Why is a Budget Necessary?

Published on February 28, 2017 by Lauren
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    Lauren Greutman Recovering Spender

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    This may surprise some of you, but I have a love/hate relationship with budgeting.  I find myself asking the question, why is a budget necessary?

    It’s been mostly hate over the past few years.  I recognize how important it is, and when I’m going strong, it can almost be enjoyable.  But if you fall off the wagon – gosh, it is HARD to climb back on.  And prior to 2008, Lauren and I NEVER EVER EVER budgeted.  So although I like numbers and spreadsheets, budgeting doesn’t come naturally to me at all.  I have to work at it.

    And prior to 2008, Mark and I NEVER EVER EVER budgeted.  So although he likes numbers and spreadsheets, budgeting doesn’t come naturally to us at all.  I have to work at it.  It isn’t easy for me – and why I call myself The Recovering Spender.

    Before I continue, let me clarify my use of the term ‘budget.’  I do not simply mean checking your account balances and making sure you have enough income to cover your expenses throughout the month.  I’m talking about a proactive management of your finances.  On a monthly basis, this usually means mapping out each dollar’s designation ahead of time.There are several excuses for those who don’t budget. 

    Here are two fairly common reasons, and I’ve been in both of these camps:

    • Your income doesn’t even cover your expenses, so why try?  You may be almost afraid to look at your checking account balance, let alone your credit card balances.  You already feel trapped, why further constrain yourself? You wonder how to break the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck.
    • Your income is much more than is needed to cover your expenses, so it’s easier to skip budgeting.  You don’t want to be constrained.

    I can only speak for myself, but in each of these cases, the overriding reason to not budget was a mixture of laziness and an unwillingness to restrict my spending.  Those aren’t very good reasons.

    In fact, is there ever a good reason?  How could I NOT know where my money was going?  I would never invest in a business being run this way, yet I’ve been willing to run MY OWN LIFE and risk my family’s financial future because… I DIDN’T FEEL LIKE IT?!?!  (I’m sorry for shouting… I just wish I could shout loud enough for 24 year-old Lauren to hear.)

    During my times in life of not budgeting, I always knew that at some point I’d have to face reality.  Our rock-bottom arrived while living in Charlotte several years ago as Mark and I faced the reality that we had been avoiding. The fact that we had no idea how to budget.

    why is a budget necessary?

    It took work… a lot of work.  I also took quite a bit of compromise, and restraint.  And after the first few months of budgeting, I realized 3 things:

    1. Despite practicing some serious financial restraint, I felt like we were still spending SO much money!  If I felt like this now, we must have really been blowing through some serious cash (and credit) before we started our budget.  And what did we have to show for it?  Well, we did have some nice furniture… and some nice credit card balances to go along with it.
    2. I did not feel like my quality of life had diminished at all.  An unexpected thing happened when we gave ourselves only $75 a week for food… WE DIDN’T DIE OF STARVATION.  And we also didn’t need to go to the local soup kitchen or get any assistance.  We made it work, I learned how to use coupons and how to do frugal meal planning.
    3. This was the most surprising one – by limiting ourselves, we actually had more freedom.  How could this be?

    I want to take moment and discuss #3 for a bit.  A very succinct definition of maturity is the ability to delay gratification.

    This isn’t just a cute, insightful definition created to make a point or impress people.  Delayed gratification is well-studied personality trait by psychologists that has been linked to greater mental and physical health, as well as overall achievement in life.

    Described more simply, it is the ability to tell yourself ‘no’ because you know that the future holds something better in store for you.  A three-year old cannot do this very well, but an adult should be able to.

    why is a budget necessary?

    Through this budgeting process, I came to realize how immature I was in some areas of my life.  With things as small as wanting to go out to a nice dinner on a whim to things as large as wanting to buy a nicer car – we were unwilling to say ‘no’ far too often.

    It’s not that these things are inherently bad, but we didn’t have the money for them!  And when we started telling ourselves ‘no,’ it didn’t feel like punishment, it felt like HOPE.  We had a plan; and we still have a plan.  We are saying ‘no’ because there is something better in store later.  With that hope comes freedom, and a feeling of control.

    But as I mentioned earlier, we have been not always been model citizens when it comes to budgeting.  Life has often gotten crazy (it has a way of doing that, doesn’t it?), and during some of those times we relapsed and went a few months without a budget – and it SUCKED.

    We felt completely out of control, and getting that control back was so hard… I would picture myself trying to wrestle a tornado.  We would start to lose hope, and feel constrained instead of the freedom we had gotten used to.

    One more comment on this freedom – it isn’t just a feeling – it is actual, physical freedom that can be acted on.  Through years of discipline, we don’t owe anyone anything because we are debt free.  And as a result, we have been able to make some radical life changes for the sake of our family.  Mark was able to quit his job as an actuary and work full time with me at home.

    This freedom all started with a pen, some paper, and a whole bunch of desperation.  We learned what works and that is why I created The Financial Renovation Course – check it out for yourself here.

    What are the things that you have trouble saying NO to?

    What’s keeping you from budgeting?

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