Your budget isn’t a slower cooker: You can’t just set it and forget it. Instead, a budget requires care, attention, and regular adjustments. Why? Adjusting your budget:
- Allows you to track your spending more accurately
- Protects you from overspending in multiple categories
- Helps you plan better in the months to come
You and your budget are in an important relationship. Don’t ignore it! You need to check in and adjust your numbers on a weekly or monthly basis.
When to Adjust Your Budget
If you’re like us, the grocery category will be your biggest battleground, so let’s use it as an example.
Maybe you’re at the register when the cashier delivers the news: “Your total comes to $175.” Yikes! That amount nearly wipes out what you have left for the month in your food category. You take another look at your cart. You can stretch the meals out a bit, but not for the remainder of the month.
The above scenario means it’s time to adjust the budget. We’ll talk about how to do that in just a second, but first take a look at some other adjustment-worthy moments life might throw at you:
- A utility bill that’s higher than anticipated
- An unexpected event or need pops up
- Crossed signals causing you and your spouse to spend more individually in a particular category than either of you realized
- A decision to change spending priorities mid-month
- Your budget is blown, for whatever reason, in one area
How to Adjust Your Budget
Communication breaks down. Life happens. Budgets need to be altered. And now you know some “when to adjust your budget” scenarios, so let’s talk about how to adjust your budget. It’s easier than it sounds, especially if you take advantage of the EveryDollar app. With EveryDollar, you can create a budget, track your spending, and make adjustments all in the same place. Here are some helpful tips for keeping it simple:
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1. Start with a zero-based budget.
When you create a zero-based budget in EveryDollar, you should see the ever-satisfying green checkmark, which lets you know you’ve given every single dollar you’ll earn a job. If you want to learn more, check out why “zero” is the most important number in your budget.
2. Track your spending.
Throughout the month, you should track your spending. With EveryDollar, you can enter your transactions manually by selecting the line item and clicking “+ Add New.” Make this a habit. After you check out online, tap on over to our budgeting app and add that expense. When you climb in your car after shopping, track that receipt.
If you’d like to simplify things even more, you can upgrade your account to EveryDollar Plus. We’ll connect to your bank and automatically upload your transactions. All you have to do is drag and drop to assign a category to your transaction!
When you start tracking your spending, you’ll learn what categories need to be adjusted either up or down to prevent you from overspending next month.
3. Make adjustments as needed.
Let’s go back to that moment at the grocery store. You spent $175 on food for the week. Though you can make it stretch some, you’ll probably need another $100 to get you through the end of the month—but you only have $50 left in the grocery category.
Don’t worry! All you need to do is adjust. Take a look at your budget and find another area (or multiple areas) where you can scrounge up $50. Maybe you sacrifice some fun money this month or back off on buying new clothes. Or, if you’re lucky, a bill came in lower than anticipated. (It happens!) Decide where the money will come from and make your move accordingly.
When you’re finished, you should see that lovely green checkmark pop up again.
That’s your official sign that all is well and good again in budget land.
Make note of any adjustment patterns that develop. You might need to bump your grocery budget up a bit for the foreseeable future. And that’s okay!
Still on the fence about the benefits of adjusting your budget as you go? Don’t just take our word for it. We asked EveryDollar budgeters to share their budget adjusting advice on facebook and twitter:
“Be prepared to adjust often. Having to change something doesn't mean you're a failure at the whole process . . . It's a road map to your goals, not a prison!” — Joanna T.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself if you have to adjust mid-month. Things happen, plans change, and even seasoned budgeters sometimes forget things. The hard work is worth it in the end!” — Jennifer R.
“Overestimate your needs. If you've been spending $500/month on groceries, you probably will not make a $200 budget. Start high and trim.” — Rachel B.
“Plan your budget on base and adjust as necessary. Just do it. After two or three months you will think you had a pay raise.” — Herman H.
“A budget is a living, breathing document; it's not written in stone.” — Deborah G.
“You'll probably have to update it during the month—it's okay to adjust! You'll get better at it each month!” — Kelly S.
“It's less about numbers on a paper and more about behavior and habit modifications . . . make the right habits and the numbers follow.” — Chris S.
“Keep going—even if you slip . . .even if something unexpected comes up. Keep going.” — Katherine P.
“Review your spending for the two months prior to starting your budget to find a good starting point for each line item.” — Shelby K.
“You'll have to adjust, but you won't be spending more than you earn. That in itself is a huge step.” — Gina H.
"Have a line item called “Amazon.” — Emily H.
Budgeting, like most things, takes work. But can we let you in on a little secret? The more work you put in by making adjustments, staying persistent, and being intentional, the simpler budgeting will become in the months and years to come. Stick with it because your money goals are within reach!