why sticking to a budget is so hard

There are two kinds of people in the world: the savers and the spenders. If you happen to be a saver, then good for you, but if you happen to be a spender, welcome to the club. 

So why is sticking to a budget so hard for some of us? Part of it is probably from the dopamine release that we get when we click the buy button on Amazon or swipe our cards in a store. The other part is because we want to scratch our instant gratification itch. It’s like picking a scab when you were a kid. You know you shouldn’t do it, but it feels nice for whatever reason. The obsession my mind develops when I hold off on buying something I want can be super unbearable. It is all that I think about until I buy it and then almost immediately regret it. 

I am jealous of people who instinctively save. You know the people who seem to have their financial life together because they know how and when to penny pinch without giving in to that little monster in their head that makes them want something unnecessary? Yeah, I’m jealous of them. Don’t get me wrong, and some people take it too far and never spend a dime on themselves. As my aunt always said, “Everything in moderation.” And I think that rings true for spending money too. So how does one combat the urge to spend superfluously? 

Reward-based saving

I get a dopamine release when I buy something, especially online. There’s the high from buying something, the anticipation of it coming, and the fun from opening a box all involved in an online purchase. But online shopping is a rabbit hole that is easy to go down, especially when you have the misfortune of memorizing your credit card number. If I could willingly forget that 16 number sequence, expiration date, and security pin, I would. So how do I combat the impulsive need to spend my money unnecessarily? I reward myself for behaving as if I were a small child or dog. 

The principle is simple. I save for something that I want, but I keep four times more than it costs. I know this seems somewhat obvious to others, but some of us get hyper-focused on things, and it’s a losing battle from there. For example, I lost my AirPods on a trip a while ago. I knew that I wanted to get new ones, but I don’t have $150 lying around to spend. But I loved my AirPods. They are the best earbuds that I have ever owned. So instead of just compulsively buying a new set, I set a goal of $600 to save before I could buy a new pair. And since I wanted them badly, I saved and controlled my spending like my life depended on it. 

This reward-based saving works for me and helps me stick to a budget because I get a double shot of dopamine. I get the satisfaction of reaching a monetary goal and the feeling of buying a new thing that I wanted. It still takes some form of discipline not to go out and buy the AirPods right away but knowing that there is a reward at the end of the tunnel makes it a little easier. It’s sort of like learning a new skill. You invest all of this time into something, knowing that when you come out the other end, you will have something to show for it.

Budgeting apps

There is an app for everything, and budgeting is no exception. Setting up a budget on an app that keeps track of how much you are spending will show you how crazy some of your spending habits are. Getting a text message that you have spent $40 this week on coffee can be the sort of gut-punch some of us need. I tend to rationalize small purchases, like coffee or an energy drink, by believing “it’s only $5.” And while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if I don’t keep track of how much I am spending, how can I ever expect to save any money? I highly recommend using an app of some kind. They make life easier. I use Mint, but I hear PocketGuard is just as good. 

To sum it up

Not everyone is a saver, and that’s okay. You shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to spend your hard-earned money but everything in moderation. Saving is an essential monetary aspect of adulting. Savings become our safety net for the “just in case emergency.” If all of the tires on your car need replacing, could you afford it right now? Most of us in our early twenties don’t have that kind of money just lying around, but that’s why it’s essential to save. Don’t live in fear of the what-ifs but plan for the worst, hope for the best. Just know that whatever method you choose, it’s still going to take some discipline. Good luck! 

If you want to learn some practical tips to save money, check out these 5 tips to save money.

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