If you’re not successfully using a budget right now, it’s probably because you need a different tool. Let’s say you are tackling a writing project, and the only writing instrument available is this short pencil. Other people may make this pencil work, but what if you just need something different? Perhaps a pencil that is more comfortable to hold, or maybe even a pen! I’ve worked with clients for 15 years, I know what it looks like when a budget isn’t working. You try over and over again to implement a disciplined system. But willpower eventually dwindles and the budget never seems to last very long. Then you feel like a nincompoop and you ditch your efforts. Since doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is not a great formula for success, let’s take a look at 5 reasons budgeting might be the wrong tool for you right now …
- One possibility is, you aren’t emotionally ready yet. I know you hear me talk about the different aspects of your relationship with money all the time, and I’m going to continue beating that drum because budgeting only addresses your practical money life. But there is so much more to consider. Do you see yourself in any of the responses below? Budgeting may be the wrong tool emotionally if you have ever wanted to buy something that wasn’t in the budget and it made you feel:
- Mad. This purchase would pick you up, and it’s been a tough day. You need this!
- Spiteful that this stupid exercise (the budget) is trying to strip you of your power to spend.
- Entitled. You deserve this! It’s one of your inalienable rights!
- Like you need this purchase to express who you are as a person.
If any of these emotions resonate with you, you are likely giving your finances too much power to control your life. But you have the power to change, and you can do better than money as the driver of your financial car. Money is useful, sure, but it is not: (a) a great method of self-soothing, (b) a truthful measure of your power, (c) one of your inalienable rights. Did you get money confused with the pursuit of happiness? Do you know of any mega-rich elites who aren’t happy, or who have died tragic deaths in the midst of opulent living, surrounded by people who supposedly loved them? Can you see that money does not equal happiness? Nor is it (d) an adequate expression of your identity. You would never let someone summarize your value as a person with a dollar sign! How dare they! Yes, I know the Joneses down the street are doing it, (warning: I’m gonna get preachy!) but just because other people are making this mistake, it doesn’t mean you should too. You’re better than that, right? I encourage you to start talking about these feelings with somebody, because it’s important for you to realize you’re not alone in this. Chances are someone you know is probably struggling with similar emotions, so seek them out and have a conversation. Collaboration is key!
- If you (or your spouse) are generally inclined to hate the concept of budgeting, it may be due to your Money Personality. Those who have prominent attributes of the “Spender” personality will be more likely to resent ANY tool that gets in the way of spending. In this case, I recommend affirming the good parts of your personality, while also recognizing that your spending tendencies need to be curbed somehow. In this blog post, I outline the best methods of behavior change from a Money Personality perspective. Now, if you’re married, your chances of having to deal with Spender qualities just doubled. If there’s a Spender trying to live on your budget, your budget will be affected no matter how hard you try. And here’s the thing, there is a spender in most marriages. According to Mellan’s Law, “If (financial) opposites don’t attract right off the bat – and they usually do — then they’ll create each other eventually.” If spender tendencies are wreaking havoc on your otherwise-spectacularly-implemented budget (I know, you’re trying the best you can!), read this post, and maybe consider hiring a financial coach. I happen to know of a great one!
- Spiritually speaking, something is getting in the way of your success. Deep down, maybe you’re not comfortable with the financial goals the budget is designed to achieve. Perhaps you see success as a double edged sword, with great perks, but they come with more hard work and time than you’re willing to sacrifice. Or maybe the goals you came up with were arbitrary, and you need to revisit your reason for choosing them. Perhaps this budget was put in place by someone else, and subconsciously you just haven’t bought in yet. Are there religious or spiritual undertones that are hijacking your best efforts? How can you resolve them?
- Your mindset is negative toward taking control of your finances, likely because of one of the above issues. You have tried and tried and tried to budget until your pencil is almost completely worn down. This could give anyone a negative mindset, even if you aren’t an Eeyore in the rest of your life. To be successful in this task you have GOT to summon up a positive mindset. So go spend some time meditating on rainbows or sunshine or your favorite color. Take a walk, draw a bunch of stars, or go do some coloring. Find something that makes you laugh. Use whatever cheesy methods are required to put you in a positive mindset until:
- You believe it is possible to create a plan that will work
- You are confident in your ability to stick with it
- You can envision being successful
- Practically speaking, a Spending Plan would work better for you than a budget anyway. What’s the difference, you ask? A Spending Plan takes a more proactive role instead of enforcing constraints. Both methods require similar (even tedious) inputs, but rather than looking back at historical expenses and inducing shame (as many budgets tend to do), a spending plan creates a forward-thinking mindset that serves as a framework for decision-making. Gone are the feelings of inadequacy, this system doles out choices instead of focusing on where you failed. A Spending Plan empowers you to use your financial resources in the most effective and gratifying way possible. Click here for more info about the Spending Plan I recommend to my clients. You can also google “spending plan templates” to get started, or read this blog by a personal finance columnist Philip Taylor who shares my preference for Spending Plans over budgets.