Five Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Budget

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Budgeting is about more than just jotting down how much you need for major bills and spending the rest. A real budget can help you figure out your spending patterns and save for important life events while becoming more financially responsible. Here are five mistakes that anyone making a budget should avoid:

1. Not Including Enough Detail

There's more to a thorough budget than just housing, food and utilities. Dig deep into how much you spend and where you spend it. If you take cabs, have a gym membership or hit the dry cleaners, all those details should be included in your budget so you know where exactly your paycheck goes.

2. Not Leaving a Cushion

Emergencies happen, and nothing will destroy your budget more quickly than unexpected car maintenance or a medical bill. If your budget takes you down to your last cent each month, you're doing it wrong. Make sure you leave yourself a financial cushion. With luck you can funnel the extra money into savings, but if something unforeseen does happen, you won't be behind on your budget for months to come.

3. Not Paying Yourself First

When people hash out a budget, they often make a list of everyone they need to pay but themselves. The key to building savings is paying yourself first. By making sure that your savings deduction comes out of your paycheck first and is moved to an account that isn't easily accessed by ATM, you can ensure that you don't accidentally spend that money on something frivolous.

4. Not Making Adjustments

A budget is a living document, so it should shift as your life shifts. During the holidays, you may want to buy gifts for loved ones but also discover that you spend less for food since you spend time with family. Tweak your budget accordingly. Flexibility in your budget is important, but if you allow yourself more wiggle room in one area, you should decrease your spending in another.

5. Forgetting the Fun

One of the easiest ways to fall off the wagon is trying to be too disciplined. Make sure that you're still allowing yourself time and money to do the things you enjoy. Budgeting for drinks or a movie once a month can help you feel less restricted, and knowing that you've built in some rewards means that you're less likely to splurge indiscriminately.


There's no single way to create a successful budget. While you should be vigilant about your money, you should also try to come up with a budget that allows you to live your life while still having fun and reaching important goals.

Gillian W
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Professional writer and editor with 10+ years of experience. Specializations include writing about business, economics, and financial matters. I hold a BA in Economics and Political science from Columbia University and a Master's in Journalism from Northwestern.
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