Budgeting. For some even the word makes them break out in a cold sweat. Maybe because they tried it and found it too restrictive, or it made them feel poor. Maybe because it’s just so… dull. For others, budgeting “doesn’t work”. So what to do?
Firstly, I’m curious… What does the word ‘budgeting’ mean to you?
Do you picture penny-pinching and going without? Do you envisage a miserly Scrooge-like character, sat in the dark, counting coins by candlelight? Or maybe dullsville spreadsheets and hours spent checking receipts?
I used to have a very negative attitude towards budgeting (and money generally) myself, so if any of these ring true for you, I get where you are coming from. But there is light at the end of the tunnel! In fact, I would go so far as to say that these days, I actually find the world of finance rather exciting…
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Asking you to geek out about budgeting is a bit of a long shot at this stage I know, so let’s have a little look-see at some of the common ideas/language around budgeting and why it gets such a bad rap:
Common budgeting objections:
- “It’s boring”
- “It takes too long”
- “It’s constrictive”
- “It makes me feel poor”
- “It makes me feel guilty for spending”
- “It’s confusing – I’m not a numbers person”
Ok, firstly, I couldn’t help but smile when I started researching and compiling this list, as it fast became obvious to me that so much of this is about how budgeting makes people FEEL.
Budgeting as an emotional experience
I don’t know about you but when I think of budgeting I don’t immediately consider it to be an emotional experience. But it turns out, it is the emotional experience that is getting in people’s way.
Feelings of lack, of confusion, of guilt, of poverty… If I may be permitted to get deep for a moment here, I suspect that budgeting makes people feel at a very base level that they have failed.
After all – you don’t generally start your budgeting journey from a place of abundance – more often than not it is a way for people to gain control over their finances, which implies that they haven’t always managed their money as well as they might have hoped.
The decision to start budgeting is often coming from a place of lack. It’s a starting point, a way to stop haemorrhaging cash and start saving it.
It’s natural that you might feel uncomfortable about this and try to avoid any unpleasant feelings that arise by simply deciding that it just doesn’t work for you.
Any issue you have with budgeting starts in the mind. Your attitude towards cash is a part of your story. It is a reflection of all the decisions you have made up to this point, as well as existing beliefs you may have adopted from family members and/or personal experiences.
The subject of money mindset is HUGE. For now, suffice it to say, if you haven’t had any success with budgeting in the past, or the idea just doesn’t appeal to you, it is most likely a mindset issue at the root of your problem.
If you are interested in learning more about money mindset and how to shift your attitude, then please head on over to my related post, ‘How to Develop a Positive Money Mindset’.
For now, let’s get back to that list of budgeting objections and see what can be done to dispel these ideas.
“Budgeting is boring”
This is the default opinion that many have on budgeting. It’s something from generations past. It reeks of spreadsheets and calculators and all that is tedious.
But this doesn’t have to be the case. The way to alleviate budgeting boredom is to make it fun! There are so many different ways to play the budgeting game… And that is the key – to see it as a game.
Zero-based budgeting, kakeibo budgeting, envelope systems, the 50/30/20 method, goal-driven budgeting – there is no one way to do this. There is a budgeting system out there that will fit your personality.
If you have been turned off of budgeting by the notion of boredom, or tried it and couldn’t get on with it, consider a different system and see if you fare any better.
“Budgeting takes too long”
- “I don’t have time to write down everything I am spending…”
- “I can’t check every receipt…”
- “I have enough to do without adding another item to my to-do list…”
Not all budgeting systems take time. How long you spend on budgeting will depend a lot on which system you have chosen to try and whether you have a fixed salary or an unpredictable one, are paid monthly or weekly, and other variable factors.
For example, if you have a variable income, you are likely to need to spend a little more time setting up as the amount of money you have coming in fluctuates. You can either bite the bullet and adjust your goals regularly, or you could try and base your budget on the lowest amount you can expect to receive and see anything you earn on top of that as a bonus.
Usually, setting up the budget is the part that takes the longest, especially as many systems require you to spend a month or two writing everything down to get a feel for your spending habits before you’ve even begun. Once this is done though, depending on the system, you can often set and forget.
Apps are useful for this, with many available which connect straight to your bank accounts, making it easy to monitor what goes where and how much you have available to spend.
If you are using a more traditional pen and paper approach then you will likely need to invest a little more time in the process. For some, this can actually be beneficial in helping you to connect with and build more of a relationship with your expenses. Systems like kakeibo budgeting can sometimes be more akin to actual journalling, where users immerse themselves in the experience and ponder their spending in a more mindful manner.
“Budgeting is constrictive”
I know right? Who would choose to count their pennies and save for a rainy day when you could be out painting the town red and having a good time?
Except that you know that the point of this to enable you to have the money to be able to do all the fun stuff without the guilt and worry.
Budgeting doesn’t have to be about spending nothing – just spending wisely. Setting yourself a small goal, saving up for something which is relatively affordable but that you really want, will offer you a fast return on your hard work and feel like a reward.
One of my favourite money-saving tips is to pay yourself what you don’t spend. For example, if you go out grocery shopping and while you are out you see several things that you would normally have impulse-purchased, but you resist and don’t buy them, make a note of what that would have cost you and consider it a payment instead. Now go ahead and put your ‘pay’ into a separate savings account or cash envelope, or whatever system you have chosen and see how fast that adds up.
“Budgeting makes me feel poor”
Sometimes budgeting can have the opposite effect to the one you’d like, especially in the beginning. The goal with budgeting is to watch your money grow, but sometimes it just highlights the inevitable lack of it.
Factoring into your budget a small amount to treat yourself with can be a good way to help you stay on track and not give up in the early stages.
On the other hand, if you haven’t tried it yet, you might be surprised at how much money you actually do have. It was definitely one of the biggest learning curves for me – I always assumed I was pretty broke until I actually started logging my expenses and saw how much money I was wasting each month.
“Budgeting makes me feel guilty for spending”
One of the strangest things about budgeting, especially if you have managed to stick to a budget for any length of time, is that it can actually make it harder for you to spend money, even if you have an allowance for it. If you are spending less on yourself for example, then you really want it to count when you do spend, and the guilt of spending money on yourself can be overwhelming for some.
Remember, budgeting is supposed to be a tool to help you, not to inhibit you. It isn’t a punishment! You are fully entitled to spend your money on yourself and the things which bring you joy – it isn’t about hoarding and never spending a bean. Setting clear goals on the things you really want can be helpful here, as well as reminding yourself what this is all about!
If you budget carefully and save money, then when you do need or want to make a purchase, you have the necessary rhino to buy items of quality which you can enjoy for years to come, rather than continuously throwing your money away on cheap tat which doesn’t last a season. You know it makes sense.
“Budgeting is confusing – I’m not a numbers person“
That’s what calculators are for 😉
As I have previously mentioned, there are many different apps and systems for budgeting. What is great about apps is that they take the guesswork and hard maths out of the situation, enabling you to focus on the fun stuff… your ever-increasing bank balance. It may take a little bit of hunting to find the right one depending on what your goals are.
NerdWallet have compiled a collection of their favourite budgeting apps according to what you need them to do which might help take some of the guess work out for you.
Here’s the thing. There is a reason people budget.
It isn’t to hoard money with no intention of ever spending it. It isn’t because they like to suffer and go without. It isn’t because they love, love, love spreadsheets and calculations.
It’s because, at its heart, budgeting is about making life better.
It’s about turning those icky emotions of lack, guilt and financial failure into feelings of confidence and abundance. Wealth isn’t just about the numbers on your bank statement, it’s about how you feel.
If you can learn to work with your bank balance, to understand it, to start controlling your finances rather than letting them control you, then you will have the skills and the confidence to provide for yourself and your loved ones, whatever your level of income.
I hope you have found this useful. Let me know about your own budgeting experiences, good or bad in the comment box below!
You might also enjoy these related articles:
- Budgeting Journal for Mindful Money Management
- 3 Simple Ways To Help You Take Control Of Your Spending
- How to Develop a Positive Money Mindset
- Kakeibo – the Japanese Budgeting Journal