5 reasons a budget doesn't work for you, mama—and how to fix them

By Joy Liu

A lot of my clients start the financial training process with thinking that their money troubles are solely based on their lack of self-control and sticking to their budget. While we can all do a better job at managing our spending habits, there may be other macro problems that are preventing us from getting ahead, financially.

Here are five things that could be holding you back, mama, and how to fix them.

1. Goals aren't well-defined

Sometimes, we get so caught up in the hamster wheel of life, we forget to ask ourselves what all of this hard work is even for. When you're so busy reacting to the needs and demands of others, then of course, it would be hard to refuse the extra glass of wine at dinner, click "purchase" on Amazon, and order take out for dinner.

You're much more likely to change your day-to-day habits when you have a specific goal that represents something you truly want for yourself.

Below are some examples of goals that I hear from clients. Guess who is reaching their goals faster? The ones with goals they feel obligated to have? Or the ones that match their personal values and desires?

Non-specific financial goals:

  • Be a real adult
  • Save more money
  • Pay off credit card debt
  • Pay off student loans
  • Max out retirement

Motivating financial goals:

  • Save a $10,000 emergency fund so you have the freedom to leave a job you hate
  • Save $1,000 a month into your "Move Out Fund" so you can leave your parent's house and know you can afford to pay rent on your own
  • Save $5,000 so you can take 6 months off of work to hike the Appalachian Trail

2. You aren't making enough money

There are only so many ways you can reduce your expenses and cost cut. Sometimes, people are in debt simply because they do not earn enough to maintain their quality of life. So, how do you figure out what you have to earn to get financially fit and live your best life?


Expenses + Debt Payments/Savings Goals = Total Net Income

Total Net Income Need / .65 = Total Gross Income

Total Gross Income x 12 = Target Annual Salary


$2,500 + $750 = $3,250

$3,250 / .65 = $5,000

$5,000 x 12 = $60,000 - This person would need to earn $60,000 a year to maintain their lifestyle

Doing the math and figuring out exactly what you need to make will make it tremendously easier to ask for the raise, apply for the new higher paying job, or charge a higher freelancer rate.

3. Contributing too much to your 401(k)

The most generic financial advice out there from "financial experts" and older generations is to max out your retirement contributions. The problem with that advice is that is assumes that everyone has achieved the basic financial stepping blocks of having an emergency fund and staying out of high interest debt.

In reality, only 39% of Americans have enough saved to cover a $1,000 emergency and the average American has a credit card balance of $6,375. As a result, one-third of Americans have had to borrow against their 401(k)s to retroactively address those other issues.

Too often, I've seen many type-A clients who are contributing 10% of their gross income to their 401(k), but don't know why they are having a hard time staying out of credit card debt.

Because you can generally count on your investments to earn 6%-8% over time, it doesn't make sense to invest in retirement if you have credit card debt that is 15%-25% in interest.

4. Forgetting to financially prepare for a growing family

Whether you decide on adding either a pet or a baby to the family, there will be more financial implications than we might think in the moment. I've had many clients start the process with me with credit card debt that stemmed from unplanned vet bills, kids' friends' birthday gifts, summer camp, etc.

On average, you can count on a pet costing you between $200-$300 a month depending on the level of care the dog needs. Yes, some months, you are only buying a $25 bag of food, but then other times, you are having to pay to board the dog or an expensive vet bill. Cats may be less expensive, depending on their health.

If you want to be proactive in preparing for this future expense, I recommend having a separate pet savings account and contributing $200-$300 every month. This will allow you to practice this expense, make room for it in your budget and lifestyle, as well as save for a lump sum of money for any upfront expenses like adoption fees and supplies.

For babies, you can count on them adding at least $1,000 a month to your family expenses. When they are young, it is for medical costs, diapers, clothes and childcare. When they get older, it is for school lunch, extracurriculars, dentist visits, friend's birthdays, cars, and college savings.

I recommend clients prepare for having a baby in the same way as pets. Start a baby savings account and work on saving $1,000 a month so by the time baby comes, they will have already parted with that expense in their budgets.

5. Feeling emotionally drained by debt

When you're in debt, it is a natural tendency to want to do everything you can to pay it off as fast as possible. This is the way to true financial freedom, right? Not exactly.

Spending all of your time and energy throwing any extra money at debt is draining. This method doesn't develop sustainable habits or systems to prevent you from getting back into debt again because it doesn't force you to form a more positive relationship with money. It constantly reinforces the script that you are bad with money and each payment to the credit card is a punishment for the poor financial choices you have made in the past.

Just like extreme fad diets cause a yo-yo effect on your weight, aggressively paying off debt without saving any cash can also cause you to burnout and go right back into your old spending habits again.

Instead, I encourage clients to stop wasting energy on beating themselves up over having debt. A more productive and positive way of approaching it is to work on saving an emergency fund to prevent yourself from going back into debt in the event of an emergency and devise an intentional plan around sustainably paying off the debt over time.

Psychologically, people feel better and more powerful with an increasing bank balance than over a shrinking debt balance, and both have the same positive effect on your overall net worth.

Originally posted on Financial Gym.

You might also like:

An expectant mama's to-do list can feel endless… but here's the good news: A lot of those tasks are actually really exciting. Planning your baby registry is especially thrilling: You get a say in what gifts friends and family members will buy for your new addition!

But it can also feel a bit overwhelming to make sense of all the gear on the market. That's why we suggest mentally dividing your registry into two categories: items you need to prepare for your baby's arrival and items that sure would be nice to have.

Here at Motherly, our editors have dozens of kids and years of parenting experience among us, so we know our way around the essentials. We also know how mama-friendly the registry-building experience is with Target, especially thanks to their recently upgraded registry and introduction of Year of Benefits. Just by creating your baby registry with Target, you'll snag a kit with $120 in discounts and samples. The savings keep coming: You'll also get two 15% off coupons to buy unpurchased items from your registry for up to a year after your baby's expected arrival. Change your mind about anything? The Year of Benefits allows for returns or exchanges for a full year. And as of August 2020, those who also sign up for Target Circle when creating a baby registry will also get the retailer's Year of Exclusive Deals, which includes ongoing discounts on baby essentials for a full year.

Here are 10 items we agree deserve a spot in the "need" category on your registry, mama.

A crib to grow with your baby

Delta Children Farmhouse 6-in-1 Convertible Crib

First-time mamas are likely creating nursery spaces for the first time, and that can get expensive. Adding a quality crib to Target registry gives friends and family members the option to join forces to make a large purchase through group gifting.


A safe + convenient car seat

Safety 1st OnBoard 35 LT Infant Car Seat

The list of non-negotiable baby essentials is pretty short, but it definitely includes a car seat. In fact, most hospitals will not allow you to leave after delivery until a car seat check is performed. We recommend an infant seat, which can easily snap into a base in your car.


A traveling nursery station

Baby Trend Lil Snooze Deluxe II Nursery Center

It's hard to beat a good playard when it comes to longevity. This item can be baby's sleeping place when they're sharing a room with you for the first months. Down the line, it can function as a roving diaper change station. And when you travel, it makes a great safe space for your little one to sleep and play.


A swing for some backup help

4moms mamaRoo 4 Bluetooth Enabled High-Tech Baby Swing - Classic

A dependable swing can be a real lifesaver for new parents when they need their hands free (or just a minute to themselves). Because many babies are opinionated about these things, we appreciate that the mamaRoo has multiple modes of motion and soothing sounds.


An easy-to-clean high chair

Ingenuity SmartClean Trio Elite 3-in-1 High Chair - Slate

Our best registry advice? Think ahead. It really won't be long before your child is ready for those first bites of solid food, at which point you'll need a high chair. We like one that transitions to a booster seat atop an existing dining room chair.


A diaper bag to share

Eddie Bauer Backpack - Gray/Tan

When you're a mom, you're usually toting diapers, wipes, clothing changes, bottles, snacks, toys and more. You need a great bag to stash it all, and if you're anything like us, you'll choose a backpack style for comfort and functionality. Bonus: This gender neutral option can easily be passed off to your partner.


A hygienic spot for all those diaper changes

Munchkin Secure Grip Waterproof Diaper Changing Pad 16X31"

We can confidently predict there will be a lot of diaper changes in your future. Do yourself a favor by registering for two comfortable, wipeable changing pads: one to keep in the nursery and another to stash elsewhere in your house.


A way to keep an eye on your baby at night

Infant Optics Video Baby Monitor DXR-8

Feeling peace of mind while your baby sleeps in another room truly is priceless.That's why we advocate for a quality video monitor that will allow you to keep tabs on your snoozing sweetheart.


A comfortable carrier to free up your hands

Petunia Pickle Bottom for Moby Wrap Baby Carrier, Strolling in Salvador

A wrap carrier may be about as low-tech as baby items come, but trust us, this product stands the test of time. Great for use around the house or while running errands, this is one item you'll appreciate so much.


A full set of bottles + cleaning supplies

Dr. Brown's Options+ Complete Baby Bottle Gift Set

Whether you plan to work in an office or stay at home, breastfeed or formula feed, bottles are a valuable tool. To make your life as simple as possible, it's nice to have an easy-to-clean set that is designed to work through the first year.


Target's baby registry is easy to create from the comfort of your own home. Start your Target baby registry now and enjoy shopping with the Year of Benefits featuring exclusive deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more!

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

Sorry, you can’t meet our baby yet

Thank you for understanding. ❤️

In just over three weeks, we will become parents. From then on, our hearts will live outside of our bodies. We will finally understand what everyone tells you about bringing a child into the world.

Lately, the range of emotions and hormones has left me feeling nothing short of my new favorite mom word, "hormotional." I'm sure that's normal though, and something most people start to feel as everything suddenly becomes real.

Our bags are mostly packed, diaper bag ready, and birth plan in place. Now it's essentially a waiting game. We're finishing up our online childbirth classes which I must say are quite informational and sometimes entertaining. But in between the waiting and the classes, we've had to think about how we're going to handle life after baby's birth.

I don't mean thinking and planning about the lack of sleep, feeding schedule, or just the overall changes a new baby is going to bring. I'm talking about how we're going to handle excited family members and friends who've waited just as long as we have to meet our child. That sentence sounds so bizarre, right? How we're going to handle family and friends? That sentence shouldn't even have to exist.

Keep reading Show less

29 last-minute family Halloween costumes you can pull together NOW

If your little one is going as a lion, coordinating is as easy as breaking out the khaki!

Here's how Halloween unfolds in most households I know: Mom spends weeks—even months—planning the perfect costumes for little ones. Then Halloween creeps up and they realize they need an outfit to coordinate with the kids' get-ups. What's a mom to do?!

Thankfully, there's no need for fear or pressure: There are so many ideas for parents that are easy to make and still super clever.

Keep reading Show less