3 Steps to Stay on Budget

My husband and me, seen here during a family photo shoot a few years back, have found that one of the keys to a strong marriage is our mutual commitment to stay on budget!

Stay on Budget with These 3 Steps!

My husband and me, seen here during a family photo shoot a few years back, have found that one of the keys to a strong marriage is our mutual commitment to stay on budget!

Ever wonder how some people seem to be able to stay on budget and make money multiply, while others can’t seem to save a dime? No matter your income or economic status, money is an important tool and resource. Just like any other tool or resource, it has to be used and managed properly for it to serve its purpose. 

If you have a goal to buy your first home, take a vacation, or learn to live within your means and get out of debt, your first step must be to live on a budget. I know, it’s hard! But here are my three steps to stay on budget and meet your personal finance goals.  

1. Track

Tracking your spending is the biggest piece of the budget puzzle. You have to know where your money is going, or you don’t have a budget. If you aren’t doing it already, track every single penny you spend for a month. 

The point of this exercise is to identify areas for improvement in your spending habits. Everyone has an area that seems to make their money evaporate more quickly than others. I have a friend that once had to ban herself from shopping at Target for a long while, because it became very clear to her after tracking her spending that she did not have the willpower to walk through the store and not overspend.

Once you have tracked for a full month, you should have a better idea of where your money is going. To stay on budget, you should continue to track and categorize your spending. However, instead of doing it to identify money drains, you will be doing it to be sure the right categories are being funded and maintained according to your goals.

2. Automate

The second step to stay on budget is to automate as much as you can. Put recurring bills on auto-pay. That way you don’t have to take the time to think about whether or not you forgot to pay something.

In addition to setting up bills on auto-pay, automate your savings, too. The classic advice to “pay yourself first” is a lot easier to follow if you set it up to happen automatically. If you are paid via direct deposit, most employers allow you to split your paycheck deposit between two accounts, so have some money going straight to savings. If you don’t have direct deposit, you should still be able to set up automatic transfers with your bank.

3. Optimize

The whole point of tracking and automating is to optimize your money. Basically, that’s just a fancy way of saying make it work for YOU! How do you do that?

Well, there are the obvious (and smart!) answers, like funding investment accounts. If you are lucky enough to have a retirement savings program at work with an employer match, that should be a no-brainer for you. Don’t leave free money on the table!

Real estate investing is, of course, another way to optimize your money. In the long run, real estate is a great way to build wealth, even if you never have any interest in being a landlord and just purchase your own home and position is to maximize appreciation. 

But to invest in mutual funds, stocks, real estate—even just buy your own home—all of that takes money up front and on a regular basis, right? So it all goes back to budgeting…

There are some great tools out there that help you stay on budget. I am not going to cover them all here, except to say to pick a tool/system and work it! This article has a great round up of current online programs and apps. When it comes to the logistics of managing money, what works for one person may not work for someone else. 

But what always works? Track. Automate. Optimize. Don’t work for money--make your money work for you!

Are you thinking about how to put your money to work by jumping into real estate by buying your first home or investment property? Download my Buyer’s Guide below, and contact me today to discuss how I can help you reach your goals!


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Live on a Budget: 3 Lessons I’m Learning

Hands counting cash as if evaluating if they have the funds in their budget for a purchase

3 Tips to Live on a Budget

Hands counting cash as if evaluating if they have the funds in their budget for a purchaseI want to take a minute to talk to my younger self about her spending habits. I want to tell her to ignore the curated images of social media influencers, and to stop browsing the Pinterest boards of seasonal fashion styles and home decor. To ignore that pull to keep up with trends, and to instead save her money. To stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, to take advantage of the time she has to save (compound interest anyone?!), and to live on a budget. 


I know that word can seem scary. It sounds like going without, and sometimes that is exactly what it means.  But it also means security for the future. And trust me, young Carmen, that is what you want.   

Please note: this post may contain links or referrals.  I receive no compensation for these referrals. I simply enjoy the products/businesses, and I think you will, too!

Before I dive in to some financial lessons I’ve learned that have changed my relationship with money--and got me to think very differently about living on a budget--I want to say this: there are so many resources out there to guide you on how to live on a budget.  If you don't have a budget and need guidance on how to start, I’d encourage you to check out Rachel Cruze. She has a lot of money saving hacks and very fun videos to help inspire you.  

Now, some of my own biggest financial lessons that help me live on a budget:

Floor Space is Money

Anxiety from my cluttered house hit me hard about 14 months ago.  As I looked around I realized that all this stuff used to be money! Not only had I paid for my possessions when I first purchased them, I continued to pay for them every month in floor space.  

Yep, I did the math and realized that I was literally paying in price-per-square foot each month to store all of my stuff, stuff that was causing my family anxiety and needless work. Finally, after five times (Yes. Five times.) of reading the Marie Kondo’s Joy of Tidying Up, the lessons started to sink in. 

Think about your floor space as if you were paying price per square foot, because guess what: YOU ARE! Home prices and rental rates are calculated on a price per square foot basis, so the more stuff you have, the bigger space you need, and the more you pay.

And it’s not just your living space. Have you seen all of the storage facilities going up? Even though the average home square footage has increased over the last 50 years, we have more stuff than ever before, and a lot of us are willing to pay to store it. 

There is nothing wrong with having a storage unit or having fun things, but I challenge you to rehome anything you have stored that you haven't used at least once in the last 12 months. Think about your purchases from here on out in terms of floor space.  Live with less clutter, and you’ll save money.

Calculate Purchases in Time, Not Money

We have all heard the phrase “Time is money.”  It’s a cliche but it is absolutely true. Unless you are independently wealthy and living on a trust fund, you trade your time for money. That’s what a job is--an exchange of your time for currency. 

Therefore, when you spend the money you have earned at work, you are indirectly trading your time for an item or experience.  So do the math. How many hours of your time are you trading to have this new pair of shoes? How long did you have to work last month to pay for those concert tickets? Is that new jacket really worth one full day of work?  

Set your priorities, and spend your money--and your time--only on what really matters to you. 

For everything else that really doesn’t matter to you, either pass on the purchase or, if you must have it, find ways to get it cheaper. Generic products cost an average of 30% less than brand-name products, and often have the same quality as name brands.  For instance, Kirkland Signature batteries, the generic brand at Costco, are made by Duracell! And if generic brand medicine is good enough for 90% of pharmacists and doctors, then they are good enough for me, too.

Dream Big & Save Big

A while back I had a client who lived a very modest life. Simple clothes, unassuming car. There was nothing flashy about him. 

He was also investing in real estate with cold, hard cash, and getting a huge savings because of it. 

He told me that the key to having a liquid savings account is to put money into my savings account before I pay anything or anyone else. Pay yourself first. This mindset, and modest living, helped him save big and achieve his dreams.

And you can bet that he did so with a budget.  A budget lets you turn big dreams into reality. 

What are some of your big dreams? Do you have a budget that works to help you achieve them? I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

If one of your big dreams involves buying or selling a home, let’s chat!

And if you're budget game is already on point and you're ready to start the Buying process, be sure to download my Buyer's Guide below for all the information you need to know about the buying process.

All the best,




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