A Budget Isn’t About Suffering

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A Budget Isn’t About Suffering

Most people, when they realize (or are told) that they need to create a budget, groan and say something like, “Man, I’m going to miss out on so much stuff. I’m not going to have a life or any fun with all this restricted spending.” While this is an understandable reaction, it can be counter-productive. Such a negative response means that every decision and every purchase comes from a place of suffering and resentment rather than joy or contentment. That’s no way to live life.

A negative outlook also means you probably won’t stick with your budget over the long term. If you’re constantly focusing on the deprivation aspect, eventually you’re going to give up. That negative feeling is difficult to live with for a long time, so to protect yourself you’ll go back to the things that make you feel good. And while those meals out and new clothes might make you feel better, they won’t do anything to help you achieve financial success. 

There is another path. Instead of dwelling on all that you’re “missing,” and blowing up your efforts before they even get going, focus on the good things that budgeting will do for you. A good budget isn’t about depriving you of things. It’s about enabling you to afford the things that really matter, both now and in the future.  

So how do you do this? First, you have to figure out what you value most and what you want a budget to do for you. Where are you trying to go financially? Do you need to get out of massive debt? Would a budget help you make ends meet every month? Do you need to save for retirement? Are you planning to leave a legacy to your kids or charity? Do you want to reduce your consumption to help the environment? Or maybe you just want to have a ton of fun and travel all over the place while eating in every restaurant you can find.

Sit down with your thoughts and really wrestle with your needs, goals and dreams. And be honest with yourself. If travel is something you really want, for example, don’t discount it because you think you’ll never be able to afford it. With a functioning budget, you might get there. Maybe not today, but in the future. 

Knowing what you need and want from your money is how you make the positive shift in your brain. If you don’t have a clue what you want out of life, then, sure, the thought of giving up on today’s pleasures is painful. That’s all you know, so giving up your current “fun” seems to be too much. But when you know there are other things you want/need more, it’s easier to turn resentment into determination to succeed. 

So, for example, let’s say you identify a comfortable retirement and saving for your kid’s education as two big things you want in this life. Great! Your budget mindset changes from, “I can’t go out to dinner tonight because of the dang budget,” to, “I’m not going out to dinner tonight because that isn’t as important to me as knowing I’m okay in my old age and my kids are taken care of,”

The first mindset often leads to failure. It feels like you’ve given up all control and the budget is running the show. You get frustrated at what you can’t have and give up or rebel. The second mindset leads to success because it returns the agency to you. You are making the choice to pursue what is important to you with the resources you have. You stop focusing on what you can’t have and focus more on what you will have

Granted, this isn’t easy. Most of us are not wired to handle delayed gratification well. We want stuff now, dangit! What if we don’t live that long! Think of all we missed out on! And so on. But whether we have sixty years left or ten, that’s still a future that needs planning for. Sure, you could die tomorrow, but the odds aren’t good on that. You will likely have bills to pay next month, food to buy, and things to plan for. That’s why it’s important to shift your mindset from one that only looks at now to one that looks ahead to where you want and need to be. 

When you can do that, you stop looking at a budget as something designed to punish you and instead view it for what it is: A tool to help you make the most out of your money and your life. 

(Incidentally, most people have the same reaction to the word, “diet.” The first thought is of all the good stuff that will be missed, not the long term view of better health or longevity. In both cases, reframing the thought process can help achieve success, or at least minimize the misery. So when New Year’s rolls around and thoughts turn to weight loss, give this a try there, too.)

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