Budgeting Is Like Dieting: A Long, Twisty Road to Success

fresh apple and dumbbells tied...
Budgeting is a hard financial habit to start and maintain. It's like a following a diet: We typically know what to do to maintain a healthy lifestyle -- eat right and exercise -- but that doesn't mean it's easy for most of us.

So yes, we know that we should budget each month, track our income, and track our expenses down to the last penny. Every dollar should have a job assigned to it. But we don't budget, or only budget halfheartedly, with plenty of bouts of backsliding.

Here are a few other ways that your budget will remind you of your diet -- and a few ways to take back control over it.

Commitment on All Aspects Will Generate the Best Results

Many studies, like one from the National Institutes of Health, show that dieting and exercise together are the best recipe for a healthy lifestyle and for keeping off excess weight. Having one without the other limits the benefits that you can enjoy.

Budgeting is a lot like dieting in that respect. If you attempt it halfheartedly, you will only see marginal success. You have to go for it full force to see the best benefits.

There is also a danger of sliding back into your old habits once you see a little bit of initial success. Forming new habits takes time. There will be days where you backslide a bit financially. And that's OK. You have to get right back up and continue to tackle it.

Avoid the Backslide

I've been monitoring my calories for months now, and religiously using my Fitbit. But potato chips are my kryptonite. Every time I pass by that aisle in the grocery store, it is a fight of willpower. I see myself quickly backsliding into my old habit of demolishing an entire bag in one sitting.

Temptation can trip up your budgeting as well. Do you have a friend who has a spending problem? Is she always asking you to go to the mall with her? While you may not want to disassociate from someone just to keep your own spending under control, you have to know your own triggers -- the people and places that are likely to lead you financially astray.

For those of you who have already seen a bit of success from properly managing your family's monthly budget, good work! But, are you still tracking all of your expenses by category? Are you reviewing your actual spending at the end of each month against your projections? Are you rigorously using the envelope system? These skills and new habits have led you in the right direction. Now's not the time to take your foot off the pedal.

Maintain Your Enthusiasm

"One of the most difficult aspects of [budgeting] is maintaining your enthusiasm after the initial novelty wears off," says JJ Montanaro, a certified financial planner with USAA. "To help, I think it can be helpful to implement a system so that you're just following steps instead of trying to do it on your own."

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%It's a proud feeling when you accomplish a goal or reach an intermediate step. Do you remember how incredible it felt to pay off one of your credit cards? You have to keep up that momentum.

It is too easy to let complacency creep in after you have seen a little bit of success, but the wiser move it to take the opposite approach: Pick up the pace, set tougher goals, and you'll renew your vigor to continue striving for them.

There will be months when you'll struggle with overspending. You'll come to realize exactly what your personal fiscal kryptonite is. And you'll start to recognize the unhealthy patterns of behavior and relationships that have made you overspend in the past -- so you can avoid getting tripped up by them in the future.

Do you find that budgeting like dieting? Have you fallen off the wagon before with your budget? How did you get back up on the horse again?

Hank Coleman is a financial planner and the publisher of the popular personal finance blogMoney Q&A, where he answers readers' tough money questions. Follow him on Twitter@MoneyQandA.

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Budgeting Is Like Dieting: A Long, Twisty Road to Success
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