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The importance of prioritizing, tracking and rewarding yourself when budgeting

Posted by Community Choice Credit Union on Aug 4, 2017 3:05:08 PM

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When you start looking for financial advice or any kind of advice, for that matter, experts will share their take on what’s “good” and what’s “bad.” In personal finance, there are some classifications that we can all agree on: Debt is bad. Emergency funds are good. Overdrawing your account is bad. Earning interest on your savings is good.

Aside from the obvious examples, the guidelines are a bit murky; plus, the financial advice gurus often contradict each other. One expert will tell you that spending money is “bad” and saving money is “good.” The next will say that saving money is “bad” and investing it is “good.” Another might tell you that there are some “bad” investments and some forms of “good” debt.

If you’re waging an inner battle of good vs. bad every time you whip out your credit card or peek at your monthly bank statement, it’s probably time to give your views on budgeting a shake-up. Start by losing the desire to classify everything as “good” and “bad.” There are good and bad ways to spend money, just as there are good and bad ways to save it. Following that logic, there are good and bad ways to budget.

A good budget is one that, quite simply, works for you. It allows you to meet your needs and plan for your goals, and—most importantly—it motivates you to keep on budgeting. Successful budgeting systems vary wildly in their approach and in the tools you need, but they tend to have the same three actions as building blocks:

  • Prioritize
  • Track
  • Reward

These building blocks not only help you organize your finances, but they also have the ability to boost your motivation (and there’s real science to back that up). Read on to see if your current budgeting system has all three building blocks in place.

Prioritize

Tracking your expenses means being aware of where your money is going as you spend it. This is the part where financial advice experts start to disagree again: some swear by tracking your expenses with good ol’ pencil and paper, others swear by budgeting apps and spreadsheets, and some push more unique approaches like portioning your spending money into envelopes. The good news is that it doesn’t really matter how you go about doing it, but just that you do it.

Track

When you track your expenses, a couple of things come to light right away. You start to realize that every transaction, no matter how big or how small, is either contributing to a goal or taking away from it. On the surface level, tracking your expenses helps you to identify your spending patterns and to course-correct when necessary. More importantly, by tracking your spending, you’re also tracking your efforts. You’re creating a record of your progress along with a record of your transactions. Before long, you’ll have tangible evidence of how your actions and your follow-through are contributing to a calmer, happier financial life. You’ll see how capable you are of budgeting. You’ll find it easier and even exciting to keep your budgeting winning streak going.

Reward

Rewarding yourself means encouraging and celebrating your progress as you create healthier financial habits. Don’t be afraid to use some creativity when defining your personal finance milestones and rewards. Milestones can be time-based (e.g., using a budgeting app every day for 30 days), achievement-based (e.g., paying off all credit card debt) or increment-based (e.g., having your emergency fund reach $500, $1,000, $2,000…). Rewards can take on many forms as well; material rewards are the most common, but consider incorporating time- and experience-based rewards into the mix too (for example, you can list “permission to spend an entire day just vegging out” as a reward). By assigning rewards to the milestone of any given goal, you’re creating added incentive and boosting your motivation. When you earn, claim and enjoy a reward, your brain gets an extra hit of dopamine, which in turn increases your focus and drive.

The act of creating a budget contributes to your ability to follow it through. It solidifies your values, it promotes competence and it highlights your achievements as you work through it. Incorporating prioritize, track, reward into your budgeting method of choice will boost your motivation while tackling your personal finance goals at the same time.

Topics: Budgeting

Links to third party sites are not owned or operated by Community Choice Credit Union. We are offering the link for your convenience and have no responsibility for the availability, accuracy, or content of this website, its products or services. We encourage you to review their privacy and security policies which may differ from Community Choice Credit Union.

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