The point of this post: living on a budget is (most of the time) tedious and hard. Reward yourself and remember why you’re doing it to make it seem less so.
If you are in the first, exciting stages of setting up your financial plan, organizing your money, and living on a budget so you can buy a house, pay off debt, retire comfortably, or reach some other financial goal, then I have some advice for you: settle in.
So not really like this at all
Unless you’re one of the fortunate few who can save money effortlessly, this next bit of your life is going to feel like trench warfare, minus the mud, rats, lice, frequent bombs, disease, and occasional all-out attacks with guns and stuff.
Living on a budget so you can set aside money you would otherwise spend is a war – a long, boring war of attrition that even Steven Spielberg wouldn’t be able to make into a good movie.
I guarantee that you will reach a point of budget fatigue. After the first sense of purpose and accomplishment has worn off, after the feeling of urgency to reach your goals turns into frustration at having to plan your spending weeks or months in advance, you will question whether it’s worth it.
You’ll remember back to your pre-plan days of spending (and then panicking) and spending (and panicking again) with nostalgia, and wonder if maybe just living with no plan and hoping nothing bad happens would be better than the constant struggle to exercise self-control at the grocery store.
There’s no fix for this, but I have two tips (from the trenches, as it were) to make it easier, and trick yourself into being responsible on those days (or weeks) when you are so heartily sick of taking the long view that you feel like cashing out your emergency fund and running away to Mexico.
1. Reward yourself with short term goals
Sometimes we in the personal finance world get a little too fixated on long term goals – thirty years until retirement, twenty years until you pay off your mortgage for good, ten years until you send your kids to university. We like those goals because they’re so far in the future that we can plan for them. (We also get to talk about “the magic of compound interest” and get all starry-eyed).
The problem with a financial plan that is only about your long term goals is just that: they’re long term. When do you get to achieve anything? When do you get the high of ticking the box?
Make one of your short term goals something that you will enjoy. Set aside some small amount of money every week for something you want (A nice bottle of wine? That new book you can’t get at the library? A jar of Nutella and a spoon?) and then get it.
2. Remember that your enemy is you – so change your attitude
It’s very easy (and convenient) to get frustrated with your partner for spending too much, your income for not being enough, your grocery store for not honouring coupons, or the personal finance book that told you how to divvy up your money.
The real reason that living on a budget – or trading money now for money in the future – feels so unbearably tedious sometimes is because it IS unbearably tedious….unless it’s not.
A good way to forget the tedium is to remember why you’re living like this in the first place.
I’ll give you an example: I hate having a budget when I go to the grocery store (hate. it.), and have many shopping trips when it feels like I’m marking everything off my list as “would have been nice to have, but can’t this week”.
On days like those, I have to make a conscious effort to remember why I work so hard to plan our meals, pay attention to unit prices, and shop the sales…it’s so I don’t have to.
In my perfect world, I have no budget at the grocery store. If I want to stuff my face with an entire tub of Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream, I’ll put it in the cart without thinking about unit price, or what I’m giving up in the budget to get it…and I’ll go home, turn on Dr Who, and eat it with zero guilt.
Do you hear angelic music?
No Häagen-Dazs TODAY = lots of Häagen-Dazs SOON is an equation one that has motivational resonance with me, and it has great power to change my attitude.
What changes yours?