Woohoo! I finished Week 2 of the 90 Day Budget Boot Camp!  And I got that mistake purchase from last week returned…sort of.  The tough part about keeping to a budget that works is following through.  That was so frustrating.  This place was out of my way, and it was frustrating, and a different Joy might have decided to keep the product, but the money I got back was worth the hassle.  Following through is one of the toughest things about managing your money, whether it is following through to get a refund, cancel a service, or correct an error on your bank statement!

This week’s challenge was a doozy. We were tasked with creating a new budget – a budget that works! – accounting for income, planned savings, bills, groceries, other expenses, and even fun stuff. Thankfully the workbook breaks it down step by step, so you complete each task and check the box. You don’t have to finish it all in one sitting! Here are 3 simple steps I implemented during this week’s challenge.  Stick around to the end to offer YOUR favorite tips budget tips which will be featured on my blog’s Facebook and Pinterest pages!

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

I tend to set budgets that don't work...I go from one extreme to the other. Here are 3 simple steps for a budget that works! 90 Day Budget Boot Camp Challenge | http://thecafescholar.com
This post is part of an ongoing series about my journey through the 90 Day Budget Boot Camp Workbook and my mission to pay off my debt.  If you missed it, you can read about Week 1 and the money challenge here.

#1 Break Up to Break ThroughBreak up your direct deposit into separate accounts to break through on your budget! Keeping the funds separate will make it much easier to have a budget that works. | http://thecafescholar.com

The budget that works for you is going to make it easy to do the right thing.  If you are working towards a really big goal – such as saving to go back to school or buy a car, or paying off a large debt – and you want everything extra to go to that goal, break up your paycheck.  This works really well if you have direct deposit.  Open a separate checking account or savings account for your goal.  For this one, put it in a different bank from your regular checking account, so that it will be harder to “break” your budget by transferring money back and forth.  Make sure you won’t be getting charged any fees.  Most banks will let you avoid the monthly fee with a regular direct deposit (which you want to be doing anyways!)
Calculate what you need from each paycheck to cover your bills and living expenses, with a little buffer but not too much.  Then, split your direct deposit so that the money you need for your regular expenses goes to your regular checking account, and the money you need for your goal goes to your new account.

What I Did This Week

As you know, my Big Important Goal is to pay off debt…lots of it.  I opened up a new checking account (with a $200 bonus, yay!) at a different bank.  I calculated how much cash I would need from each paycheck to cover my non-debt bills and living expenses, with a little buffer.  Then I went to my HR department and changed my direct deposit, so that my set amount for expenses goes to my regular checking account, and the balance of my paycheck automatically deposits to my debt payoff account.  Then I changed the Autopay for all of my debt-related bills to pull from that new account.
Breaking up my direct deposit is really going to help create a budget that works. Since the new account is completely separate, I won’t be spending that money elsewhere, and I know at the end of the month that any money left in that account can go straight to an extra debt payment.

#2 Make One SwitchChoose one "low hanging fruit" change to make at a time. 90 Day Budget Boot Camp Challenge. | http://thecafescholar.com

Budgets that don’t work often fail because of roller coaster budgeting.  We try to take on too much at once, go “all in,” and then crash and burn.  A budget that works goes “all in” by making slow, sustainable, changes, and then be consistent with those changes. One of the steps from the 90 Day Budget Boot Camp Workbook this week was to choose one thing – just one, for now – to reduce or substitute.  You don’t have to change everything at once.  That’s the roller coaster budget way.  Instead, look for the low hanging fruit: a bill or expense you have every month that you can cut back on.  In fact, you may not even notice the cut back if you do it right.

Shop for a Better Rate

The easiest way to do this is to try to get a better rate on a service you already have, such as your cell phone, cable TV, internet, or even car insurance.  Shop around and look for a better rate on the same service.  Before you commit to the new service, go back to your existing provider and let them know your plans.  Sometimes they will reduce their rates in order to keep you as a customer.  My mom is a pro at this one.  This budget step is awesome because you don’t even feel a loss; you aren’t missing out on anything. (Don’t worry, those changes will come, but we don’t have to tackle them all at once, right?)

Cancel Something You Don’t Use

Another way to do this is to look for a monthly expense that goes to something you don’t actually use.  Sometimes, we sign up for a free one month trial…and then forget to cancel before the month is up.  Or, maybe you signed up thinking you would use something much more than you do.  Check your debit or credit card statement and look for a recurring charge for something you no longer use. If you don’t use it, cutting that subscription is a really easy way to create some more space in your budget.

#3 Take Your Buckets to the BankCreating separate savings accounts for different goals is easy with most banks. It will help you create a budget that works because that money won't be sitting in your checking account to be spent, and you'll know exactly how much you have towards each goal. | http://thecafescholar.com

In this week’s challenge, the 90 Budget Boot Camp had me create funds (I call them “buckets”) for infrequent purchases or expenses.  These could be anything from car registration to clothing to gifts to vacations.  Many banks have unlimited free savings accounts that are easy to set up and transfer to online.  I now have separate savings accounts for clothing, grad school, auto, as well as the emergency fund I had already created.  I’m not ready to start contributing to all of these quite yet, so I picked two to set a small automatic deposit each month.  I know that when it comes time to renew my car insurance next year, I will pay less because I’ll have the money set aside to pay it all at once instead of monthly payments.  And I also know that I won’t go out and buy clothes until I’ve set some cash aside in that special account.

Bank Account Buckets

Open as many accounts as you need; that way what you see in your checking account is actually what you have available to spend, and you can easily see your progress towards each goal.  These “buckets” or funds help you create a budget that works because the cash you are trying to save (the cash that you will need later!) won’t be sitting in your checking account begging to be spent.  Instead, you’ll know exactly what you have for each purpose.

Gift Card Buckets

Another way to create buckets for a budget that works, for some expenses at least, is to buy gift cards.  I bought a month’s worth of gas cards so that I know that money is already set aside.  Since my checking account gets a little tight on this debt payoff mission, I wanted to make sure that expense was covered in advance.  I also do this with Starbucks gift cards.  As you know, we Cafe Scholars get our best work done at cafes, but if you are not careful, that cost can add up quickly.  I set a Starbucks budget and buy gift cards for that amount.  When they’re gone, they’re gone.  (I have more tips on how to be a Cafe Scholar on a Budget here).

The Next 3 Steps

Now it’s your turn.  What 3 steps would you recommend for a practical budget that works?  Comment below and let us know.  I’ll be featuring commenters on my blog’s Facebook and Pinterest pages, so be sure to include your social profiles so I can tag you!
Comment with your best budget tips, and be featured on The Cafe Scholar's Facebook and Pinterest pages! Make sure to include your social profile so I can tag you in the post! | http://thecafescholar.com
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Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

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  1. My budget tip: always ask yourself is it the best moment to buy X. Usually it’s not, so I wait for coupon, seasonal discount or never buy it at all so money saved. Don’t be emotional buyer!

    • This is a great tip! Rosie at The Busy Budgeter talks about taking a picture of the item and seeing if she still wants it later. And even if there’s a coupon, just because it is a good product or a good deal doesn’t mean that now is the right time to buy!

      Just shared your great tip to the blog’s Facebook Page and via Pinterest!

  2. I love the separate accounts (buckets) idea! I do this for my quarterly taxes, so there’s no way they can “accidentally” get spent. I think I’ll be opening some extra accounts this weekend for Christmas, new tires, and an upcoming trip. Awesome suggestion!

    • That is a great idea to do a savings account to save money for taxes! Right now I’m still at the point of getting money back due to education credits :).

  3. We use separate accounts for some savings also! I like your gift card idea…one thing I always did was use my credit card points (when I used to have them) to purchase gift cards…some credit cards actually offer discounted gift cards so you can really get a deal! Then you could use them to buy gifts or give as gifts, I would get $5 Starbucks cards and give them to m co-workers for Christmas!

    • A few months ago, I redeemed ALL of my credit card points, and many of them went to Starbucks gift cards…since I do most of my work there outside of my day job, I was able to get enough to cover a few months of “rent the wifi.” One year my college roommate used all her rewards from various retailers to buy everyone’s presents. I’ve definitely done that with my Staples rewards!

  4. More fabulous tips, Joy! Good on you for staying so on track this week! I really look forward to following along with the rest of this series!

    Elizabeth | http://nattygal.com

    • Thank you, Elizabeth! Wasn’t a perfect week by any means, but I’ve been super motivated listening to the Dave Ramsey podcast in my car :).

  5. Take a side job for part of the year, I used to have an ice cream truck now my husband referees, save that money for your year’s groceries. We put cash in an envelope for each month then store it in our safety deposit box.

    • I love this idea! I did something similar last spring. I taught a college class apart from my day job, and I put the pay from that job straight into a budgeted savings account for school tuition.

  6. I have the Starbucks app on my phone. I also have a upromise cc. If you don’t know what that is I highly recommend checking it out if you have kids college to save for. Anyway purchase Starbucks gc with the upromise cc (or any that have cash back/point offerings) at grocery stores that offer gas points. Your get the cc points, the gas points. Then load the Starbucks card onto your app and get those points.

    • Meri, I love how you are getting triple points on your purchase! I’m calling it quits on the credit card points, but I’ve heard there are some debit cards that offer cash back too. I love the Starbucks rewards system because it is consistent – so if you are smart, you can enjoy Starbucks (or their wifi and work space!) without going broke. I’ve shared some of my Starbucks budget advice here:

  7. I use a planner system (to stay on a budget)! Keeps my regular work schedule, paydays and bills all tracked together.

    • That’s a great idea! Do you schedule a budget meeting with your family (or yourself) too?

  8. My budget tip is to participate in free activities with family and friends. Potlucks and game nights are high on the list. For a potluck, each person can bring one dish and for game nights each person brings one snack and the host can provide the games. Nights can be full of laughter, fun, and joy that doesn’t cost anything.
    FB| https://www.facebook.com/WhitneyOdolo/
    Pinterest| https://www.pinterest.com/whitneyodolo/

    • Whitney, Game nights are my favorite! Do you have a favorite board game or card game? We love Pandemic :).

  9. What really worked well for me was paying myself first. I made a list of everything I absolutely HAD to pay and looked at the maximum I could save off my salary after paying for those things. I kept a small margin and made automated payments into my savings account for the remainder of the amount. Those payments (there are more than one, because I have different accounts where I save money for different things) are transferred automatically on the day after I get paid. This way, I (almost) never feel rich and the need to overspend. It really makes a difference if you start the month with saving, or end it with saving.

    • If you aren’t using credit cards, paying yourself first sure makes it hard to break your budget!

  10. IMHO I’ve found the following to be helpful: Be mindful of you waste. Your throughput is an indicator of your nonrenewable resources leaving the home. Don’t be a perpetual consumer, consume in a mindful way. Use tea towels instead of paper towels, use a double edges safety razor instead if a common commercial razor, use glass containers instead if Ziploc bags. Choose items you can keep for longer, lengthen the product lifespan. I’ve found that this method saves me heaps of $ in the longer term and also shifts me into healthier living habits.

    • Mary Ann – this is a great idea. I would encourage people to make one change. Then, when that one feels natural, change one more thing.


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