Older couple cooking dinner at home

We know full well that implementing a spending plan is one of the main pillars of financial wellness. After all, how can you make sure you’re living within your means, saving your beans, and staying on top of your money goals for the year without a budget?

That being said, for those who hate thinking about their finances, budgets can be tedious, time-consuming, and potentially take away from the joy and spontaneity of life.

As a money nerd who has a loose spending plan à la the guilt-free budget, I’ve discovered a happy medium. I’ve devised a system to avoid getting too mired in decisions about my day-to-day spending. You can even think of this system as a series of games.

Along those lines, here are a few simple money games you can play to keep your spending in check:

Set Up Buckets

Otherwise known as one’s money flow, consider setting up a main bucket for spending, and several other buckets for your different savings goals. I have a main checking account in which I pay my bills. Then I have savings accounts for my emergency fund, travel, gifts and for entertainment. I also have a separate checking account to pay for discretionary expenses for everyday purchases.

The beauty of setting up buckets is that once I’ve figured out my “flow,” I can easily transfer money into the different pools. Just like how an artist needs to set up their canvas and paint brushes before they can begin painting their masterpiece, you need to set up a system before you can get the ball rolling.

But once you set up a system, the rest is fairly straightforward. Questions to ask yourself: Which account will you pay your bills out of? Will you have a separate debit card or credit card to pay for discretionary expenses?  

Pay Yourself First

Paying yourself first simply means putting money into savings before your money goes toward bills and paying off debt. That’s right, sock away a percentage to help future you. That way you know that some of your money is going toward retirement, growing a family, saving for a down payment for a house and other financial goals.

If you’re a freelancer, artist, or gig economy worker, it might be hard to squirrel away some money before you pay your bills. That’s because your monthly income can fluctuate so wildly. If that’s the case, then I recommend shaving a bit off of whatever’s left after you tend your bills. I allocate specific percentages toward retirement, travel, and a splurge fund.

Set Up Auto-Savings

I set up an auto-savings system that automatically transfers money to my savings account. And for a while, I practiced saving in dribs and drabs until I felt comfortable committing to saving a fixed amount to my retirement savings. Every month may be variable.

For example, let’s say I have a great month income-wise freelancing. If that’s the case, I figure I can reasonably afford to set $200 aside for retirement. But instead of depositing it that month, I’ll transfer that $200 into a savings account. Then every quarter, or end of the year, I’ll officially transfer that money into my retirement account. On the flip side, I automate as many bills as possible. If you get paid twice a month, you can schedule your bills so they’re in sync with your paychecks. While you might feel nervous about autosaving, lest they aren’t able to cover a bill in time, consider reaching out to your cell phone carrier, electric company, etc., to ask if they might be able to move your payment date. Let them know that it could help you big-time in making on-time payments.

If This, Then That

To balance fun in the here-and-now and savings for the long-term, make a pact with yourself. If you save or achieve X amount, then you can reward yourself with X. For instance, for every $200 I sock away toward my emergency fund, I allow myself a small splurge up to X amount. This way you’re not constantly feeling deprived. On the flip side, you won’t feel guilty for spending money. (Nor have that nagging voice in the back of your head telling you to save, and not spend your bucks on that unneeded latte or blouse.)

Figure Out Your Daily Number

As I mentioned, I have a separate account I drop money in each month just for discretionary expenses. This includes everything from groceries, eating out, clothes, personal items, and sundry spending on household goods. Once I’ve decided exactly what I can spend each month, I figure out a daily number. For instance, let’s say you can afford to spend $2,000 a month on discretionary expenses for you and your family. That’s $500 a week, or $71 a day.

You can change your weekly amount to jive with your needs. If your spending tends to be greater in the beginning of the month, allocate a little more during the first couple weeks, and a little less during the last couple weeks.

This takes out the granularity of budgeting, where you can only spend X on groceries, X on dining out, and so forth. Instead, by keeping this daily number in mind, you know you’re on track. Here’s the thing: you normally spend more during the weekend than during the workweek. (Just be sure to keep your online shopping in check.)

If you end up spending below this number on a regular basis, that’s more money at the end of each week or month to spend on whatever you’d like. Or if you have a spend-heavy beginning of the week, you can focus on scaling back for a few days to stick within your budget.

Those are some tactics to help you stay on top of your money. It takes a bit of thought, organization and setup. But once you’ve done the planning, your system will make it easier for you to keep your spending in check.

What’s a tactic you use to live within your means? Let us know in the comments!

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