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10 Common Budgeting Mistakes (and How You Can Fix Them)
Money Management

10 Common Budgeting Mistakes (and How You Can Fix Them)

Budgeting is an important tool for managing your finances, and everyone needs it. It can serve as a guiding light to help you maintain financial stability, grow your savings, live within your means, and avoid debt. 

However, just like any well-intentioned plan, it's not uncommon for budgeting to hit a few bumps along the way. People often embark on budgeting with the best intentions, only to struggle with sticking to it or encountering unexpected financial challenges—most of them avoidable. 

This article will explore ten of the most common budgeting mistakes and what you can do to fix them. 

Read Also: How to Plan and Create Your 2023 Annual Budget

1. Setting Unrealistic Budgeting Goals

While it's essential to set goals, cut expenses, and track your progress to achieve your objectives, aiming too high or being overly optimistic when creating a budget can have negative effects. 

Unrealistic budgeting goals can hinder your budgeting journey, and lead to frustration or disappointment when you continuously fall short of your targets. Attempting to achieve unattainable goals can lead to financial and emotional strain, which can, in turn, discourage you from continuing to budget effectively. 

For instance, imagine you set a goal to save 30% of your monthly income, up from 10%, to buy a new car within a year. It's highly improbable that you can suddenly increase your savings to 30% without making significant lifestyle sacrifices. The gap between your goal and reality may cause you to feel demotivated and ultimately abandon budgeting altogether.

The Fix

To rectify this problem, set achievable budgeting goals. Start by assessing your current financial situation, including income, expenses, and debt. From there, create realistic objectives that align with your financial capabilities.

Another strategy is to break down larger financial goals into smaller, manageable milestones.  For instance, if you're saving 10% of your income, aim to gradually increase it to 15% in the next few months instead of targeting 30%.

2. Not Having a Wiggle Room

Not having wiggle room in your budget means that you allocate every shilling of your income to specific expenses or savings, leaving no room for unexpected or irregular costs. 

This can be problematic as life is unpredictable, and unexpected expenses can arise, such as an increase in the costs of products, which can affect your whole budgeting plan.

Without a buffer, you may be forced to dip into savings, rely on emergency loans, or even miss bill payments when these unforeseen costs occur.

The Fix

To ensure you have the funds to cover any unexpected expenses you incur each month, consider allocating a modest sum as a financial cushion within your budget calculations to provide a buffer. 

For instance, you can budget a specific amount, like Ksh2,000, each month for unexpected costs. If you happen not to use this money, you can either let it carry over into the next month or transfer it to your emergency fund.

3. Not Recording and Tracking Expenses

When you don’t record and track your expenses, you are essentially budgeting in the dark. This mistake can prevent you from budgeting effectively, as budgeting is about tracking expenses. 

Without an accurate picture of where your money is going, you risk overspending, neglecting necessary bills, and being unprepared for unexpected expenses. It can lead to financial stress and hinder your ability to save, invest, or pay off debt effectively.

The Fix

To fix this budgeting mistake: 

  • Establish a system for recording and tracking your expenses. Start by creating a simple spreadsheet, using budgeting apps, or keeping physical receipts. 
  • Categorize your expenses into fixed (e.g., rent, utilities, mortgage) and variable (e.g., groceries, entertainment) and use budgeting rules such as the 50/30/20 rule
  • Regularly review your budget to understand your spending patterns, identify areas where you can cut costs, and make necessary adjustments to your budget.

4. Saving Too Much Too Fast

While saving is essential for financial security and achieving your long-term objectives, doing it too aggressively can have unintended consequences. To succeed at budgeting, you should balance saving and spending.

When you save too much too quickly, it often means you're allocating a substantial portion of your income to savings or investments while minimizing your spending on essential needs and discretionary expenses. 

This may lead to a lower quality of life as you cut back on things that bring you joy or essential items like groceries or healthcare costs. This sacrifice can lead to frustration and burnout, making it harder to stick to your budget in the long run. You might constantly find yourself withdrawing from your savings and mixing your savings and spending.

The Fix

Start by setting realistic savings goals that align with your income and reflect your lifestyle. Avoid the temptation to save an overly ambitious percentage of your income if it means sacrificing your essential quality of life and mixing your finances.

Instead, consider a more gradual approach to saving, increasing your income to save more. This will allow you to live below your means and maintain a savings rate that accommodates your financial needs and lifestyle.

5. Not Accounting For All Your Income

Failing to account for all your income means you're not considering all sources of money that come into your household. This mistake can have a domino effect on your budget, as it may lead to an inaccurate understanding of your financial situation. It can hinder your budgeting by causing you to underestimate your available resources, potentially leading to overspending or missing out on savings opportunities.

For example, say you have a side gig, occasional freelance work, or irregular bonuses you don’t include in your budget. This unaccounted income can lead to budget shortfalls, as you may rely solely on your primary salary to cover expenses. Or, any extra money you make might be spent on unplanned expenses.

The Fix

First, create a comprehensive list of all your income sources. This should include not only your primary job but also any additional sources like part-time work, freelance income, rental income, bonuses, or any recurring financial assistance you receive. 

Next, categorize your income sources into fixed and variable categories. Fixed income sources are those that you can reliably expect each month, such as your primary job. Variable income sources, on the other hand, can fluctuate and may not be consistent month-to-month. 

Once you have a complete overview of your income, you can update your budget to reflect the full picture. This allows you to allocate your money more accurately and make informed decisions about savings, expenses, and financial goals.

Read Also: Tips for Living on a Tight Budget, Like a Pro

6. Saving What's Left After Spending 

Saving what's left after spending can result in sporadic, inconsistent, or even non-existent savings. This mistake typically means that you're not prioritizing savings in your budget. Instead, you're treating it as an afterthought, which can lead to overspending, financial instability, and difficulties in reaching your financial goals.

If unexpected expenses or impulse purchases occur during the month, there may be little or nothing left to save. This approach can affect your ability to build an emergency fund, invest, or pay off debt systematically.

The Fix

You need to prioritize savings as a non-negotiable expense, similar to paying your rent or buying food. Rather than saving what's left after spending, aim to pay yourself first. This means allocating a specific portion of your income towards savings as soon as you receive it before you start spending on other items.

But do not stop there. Consider automating your savings by setting up automatic transfers to a savings account or investment vehicle. 

7. Borrowing from Your Savings or Taking a Loan When You're Short

Every once in a while, you might run a budget deficit. When that happens, do you borrow from your savings or take a loan? 

Both of these are budgeting mistakes that can affect your overall finances. While they may provide a temporary solution, repeatedly borrowing from your savings can diminish its purpose and prevent you from reaching your savings goals. On the other hand, relying on loans will leave you in debt with interest to pay on top of the initial expense.

The Fix 

You need to establish a clear distinction between expenses, savings, and credit. This will help you avoid a situation when you have to dig into your savings or take a loan to cover a budget deficit. Consider: 

  • Having a wiggle room in your budget, as discussed above.
  • Creating an emergency fund that is easily accessible for unexpected expenses. A common guideline is to have three to six months' worth of living expenses set aside in this fund. 
  • Making temporary adjustments to your budget and to make up for the deficit. For example, you can cut back on discretionary spending. 
  • Fixing the underlying bad spending habits causing the budget deficit.
  • Replenishing your emergency funds ASAP if you have used them.

8. Not Reviewing and Updating Your Budget

Not reviewing and updating your budget leaves your financial plan stagnant and disconnected from your current financial reality. 

Life is dynamic, and your financial situation can change due to various factors, such as income fluctuations, unexpected expenses, or shifting priorities. Without regular updates, your budget may not accurately reflect your financial status, making it challenging to stay on track and achieve your goals.

Reviewing can also help you identify areas where you may be overspending or underutilizing resources. For instance, if you notice that your discretionary spending on dining out has increased significantly, you can cut back on this category to align with your overall budgeting goals.

The Fix

First, you need to establish a routine for reviewing and updating your budget. This can be monthly or quarterly, depending on your preference and the complexity of your financial situation.

Second, review and update your budget after every significant life event. Consider changes in your income, expenses, and any unexpected costs that have arisen. If your financial situation has evolved, adjust your budget accordingly to reflect these changes.

9. Overlooking The Small One-time Expenses 

Overlooking small one-time expenses may seem inconsequential, but it can have a significant impact on your budget.

First, it underestimates the cumulative effect of these costs on your overall financial picture. While individual expenses may be minor, they can add up over time, impacting your budgeting and potentially causing deficits and overspending. 

Small expenses are often irregular and can disrupt your budget when they occur unexpectedly. When they become regular occurrences, they can erode your budget, making it challenging to allocate funds towards savings, investments, or debt reduction.

The Fix 

Start by tracking all your expenses, regardless of their size, to get a comprehensive view of your spending patterns. Next, establish a "discretionary spending limit." This limit is a predetermined amount of money you allocate to small one-time expenses each month. 

Another strategy is to be smart in how you spend money. That includes planning all your purchases, shopping with lists, and avoiding impulse spending. 

10. Ignoring Your Budget Mid-Month

Budgets serve as financial roadmaps, helping you manage your money effectively and work toward your goals. When you neglect your budget midway through the month, you may lose track of your spending and jeopardize your financial stability.

Budgeting is a skill and habit that requires time to develop. If you are just getting started, you need to push yourself and be disciplined. Otherwise, you will struggle to meet your goals whether that is preventing overspending or saving more money. 

The Fix

Right from the start, you need to choose a budget rule that works for you. The budgeting style you pick should align with your goals. For example, if you want to reduce debt, you can try the 70/20/10 budgeting rule

Next, be honest about how much you make, spend, save, and use for debt repayment. For your budget to work, you need to factor in everything. 

Finally, have something that motivates you to stick to your budget. If you don't have a reason to stick to a budget, it’s really easy to give up or neglect it midway. For example, your reason for budgeting could be to lower your debts.

Read Also: Budgeting 101: What to Include In Your Budget 


Taking control of your spending and learning to stick to a budget is a process that requires both time and patience. Along the way, there might be mistakes, missteps, and challenges. Rather than throwing in the towel at the first sign of a budgeting setback, consider these setbacks as valuable learning opportunities. 

Every budgeting mistake offers a chance to grow, adapt, and refine your budgeting strategies. Don't be discouraged by setbacks; instead, use them as stepping stones to further your financial resilience. 

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Farah Nurow is an experienced Content Writer who enjoys writing creative and educative articles meant to provoke readers' thoughts. He loves sunny weather and thick books. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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