Now that you’ve successfully created a budget, let’s talk about sticking to it. We tapped leading experts in financial management and behavioral change at Common Cents Lab for the best ways to help you stick to a budget. Here are their suggestions for helping you stay on track:

1. Time is on your side. Take advantage of the New Year’s resolution season. Brad Swain of Common Cents Lab says that tapping into the momentum of the new year, even a new week, is a great way to kickstart a new routine. It’s called the “fresh start phenomenon”. Get in the habit now. Then when your momentum wanes, you’ve built a habit you can keep.  

2. Talk to somebody. Talk about your money with someone (a friend, coach, or advisor) and share your intentions. If your goals are more visible, positive action is more likely to happen.

3. Try mental accounting. The behavioral experts at Common Cents Lab recommend a phenomenon known as mental accounting. Mental accounting is the tendency for humans to want to label objects in groups and then keep them there. When it comes to your money, it’s taking all your spending habits and breaking them into relevant buckets: mortgage = debt, restaurants = fun, etc. We can use this mental quirk to help you stick to your budget.

Once you make your budget, automate your bills, savings, and rent. For everything else, use cash. When you get paid, take out the cash you will need to stick to this week’s budget. Then, label an envelope for each of your budget categories (Coffee, lunch, gas etc) and put in the right amount of cash for each category.

4. Stay organized. Keeping things organized can keep you on track. Schedule time on your calendar to check in on progress towards your budget goals. Reviewing transactions in the web and mobile apps for your credit card and banking accounts can be a helpful exercise. 

Speaking of being organized, food is a big category where it’s easy to overspend. Make a grocery list, stick to it, and try not to overbuy. And never shop when you’re hungry! Plan your meals so you can cook more at home, bring lunch to work, and avoid eating out.

5. Always be automating. Automate as much as you can: the less you have to think about something, the easier it is to build the habit. Find ways to make automatic contributions to your 401k, debt payments, and more. The more it’s on autopilot, the easier it will be for you to stick to budgeting for them. It also makes it easier for you to know that any remaining dollars hitting your bank account are safe to spend. 

Find the right tools for automation. EarnUp can automate your loan payments, including mortgages, student loan payments and more. To trick yourself into saving more, the mobile app “Digit” can analyze your bank accounts and spending trends. It then takes out money you can safely put towards savings without affecting your day-to-day budget. To make your money do more work for you, Acorns automatically rounds up purchases and invests the change.

6. Keep it simple. Analyzing every line item of a budget can overwhelming. Prioritize what’s most important to you: getting out of debt, vacations, saving for a home, etc. Think about your top 3 financial goals and what you need to do to get closer to them. Use them to guide you in making  changes that will  get you closer to those goals. 

Don’t try to save money by doing a thousand little things. Rather, do one or two big things like renting out a room in your house or maxing your 401k contribution each year.

7. Patience is a virtue. Stick to your budget by protecting yourself from impulse buys. It’s easy to get trigger happy when online shopping. For anything that isn’t an urgent need, sleep on it. Decide how badly you really need it the next morning. 

According to a recent survey from, these frivolous purchases can be a major source of debt, especially for millennials. The study found that “those under the age of 35 were more likely to select dining out and clothes shopping as the main expenses contributing to their debt, which indicates that, compared to older generations, millennials might be more likely to overspend on things they could go without.”

8. Freeze. We get it. A lot of people have a messy relationship with budgeting. And desperate times can call for desperate measures. If your credit card has been getting heavy use, freeze it. Literally. Place it in a cup of water and put it in the freezer. By the time it thaws, you’ll have had enough time to think twice about something you were going to use it for.

Go into your online accounts and remove saved cards from your accounts. Don’t make it too easy to spend on things you don’t absolutely need.

Going on a cash diet can also make you more aware of where your dollars are going. Spending with good old fashioned paper can help you be hyper aware of where your money is going.

9. Keep your goals in check. Considering putting your money in accounts that aren’t easy to access. If you have specific savings goals, create a separate savings account for each of those goals, whether they are small or big. That way, when you’re tempted to dip into those accounts, you’ll see that a purchase today could be taking away from something you’re saving for tomorrow.

Setting goals also means having the right priorities. Evaluate the interest rates and term lengths of your different loans. Then calculate the total interest over the life of the loans. Consider if you will be in these loans for the full term and how accelerating payments on longer loans can shave off several years off its term, thus saving you on interest that you would have paid during those final years.

Pay attention to and set a goal for your credit score. Using a credit card (responsibly!) instead of a debit card can build credit. Good credit will help you get better interest rates and save you more money in the long run.

10. Most importantly, take it easy. You’re building new muscle memory, and it will take time. Making small steps forward is still heading in the right direction. A lot of little steps over time will make a big difference. Let the positive momentum keep you motivated. We at EarnUp are just an email or phone call away if you need that extra motivation. 😉


EarnUp blog content is for educational purposes only. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as financial advice. Please consult a financial adviser for advice specific to your financial situation. EarnUp makes no guarantees as to the accurateness, quality, or completeness of the information and EarnUp shall not be responsible or liable for any errors, omissions, inaccuracies in the information or for any user’s reliance on the information.