About fifteen years ago my wife and I had a budget that worked.
We had a very little income yet we managed to pay for my flights down to university and other planned expenses while saving more than we managed in later years on a far higher income.
The reason was the expenses were known and planned for - a flight cost $200 so we set aside $10 every week until we had enough. If one week we simply couldn't set aside $10 then we either had to set aside more later or delay the flight. Everything was meticulously tracked in a grid paper excercise book.
The next year we upgraded to using a computer and began coding every purchase yet somehow we ended off in less control. Over the years we tried many different pieces of software - Excel, Quicken, Heaps! GnuCash, KMyMoney, Xero Personal and iBank. Yet somehow every year we found ourselves saying 'why are these systems worse than what we used to do in Hastings'.
Recently I triad yet another piece of software - YNAB (short for You Need A Budget) and I suddenly realised what we had been doing wrong ever since we converted to computerised budgeting. Put simply, all the other software is based on expense tracking - after a bit of careful use it will tell you where you've been going wrong. YNAB is fundamentially different, it tells you in advance whether you have enough money in the budget to buy something.
The is exactly what we had been doing in Hastings and this little tweak to my personal workflow makes all the difference. Every time I get paid, I sit down with my wife and agree where the money will go and then do my best to stick to that for the month. What that means is that instead of finding out at the end of the month that I've say spent too much on groceries, I know in advance of going to the supermarket that we're tracking badly on groceries and I need to be careful.
It has also highlighted that from a business perspective I have been tracking expenses rather than budgeting there too. Again all transactions are carefully coded to accounts and I monitor how much is spent in each account but I have never sat down and said: "ok, I'm getting $20k on the 12th and I'm going to divide it up like this."