Family & Education

Secrets of Successful Budgeting

TIMEDecember 21, 2021

Years ago, I was a guest on “The Maury Povich Show,” something I’ve never been that proud of. Back then, the show was kind of raunchy, and I just now realized that, about 20 years later, Maury is still at it.

I remember a few things about the show, such as what I wore (what was I thinking?) and the nice production staff. Maury was very kind, too.

I also recall something Maury told me in response to the fact that I was there to talk about my book, “Debt-Proof Living,” and would be telling my story and talking about my journey out of credit card debt (he seemed genuinely relieved to be talking about something other than the typical show topics).

Maury said that people are far more willing to come on the show to talk about sex, infidelity, and all kinds of scurrilous and shocking behavior than to talk about money and debt. His typical guests are anxious to own up to the most outlandish and shocking kinds of lifestyles and behaviors. But their financial problems? No way. People will talk about anything but money.

I’m not going to ask you to talk about your financial situation on national television, but I do have this money-related question: Do you budget your income? If you said no, you may be surprised to learn that you are in the clear majority in this country. According to Gallup polls, 66 percent of Americans don’t have a budget and just 32 percent of Americans prepare a detailed written or computerized budget each month. If only the 66 percent knew how getting on a budget (or as I prefer to call it, a spending plan) would change their lives.

One of the best things you can do to stay on track with money, even if you are not where you want to be and don’t know how to get started, is to create a plan for how you will spend your money before you spend it. That’s all a budget is: a rehearsal where you “pre-spend” your paycheck on paper before you part with even $1 of it. A budget where you create your own categories, “pre-spend” every dollar in every paycheck by assigning it a job to do, and then follow carefully where the money goes is a budget that will push you to develop new habits and routines. In no time, those changes will become your new normal.

What I call the envelope method is old-fashioned, but it’s a super simple way to manage a budget that really works well. Withdraw the cash assigned to your day-to-day spending on food, gasoline, clothing—those expenses you do not pay through the mail. Yes, cash. Get some envelopes and label them accordingly.

Divide the cash between the envelopes, placing the money assigned to groceries into the envelope marked “Groceries,” gasoline into the one marked “Gas,” and so on. Spend from these envelopes, not a debit card, credit card, or checkbook.

See what I mean by this method being “old-fashioned?” Unlike your plastic, you cannot overspend with this method. When that envelope labeled “Food” or “Groceries” is empty, no more spending until it gets a refill next payday.

Whatever method you choose or create, if you stick to it, it will keep you on track for successful budgeting.

Mary Hunt
Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.” Mary invites you to visit her at her website, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Copyright 2021