner alternatives. That means taking a hard look at what you’re REALLY spending money on and looking for cheaper alternatives.

Here are some options:


 Going to the movies

Family game nights 

Dining Out/Bars  Picnics & potlucks with friends 
Shopping  Thrift store browsing 
Gym membership  Natural workouts (biking, running, sports) 
Convenience Services (Pool care, landscaping, cleaning, car washes)  DIY 
Travel  Camping, day trips 
Events (concerts, sports, classes, etc.)  Free community events 
budget burnout infographic

3. Look for extra money where you live.

One of the most stressful aspects of traditional budgeting is having to track every little nit-picky expense. Do I really need organic apples? Can I afford to go out with my friends for lunch? If you want to get off the eternal hamster wheel of being frugal, consider making one large change that will cut expenses enough that you don’t have to track everything.

With Millennials spending an average of 45% of their income on rent1 in their first few years in the workforce, housing is one area where major changes could really pay off. By getting a roommate, you could potentially cut both your housing and utility costs in half! If that’s not an option for you, consider downsizing to a smaller place or moving to a less expensive area of town when your lease is up. For those who have a mortgage, ask your credit union about refinancing your home — you could potentially save money every month if you do.

4. Let an app do the work for you.

What if the problem isn’t budgeting — it’s how you budget? If you’re just winging it by checking your bank balances repeatedly or using random notebooks to track your spending (oops, guilty!), it’s no wonder you feel out of control. There’s no need to do it old-school when so many free budget apps are out there.

A budget app won’t stop you from overspending on shoes or keep your electric bill down, but it can make it easier to see where your money is going. With many of the more popular apps, you can import your checking account transactions and/or bill amounts directly into the app for easy tracking. Just be prepared … You might be surprised at how many dollars you’re really spending each month on small, unnecessary purchases like fancy lattes and gas station snacks.

Don’t know which app to use? Our blog on budget apps can help you get started.

5. Pay yourself first.

Also known as reverse budgeting, this method of managing your money has some of the benefits of traditional budgeting but without all the minutia. The idea is simple: When you get your paycheck, put a set amount of money aside for essential savings (retirement, emergency fund, etc.). If you have any high-interest debts to pay off, those could also be included in this category.

You’ll need to do some setup before you take this approach. First, set some reasonable monthly savings goals, such as “add $100 to my emergency fund” or “put $200 toward retirement.” Aim for saving at least 20% of your total monthly income and set up automatic transfers directly into savings and investments if you can. Once that’s done, you have the rest of your paycheck left over for bills, living expenses and fun.

About 80% of Americans have a budget, according to Debt.com’s annual budgeting survey.2 That’s the highest number in the survey’s history, so give yourself a pat on the back! Budgeting is the most straightforward way to track your money and work toward your financial goals, but that doesn’t mean traditional budgeting is the only way to go. With a little creativity, and our five ideas in your back pocket, you can turn budget burnout into money management mastery!

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The material presented here is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be used as financial, investment or legal advice.