A budget. It’s the buzzword on every financial advice website, the cornerstone of good money management. Everyone knows what a budget is in theory, but putting one into practice is another story. When you have to look up how to stick to a budget or even how to make one, you likely have some financial woes you’re trying to resolve. You might find yourself struggling to keep up with the bills; you could have a lot of debt and find yourself only accumulating more. Or maybe you’re preparing for a big life decision, like getting married or having a baby, and you want to get your finances straight beforehand. Although there are literally thousands of articles, books, how-to guides, podcasts and videos about money management, you really only need a few solid tips to get started.

Why It’s So Hard to Save Money

We could look to a lot of things to pin the blame on our poor spending; capitalism, marketing, social media and innate human greed to name a few. The truth is that, in reality, many people who struggle to save money genuinely want to, but life keeps getting in the way. You have several hundred stowed away in the bank, but then your car breaks down and away it goes; your kid needs new shoes; there’s an emergency vet bill; the toilet clogs and your trusty plunger isn’t cutting it, so you have to call in a pro for a hefty fee.

All the little expenses we rack up just by being alive make it difficult for the average Joe or Jane to get ahead financially. Learning to balance the inevitable unexpected costs with a flexible budget can help offset the guilt and disappointment that comes when we don’t reach our goals. More freedom to save also means greater motivation; when a budget feels like a decision and not a punishment, you’re more likely to make it a priority.

Bring Down Debt

Debt is one of the biggest reasons people can’t save or get ahead financially. Even with a good job, student loans, housing costs, credit card bills and loans consume the majority of your income before it’s even in your pocket. Reducing your debt as much as possible is the first step toward saving more. There are a few ways you can begin to go about this:

  • Get your annual free credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
  • Work with a professional credit counselor
  • Explore options for loan forgiveness, deferment, refinancing and consolidation.

Through 2026, you can request up to six free credit reports from Equifax. This is in addition to the free one you’re already entitled to. Taking advantage of this will help you evaluate how your payments and new habits are improving your score, and you’ll be able to spot any errors and solve them fast. If you’re exploring refinancing, consider your auto loan before your house. It’s easier to adjust, and there is less at stake. Using an auto refinance calculator, you can enter your credit score and balance to review new loan options that last 60 or 72 months. You’ll have no obligation to accept a potential plan, but you can review the potential savings, lower interest rates and other details entirely for free.

Emergency Funding

An emergency fund is exactly what you need to avoid having your savings stolen by something like an unexpected bill or other expense. Even $500 can make a major difference between being stable and struggling to put food on the table one month. Deposit at least $25 a month into your emergency fund, and keep it separate from your checking or savings account. This will ensure you always have money tucked away when you need it, and you’ll still be able to stay on top of your regular savings, too.