Is stepping outside the budget like breaking a diet? Can it be a good thing sometimes, allowing you relief from the strictness and motivating you to get back on track once you've enjoyed the break?
With dieting, the theory is that eating an occasional treat not strictly allowed by the diet will help get rid of the cravings and even help the dieter stick to the diet the rest of the time. Similarly, it may help those on a tight budget to occasionally have the ability to splurge on something they want to have. After making the purchase, you can go back on your budget with renewed intent.
Here are some ways to make a budget work for your financial goals even with occasional "cheating."
First, make sure your budget is realistic and workable given your income and necessary expenses. A too-tight budget is often to blame when you continually feel deprived or that you need to buy some things you really, really want to have -- even when you know they are not in your spending plan.
Leave room in the budget for fun money for each person in the family. Whether it's $10 or $50 a month, a bit of extra spending money to be done with as you please can make all the difference to feeling constrained by your budget or in charge of your money.
Build an emergency fund. A few thousand dollars in the bank is a good start to a rainy day fund in case of emergencies such as job loss, broken vehicles and the like.
Keep a slush fund for unforeseen extras, or for things like birthday presents and wedding gifts.
When you step outside the budget, do it with something little such as a dinner out or a new shirt, not a financed car or new television. Big ticket items really do need to be budgeted or important things such as the mortgage or rent, utilities or debt payments will have to go unpaid.
Keep receipts for making returns -- sometimes, just shopping, and buying something nice, is enough to feel better and you may want to return the item to get the money back and get back on track with your budget.
Be honest about breaking your budget with your spouse or accountability partner. Open communication about your expenses and income is crucial for healthy domestic relationships.
You can see how stepping outside a budget is a bit like breaking a diet -- it's a small transgression that will not make a huge difference if done in moderation and very occasionally.