Wanting to get your spending streamlined but feel like that’s just completely overwhelming? With all of the books out there on budgeting, complicated financial plans, tips, tricks, and strategies it can feel like managing your money is time consuming and quite frankly, and exercise in futility. You put in the effort but unexpected bills come up and your budget goes off track.

So here are a couple of simple strategies you can put in place today that will have a big payoff for the future.

Plan for the long term

Take 5-10 minutes and list out all of the bills that come quarterly, every six months, or annually. Expenses like rates, electricity, water, car registration, drivers licence renewals, school fees etc. Go through your bank transactions if you can’t remember the amounts for these, and create an annual total for all of these expenses, and then add 10-20% on to this. This extra amount is your buffer, in case a bill is higher than expected so you have a little wiggle room.

When you have your annual total, divide this by 52, and you have a weekly amount you can work with. If it’s possible, set up a linked online account just for online bills (these are generally free with many banks). Then set up a weekly automatic transfer from your everyday account to your long term bill account, and you’ll never be left scrambling when your rego invoice arrives again.

You might need to check which bills are expected to come in the next few months, and make sure you’ve allocated extra to cover this until the balance has built up enough. If any bills come that you hadn’t planned for, you can draw from that 10-20% buffer cash, but make sure you add this new expense to your budget and amend the automatic transfer amount accordingly for the future.

Plan for the unexpected

It can also be a good idea so have an emergency fund set aside in case of unexpected bills like medical expenses, flights, or opportunities coming up that you just can’t miss. If you don’t have any savings, setting up another automatic transfer for this purpose is a good idea, and once you’ve hit a balance you feel comfortable with you can stop these, and divert that cash towards another savings goal or bump up your disposable income budget.

Expense checkup

Take a quick look at your bank transactions for the last month. Are there any subscriptions you are paying for that you don’t really use anymore? When’s the last time you checked you were getting the best price on your phone plan, internet, insurance etc. How much are you spending of coffee, eating out, entertainment, booze, or convenience items? This is not to say that you can’t spend money on things that you enjoy, it’s about being conscious about where you money is going. Knowing how much disposable (guilt free spending) income you have, and then making a choice about how you spend it.

For example, maybe you love cooking and have your eye on a course of cooking classes, but can’t justify the $100 cost. If you look at your actual real life spending habits you can see that you bought a lattes from the cafe near your work every morning, at $3.50 each. You got Uber Eats once a week on a Friday which (including delivery) cost you around $15 more than if you’d prepared the meal from scratch yourself. You also got a $10 late fee on a bill because you’d missed the cutoff date. Let’s add that up – the average month is costing you $140-$150.

Conscious spending means having a set amount of spending money that you decide on, and then maximising it. Making your coffee at home and bringing it in a keep cup. Putting something in the slow cooker on a Friday when you know you’ll be tired and won’t want to cook. Paying bills as soon as they come, or straight away scheduling the payment to come out just before the due date. All of these small things add up and you’ll be cooking up a storm in no time!

Easy tiger

The perfectionists among us may look at the above example and think, well instead of spending money on that cooking class you could just save it instead! Now this is where we are wandering into dangerous territory. Studies have show that depriving yourself, or more specifically feeling like you are deprived, backfires big time when it comes to budgets. Being too restrictive with spending can have the opposite effect, and have you blowing your budget faster than you knew was possible. Can’t spend money? Suddenly you’re dropping cash on things you didn’t even know you wanted.

Spend your way

So how to trick your brain into feeling like you aren’t deprived, while actually staying on budget? That’s where guilt free spending comes in. Having an amount you feel comfortable with, that you can blow on anything you want. Maybe that IS coffee, and nothing brings you greater joy that a really good espresso. That’s fine! Whatever your thing is, indulge it. You’ll be far more likely to stay on budget long term and achieve those savings goals you really want than if you’re trying to live like a scrooge. Plus, life will be a lot more fun while you’re kicking those financial goals.