How to balance your zero-based budget

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The key to using a zero-based budget is to make sure that you assign every dollar of incoming money a job. That might be rent, groceries, bills (jobs where the money get spent during the month), and it might be building your Emergency Fund, saving for Christmas, sinking funds for pet care (jobs where the money gets saved). Whatever the expense is though, you want to assign a job to every single dollar, until there are zero left.

If only life were always so easy!

There will be times, especially when you are first starting on this budget journey, that you run out of money before you’ve covered all of your expenses. You will subtract all of your payments and planned costs from your income and bam! A negative number on the calculator.

I get a pit in my stomach just thinking about it. But guess what, friends? THIS IS WHY YOU ARE HERE.

With some creative budget trimming, maybe a bit more income, and definitely some hard work – you can fix this! Let’s look at HOW.

If you don’t have enough income to cover your expenses, it is either a spending issue or an income issue. Let’s look at both.

Spending Too Much?

First, make sure all of your expenses are mandatory. Just because you wrote down that you are going to spend $200 on a new jacket, or a spa day, or some new tool that will make changing the tires SO much easier, doesn’t mean you HAVE the money to spend. If you come up in the negative, these types of expenses are the first place to make some cuts.

Next, look for anywhere you can trim your budget. Call your utilities, cell-phone provider, the cable company. Try to get better rates or new, cheaper plans. We saved at least $100 a month when we did this. My husband treated ‘cheaper plans’ like it was his JOB. Even if you can only get a discount for a year; that gives you the room to breathe and start making progress, and when the year is up you can renegotiate for an even better deal.

Even if you only carve $5 off your cell-phone bill…it doesn’t sound like much, but every single dollar adds up! Those five dollar cuts to the budget are how you start to get traction and make progress in your quest for debt-free living!

Some other budget lines to trim down:


Just because you usually spend $1500/month to feed your family doesn’t mean you HAVE to. I feed our family of 3 on $800/month, including all of the random extra cleaning/household/healthcare items I buy at the grocery store. Yes, we would like to eat prime rib every weekend. No, we cannot justify that in our budget! Try to find ways to cut back at the grocery store, and your budget will thank you!

Eating Out

Yep. It is easier to hit up a drive-thru or stop into your local pub for dinner. I love a good meal out as much as the next gal. But if you are grabbing coffee/lunch/dinner on the daily, you might want to rethink your financial priorities. This is a pretty easy way to cut back and save some money to get your budget balanced. Make it easier on yourself: a meal plan, a comprehensive grocery list and a bit of prep and planning can make ditching the restaurant life way easier!


It used to be incredibly easy for us to drop several hundred dollars on the weekends, going to movies, to the pool with our little, out for dinner with friends. And I don’t want to be a buzz kill and tell you that those outings need to stop, but you can find cheaper alternatives to expensive date-nights and family outings that are easier on your budget and just as much fun! Try an at-home game night with friends where everyone brings a snack to share. Or plan to watch a movie with homemade popcorn and treats on the couch. Spending time together does not have to break the bank!

Health & Beauty type stuff

I don’t want to go down a rabbit hole here, but hair cuts, weekly mani/pedis, new clothes arriving by mail or shopping bag. These expenses all add up. Decide which expenses matter the most, and cut back on the rest.

I’m not saying you have to cut out all joy. There has to be room for fun and some level of frivolity, even on a budget. You just have to be intentional about it and make some priorities in how you spend your money!

Bringing In Too Little?

If you have cut and reduced everything that you can, and you are still not at zero, then you need to increase your income.

I am not naive enough to think that it’s as simple as “oh I’d like to make more money now please!”. When we were in our year of hustle, my husband worked as much overtime as he possibly could, and I sold as many old clothes/toys/household stuff junk as I could.

A few quick ways to make more money:

  • pick up extra shifts at work
  • get a job delivering pizzas or start driving for UberEats
  • sell things from around your home that you don’t need or use
  • start a lawn cutting/dog walking/babysitting/house painting business

Do whatever you need to do to bring in enough money to cover your expenses, and give every single dollar a job. By cutting your costs and upping your income, you should be able to get your balance to zero.

High-fives all around. You are working hard on your zero-based budget, and I know you have made some sacrifices along the way.

Reaching for more is not easy. But it is WORTH IT!

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