Every single person I’ve suggested the b-word to has either scrunched up their nose in disgust and told me to sit on my hat, or come up with such convincing excuses that I’m immediately overwhelmed with guilt for having even brought up the subject!
Be honest. If I told you to choose between tracking your expenses for a month or a swift kick to the shins, you’d probably complain that I kicked too hard!
Like a baby tricked into eating vegetables, we are instinctively repulsed by budgeting. But why? We’re no longer that child who gagged at the sight of celery anymore. (Even if it was covered in peanut butter!) We’re all mature enough to know that Santa Claus wasn’t real, the Boogeyman never lived in our closets, and the Tooth Fairy was basically a dysfunctional hoarder.
So why are we still opposed to knowing how much money we have—or don’t have—left over after each month?
The math involved is so basic a monkey could do it, and we’re even encouraged to use a calculator, so that can’t be why. I’ll admit, poring over receipts, bank statements, and cash transactions is far from glamorous but so is living pay-cheque to pay-cheque, paying your bills late, or finding out you have insufficient funds available on your credit card at the checkout. Is it because our lives are so hectic we don’t have time to spare, or maybe it’s because we’re just too lazy?
“There are those who would misteach us that to stick in a rut is consistency—and a virtue, and that to climb out of the rut is inconsistency—and a vice.”
No, I believe the reason people refuse to budget is fear.
Fear of the unknown. Fear of conflict. Fear of change. Fear that cold hard numbers will reflect the truth we already know (but choose to brush under the carpet), and force us to adjust our comfortable lifestyles. Just like how an overweight person hates being constantly told to exercise more and eat healthier, nobody likes being scolded for spending more than they earn or not saving enough for retirement. It’s natural to act defensively to criticism, even if it’s meant with the best of intentions.
Believe it or not, Jennifer and I were both skeptical at first. Truth is, we just started budgeting last October, merely 3 months ago! Prior to that, it was literally the last thing to cross off on our Bucket List. The two things before that? “Get A Root Canal” and “Stare Into The Sun For 2 Hours”.
We complained it would take too much time and effort. We argued that neither of us wanted to cut back on the luxuries we’ve grown accustomed to, especially because, “We worked too hard for them!” We realized we weren’t financial gurus and didn’t know if budgeting was even a good place for us to start. (It’s actually a great place to start!)
So what made us change our ways after so many years of blissful ignorance? Well, it wasn’t just one thing, but a combination of factors. Here are some of the main ones:
- the comfort of knowing our retirement won’t be jeopardized
- the goal of wanting to pay for our children’s education
- the ability to sustain unforeseen financial emergencies
To be clear, these are just some of our reasons for starting to budget. Yours may be completely different. Instead of many reasons, you may have just one. Sometimes, it takes something drastic—like hitting rock bottom—to say to yourself, “Enough is enough!” and deciding once and for all to get your financial house in order. I know I’ve been there before. Actually, it’s moments like these which have been the crux of committing to any of my long-term goals, whether they’re financial ones or not.
“For the most part, our detailed list of expenses didn’t include a handful of expensive purchases, but rather a steady accumulation of many insignificant ones.”
To set the record straight, I was more receptive to change than Jennifer was. She scrunched up her nose, sat on my hat, and gave me 101 excuses as to why budgeting was the stupidest idea since the Pet Rock, but I just wouldn’t take no for an answer!
What really brought her onboard was the fact we agreed not to follow a restrictive budget.
This meant we could still eat out whenever we wanted, drink as many store-bought coffees throughout the day, and purchase things impulsively without any regrets. What we would do, however, is track every single dollar—down to the penny—that we spent in that particular month, or however many months it took before we finally, “Got serious.”
Curious as to how we did?
Here’s a super, high-tech, fancy pie chart courtesy of Meta-Chart.com:
To keep us even more accountable, a detailed list for each category was tracked by Item, Price, and Date. This way, we could go back into our records and pinpoint any discrepancies or (my personal favourite), areas which we could cut back on.
You may have noticed we’ve chosen to only show our expenses and not our incomes. Others have been more transparent with their salaries, but we’ve decided to focus on the expenses to really bring home the point that wealth isn’t created by how much you earn, but by how much you save! Budgeting has enabled us to save more than half of our take home pay consistently for the past three months, and we continue to fine-tune our spending habits in order to increase that percentage. I’ll say this in regards to income: if it ever rained money, I’d much rather have a light drizzle with a deep pool than a thunderstorm and a tin cup!
The most meaningful lesson we learned throughout was just how easily the little things add up. For the most part, our detailed list of expenses didn’t include a handful of expensive purchases, but rather a steady accumulation of many insignificant ones. A birthday card here, a drill bit there…a spray bottle for our Cheeky, and oh, we can’t forget about Hallowe’en decorations!
Now don’t confuse my tone as being sarcastic or chiding in any way. I’m just being aware. Remember, Jennifer and I agreed to a budget that wasn’t restrictive. This discouraged us from laying blame upon each other for exactly these types of purchases.
“If you have large amounts of debt but no idea how much money you’re earning and spending, you are afraid.”
Another interesting thing happened as we progressed: we subconsciously spent less! To prevent a greater chore at the end of the month (which we both dreaded), we tallied our expenses on a daily basis instead. This simple act of, “Put it in the budget!” became our own way of consulting with a financial advisor, and because we were now so involved with our money, we subconsciously spent less of it.
Now you may think, “That’s all fine and dandy, but remove your rose-coloured glasses and take a real hard look at those of us that are literally drowning in debt!”
I empathize with anyone dealing with this nature of insecurity. Between student loans, car payments, and daycare costs; to lines of credit, credit card balances, and mortgages or rents; there are times when there’s no money left over to spend, let alone save!
To this I say, budgeting is not only an option, it’s a necessity!
If you have large amounts of debt but no idea how much money you’re earning and spending, you are afraid. The less afraid you are, the more intimate you will become with your finances. The more intimate you become with your finances the faster you will climb out of debt and start on your path to accumulating real wealth.
Many have the misconception that budgeting is only for poor people, or people with excessive amounts debt, and if you’re involved in such penny-pinching activities you will be laughed at and ridiculed.
I can guarantee you anybody with a high net worth knows practically what their cash flow (amount of money being transferred into and out of a business) is at any given time. Tell me, which company would you invest in: one with a thorough balance sheet (statement of assets, liabilities, and shareholders’ equity), or one where the CEO says, “Just trust me”?
You’re a living representation of your own company/business. Would banks, investors, or family and friends want to invest in you?
If you’ve become even slightly more aware of your finances after all my blabbering about budgeting, then I will consider this a small personal victory.
My only regret is I didn’t charm you sooner!