How to Build a Realistic Budget and Stick with it

Christi Powell |

At the core of any successful financial enterprise, be it a household or a business, is a sound and effective budget plan that is used to drive all cash flow decisions, large and small, on a daily basis. Businesses have profit goals, and families have savings goals, both of which require budgeting and cash flow management to meet them consistently.  Using the tools that are available to you online and in software packages will give you the ability to budget like a pro and manage your surpluses to increase your savings.

Keys to Budgeting Success

Establish Spending Priorities

Establish a clear spending goal for each of your priorities. If your cash flow is limited, target your top priority first. (i.e., to save $500 a month towards a $10,000 emergency fund). With the remaining cash flow, itemize all expenditures in two main categories – Essential and Non-essential. Begin with essentials such as mortgage/rent, taxes, food, transportation, personal need, debt. Then allocate the balance of your cash flow among non-essential items, such as dining out, leisure activities, household items, clothing, etc

Pay Yourself First

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard this key budgeting tenet many times; that’s because it is fundamental to the successful cash flow management, and it works. Many people lack the discipline to save what’s left at the end of the month; so, by depositing a committed amount to your savings as your very first expenditure each month, you are assured of having enough for savings each month. All other expenditures should be budgeted around it.

Strike a Balance

If you also have a debt reduction goal, then a portion of that could go towards paying off debt, but never at the expense of your savings. This would be over and above your regular monthly debt payments. Find a balance between the two and divide your payment to yourself between the two. (i.e., 60% to savings and 40% to debt reduction). The important thing is to maintain the balance and stick with it each month.

Manage Your Savings

Once you have accumulated enough savings to meet your short term goals, such as building an emergency fund, you can begin to allocate additional savings to longer term accounts that offer better rates of return.  Once you begin to meet or exceed your savings goals, you will be further motivated to stick with your budget plan

Stick with the Plan

The key to successful budgeting is maintaining the discipline to keep your expenses in line. The best approach is to strive to live below your budget each month; however, if you exceed a planned expenditure one month, you need to find another one to cut, this month, but you need to avoid cutting your savings expenditure.

Managing Your Budget like a Pro

For about the cost of lunch for two (it’s probably in your budget), you can link all of your online banking, credit card accounts and savings accounts to a computerized budgeting program that will download all of their financial data and organize it into a budget and a cash flow spreadsheet. Once it is all set up, most of your daily entries and financial transactions are recorded directly from your online accounts, saving you a lot of time, and ensuring greater accuracy. is a free website with all of the capabilities for real time personal financial management.


In practice, a budget is at the core of any successful enterprise – both business and personal; however it is the ability to strictly adhere to it that makes it effective. Budgets that are unrealistic or too difficult to manage are quickly swapped out for good intentions. However, budgets or spending plans that reflect your reality while providing a realistic path to improving your cash flow, can not only be motivating, they can be liberating, freeing you from having to make difficult choices. How? Because your budget decides for you

*This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information provided is not written or intended as tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for purposes of avoiding any Federal tax penalties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel. Individuals involved in the estate planning process should work with an estate planning team, including their own personal legal or tax counsel. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a representation by us of a specific investment or the purchase or sale of any securities. Asset allocation and diversification do not ensure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets. This material was developed and produced by Advisor Websites to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. Copyright 2022 Advisor Websites.