It’s OK not to follow a budget, says a financial therapist

While a budget can help you control your spending and avoid debt, only a minority of people actually stick to a regularly updated budget.

In fact, 73% of Americans say they do not regularly follow a budget, according to a recent survey by OppLoans, a lending service company. What’s more, 1 in 10 respondents say they do not keep any kind of budget at all. OppsLoans surveyed 1,015 people across the United States earlier this year.

But it’s okay, says Aja Evans, a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in financial therapy.

“Do you need to track every single dollar that comes in and out? Absolutely not,” Evans says. “A budget is to make sure you have a plan or understand where your money is going.”

In addition to the hassle of tracking expenses, it is “psychologically difficult for people to stick to a budget” as they tend to associate them with self-denial, Evans says. But a budget is not just about constraints, she says. It can also help you prioritize things you enjoy, like eating out or going on vacation.

People often think, “if I do not keep a budget or I am not good at following the budget, there is something wrong with me,” says Nathan Astle, a licensed financial therapist and founder of Relational Money. “Shame is the enemy of change,” he says, as these negative emotions can deter people from completely budgeting.

For most people, it’s fine not to stick to a tight budget. But “if you have no idea where your money is going and you run out of money in the middle of the month, then yes, maybe it’s time to make a budget,” Evans says.

Find a budget that works best for you

There are all sorts of approaches to budgeting, but the most effective method will be the one that works best for you, Evans says.

A budget can be as simple as writing down your income and expenses on a piece of paper, as she does. Or it could be an 80/20 budget or a 50/20/20 budget tracked in a spreadsheet, or by using budgeting apps like Mint or Goodbudget. The most important thing is that you find a method that you can do consistently.

And if you can not find the time to do it every month, do not stress too much about it, Evans says. This is especially true if you have a discretionary income, your debt is being paid, and your expenses are fixed and stable. Just getting to it a few months is better than not at all.

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