Financial strain is a major stressor for Americans—nearly half are concerned about simply paying the bills and covering basic necessities.  Despite these concerns, the majority of Americans aren’t maintaining a household budget. Only two out of five use a budget to take control of their finances.  Earlier this month, Credit.com conducted a survey to find out why.
The survey asked Americans of all ages and genders their biggest reason for not creating a budget. The goal was to identify where people struggle and where financial education lacks. The results provide a glimpse into the minds of Americans and reveal their biggest reservations about budgeting.
What’s the biggest reason you don’t create a budget?
- I don’t think I need one 27%
- I never stick to one 24%
- I don’t feel like making one 20%
- I don’t like to feel restricted 11%
- I don’t know how 11%
- I’m afraid to check my bank account 7%
- Men are 1.2x as likely to say they don’t feel like creating a budget.
- Women are 1.3x as likely to say they never stick to a budget.
For women, having trouble sticking to a budget may not indicate a lack of willpower, but rather a lack of financial cushion. In 2017, a study about how Americans are dealing with the aftershock of the Great Recession found that 56% of women live paycheck to paycheck versus 41% of men. 
A similar contrast exists among the generations. The biggest reason millennials say they don’t create a budget is that they never stick to one. This is unsurprising considering they are more likely to have entry-level positions and make less money than older age groups. Generation X and Baby Boomers mainly feel they don’t need to make budgets.
Ways to Make a Budget Work for You
There’s no one-type-fits-all budget. If you’ve ever tried to create a budget and failed, maybe it wasn’t the right one for you. Whatever your reason for not budgeting, try some of these methods to find one that works for you.
Perform a Financial Checkup
If you’re overwhelmed by the whole budgeting thing, start with some budgeting for beginners advice, and use this worksheet to review your expenses over the last six months. This will help you find patterns in your spending and develop a realistic budget based on your lifestyle. If pen and paper isn’t your thing, use an app that analyzes and categorizes your spending like Mint, Clarity Money or Albert.
Track Expenses as You Go
If you have trouble sticking to a budget, challenge yourself to use an expense tracking worksheet and write down all the purchases you make in a week or month. It may seem tedious, but it will give you a better picture of where your money’s going. There’s something to be said about the act of physically writing something down. If you’re worried about keeping track of a piece of paper, you can also do this in a notes app or spreadsheet.
11% of survey respondents say that they don’t budget because they don’t like feeling restricted. If detailed budgeting doesn’t work for you, get creative with it. A planner or bullet journal system may be just what you need. Creating pages in your journal for things like expense trackers, debt trackers and bill reminders will keep you accountable. Plus, you can turn budgeting into an enjoyable activity with printable stickers. Create a one-of-a-kind system and embellish it to your heart’s content!
If you don’t have the time to make a detailed budget—or you just don’t feel like it—use this spreadsheet to create a basic 50/30/20 budget overview. A 50/30/20 budget is a quick way to categorize your finances into three buckets. The rule suggests that no more than 50% of your income after taxes should go to fixed expenses, no more than 30% toward discretionary spending and 20% should be saved.
After you input your monthly income, the spreadsheet generates estimates for how much you can spend in each category according to the 50/30/20 rule. You can adjust your individual budget from there. But the beauty of the spreadsheet is that the bulk of the work is done for you!
Stick to Cash
If you’re in debt, checking your bank account can be an unpleasant experience. But it’s especially important to stay on top of your finances for that very reason. A cash-based budget, like the envelope budgeting system, uses cold hard cash to control your spending. Create an envelope for each category of your budget, then fill each one with the amount you’ve alloted to that category. No more surprises!
If you’d like to use some of the budgeting tools mentioned above, click the “Download All” button to download PDF versions that you can print and use at home.
Learning how to manage your money is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It’s never too late to take a look at your budget and make the changes you want. Paying down debt, saving for a rainy day and improving your credit score are all possible when you take control of your finances.
Survey Methodology: This study was conducted by Credit.com in January 2019 using Google Surveys. The sample consisted of one question as follows: “What is the biggest reason you wouldn’t create a budget?” The survey received no less than 1,000 completed responses. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population.
1 U.S. Bank 2016 Possibility Index
2 GOBankingRates Survey Finds Great Recession Aftershocks Are Still Rattling Americans