3 steps to a successful budget

The whole idea of budgeting elicits an entire range of responses.  Some people live and die by the budget, tracking every tenth of a penny and not budging from their pre-set spending limits.  Others completely hate the idea of keeping a budget and feel it’s a waste of time.  I’ve been on both extremes and everywhere in between on my budgeting journey.  At the end, I realized there are 3 principles for a successful budget.  Read on and I will also tell you what specific budgeting software worked for me.

I did what most budgeting articles and software usually tell you to do.  I looked at my previous spending, set up some categories and estimated how much I “should” be spending.  The problem was that once I went over in a category (sometimes WAY over), I became disheartened and again thought budgeting wasn’t for me.  I went back to just charging what I needed, while telling myself in vague terms that I “shouldn’t” be spending this much on food.

After a few months of this, I tried a new system and found it actually worked!  It was a change in thinking from traditional budgeting.  I started using the software and things just came together and made sense.  Plus it didn’t feel like a chore to sit down and enter transactions or set up my spending categories.  After going on this budgeting journey, I narrowed down what I think are 3 essential steps to successful budgeting:

Find what system works for YOU.  There are so many different ways to budget out there.  Some people prefer old school methods like keeping a notebook and pen with you, or separating all of your cash into envelopes with different categories.  Others are a little more high tech and prefer an Excel spreadsheet or Quicken software.  Online budgeting through sites such as Mint or BudgetTracker are popular nowadays, as you can work through the cloud and upload your transactions easily.  The key is to find out which medium you think will work for you and just try it out.

Don’t get discouraged.  Budgeting at its best as an imperfect tool.  It requires you to set up different categories of spending and set limits based on your previous spending or estimated upcoming spending.  The fact that you are estimating how much you will spend invariably means you will get it wrong.  Family and friends come over, cars need maintenance and accidents happen.  It is important not to get discouraged if you deviate from your estimates because the fact is no one gets them exactly right.  A good budget will allow you to be flexible and adjust your limits as the situation changes.  I believe this is the main reason people quit budgeting.

Make it as automatic as possible.  The first few months of any budget will be a learning experience.  It will feel clunky and even frustrating at times, but it should become more and more intuitive.  Humans do best when our tasks are as automated as possible, and budgeting is no exception.  Finding a program that makes it easy to enter transactions and allows you to adjust your spending on the fly is essential to keep that budgeting energy flowing.

I finally did find a program that has these three essential characteristics and then some.  It has made budgeting really easy and intuitive.  I started about a month ago and have never looked back.  The program I prefer to use is YouNeedABudget, or YNAB.  The primary thing about YNAB I liked right off the bat is that it told you to forget your past spending and just worry about the present.  This avoids the hassle or poring through past credit card statements and feeling guilty about what you’ve spent.  It essentially represents a fresh start to your finances.

It is also very easy to manage your transactions on your computer and your smartphone.  This helps making things automatic, as you can just enter transactions on the go with your smartphone and not have to worry about receipts piling up.  Their website has very useful info to get started and  you can use the full software for a full month before purchasing.  After trying nearly every budgeting tool out there, this has really worked for me.

Please leave a comment below on your budgeting experiences and what works or doesn’t work for you.  Happy budgeting!



  1. Maribel says

    Hey Syed!

    This is one of your fellow optometrists 🙂

    I’m filling in at your office today and was told about your blog. There’s a lot of free time today so I’ve been reading all of your posts. I must say I love your blog so far!

    I personally use Mint in conjunction with Check (formerly Pageonce). I use these apps on my iPhone to keep track of my transactions and net worth. I agree that using the budgeting part of the app can be disheartening when you spend more than you should. I am going to check out YNAB and see if that may help even more.

    Thanks for all the info! I look forward to reading more of your posts!

    • Syed says

      Hey Dr Obenza! Glad to see a fellow optometrist reading my blog. Yeah I used Mint for a while but they never categorized my transactions properly so it was a hassle to keep going through that. I like YNAB because once you categorize something it uses that as the default. It’s also a lot easier to enter transactions on your phone. There is a fee to download and use it but it makes it so easy to see where my money is going and where I need to cut back. They give a month free trial so doesnt hurt to try.

      Thanks again for following my blog and tell other OD’s that you know I think some may find it useful.

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