Know what’s a major buzzkill? When Saturday hits, and your pals want to convene for bottomless mimosas — but your bank balance is nearing zero. Not only can you not afford to go out, but you’re probably anxious about having enough to cover your rent. If that’s the case, how can you possibly save?
To make sure you pay yourself first, make a small change: start your budget on a Saturday. Here’s how it’ll help you stay on top of your bills and help you budget for an emergency fund:
Separate Your Bills from Your Spending
When it comes to expenses, you might’ve heard the terms “fixed” and “variable” being tossed around. Fixed expenses are bills that you usually need to pay every month, and the amount doesn’t change. Think: rent, insurance, cable, student loan payments, and utility bills.
Variable expenses are things that change in amount every month. For instance, money you spend on dining out, entertainment, groceries, clothing, personal items, and so forth.
For the weekly budget to work, you’ll want to separate out your variable expenses from your fixed expenses. Next, figure out how much money you have left after your bills are covered. If it’s $1,600, commit to setting aside a set amount each week or month toward your emergency fund. (Note: auto-save is your friend.) You can spend the rest on whatever you choose. So if you want to set aside $400 a month toward your emergency fund, that leaves you about $300 a week for your spending budget.
Start Your Budget on the Weekend
My friend Ari Hren-Boulis, who is a financial coach and founder of Aristotle’s Coaching, came up with the idea when he was in college. He’d start his weekly budget on a Monday. And by the time the weekend rolled around, he wouldn’t have any money to go drinking with his friends. He decided to make a simple switch that made a major difference, and started his budget on Saturday. That way he had more money to spend freely, and could enjoy himself.
Plus, it’s far easier to save during the week when you’re busy at work. “It was easier to save Monday to Friday, bring your own food to work versus buying food at work,” says Hren-Boulis, who is now 26 and studying to be a certified financial planner.
Think About What Motivates You
Hren-Boulis points out that successful weekly budgeting is up to you and what motivates you. If you’re not motivated to save during the week so you can enjoy those weekend brunches, think about what you’d rather spend your money on. “It’s really where you spend the most money and which days you usually spend money on those things,” says Hren-Boulis. “When are you going to do something that’s going to cost $40 or $50?”
For me, I love loading up on goodies from the Sunday farmer’s market. After starting my budget on different days of the week, I found that starting my weekly budget on a Sunday did it for me. I didn’t mind being more frugal during the rest of the week so that I could splurge on organic veggies and freshly made greek fig yogurt. My friend Tricia wants to make sure she has plenty of money in her weekly budget to buy groceries for herself and her pack of five doggies. In her case, it makes more sense for her to start her weekly budget on a Monday.
Delve into Your Problem Areas
Spending plans and budgets change alongside shifts in your needs and habits. If you switch to starting your budget on a weekend or another day, or go from a monthly budget to a weekly one, and are still struggling with saving, take a deeper dive and look for the problem areas.
Ask yourself why you might not be saving money. Maybe you’re still spending too much in certain areas? Or you’re prone to cave in when someone asks you to borrow money, even when you don’t have the money to spare? Whatever the reason might be, reboot your budget. Then give it a whirl to see if your spending plan sticks.
Find Your Rhythm
No matter when you decide to kickstart your budget every week, the magic is that after about six months or so, you fall into your own personal spending rhythm, explains Hren-Boulis. As a lifelong budgeter who likes to make tweaks every so often.
While it still requires some effort, I’ve also found that you develop an intuitive, Spidey-sense approach to budgeting. “You’ll get to the point where you look and figure out how much money you’re going to spend,” says Hren-Boulis. “You start to figure it out and then prepare.”
Just like how my partner has learned how to make good choices with his diet based on what he puts inside his shopping cart when he’s at the market each week, you can gauge how to best go about divvying up the funds in your weekly budget.
So if your budget is $250 a week, and roughly $80 goes toward groceries and $80 goes toward eating out, you’re left with $110 to spend. If you need more than that to spend on say, clothes or household items at Target, aim to spend a little less on food that week.
When I’d like to make a larger purchase, such as buying another series of yoga or water aerobics classes, I’ll tap into my “splurge fund.”
Budgeting takes work, but it doesn’t have to mean self-deprivation. By finding a flow that works best for you, you’ll feel less cash-strapped and more inclined to stick to a spending plan. That means you can worry less about spending money on what you enjoy — whether that’s weekend cocktails, farmer’s market veggies, or just having a few more dollars in the bank.
Jackie Lam is a personal finance writer. Her work has appeared in Investopedia, Magnify Money and The Bold Italic, and she’s been featured in Money, Kiplinger, Forbes and Woman’s Day. She runs heyfreelancer.com, a blog to help freelancers and artists with their money, and to balance their passion projects and careers.