What I Learned About Budgeting from a 2.4 Mile Walk with a 40 lb Sandbag on My Shoulder

I carried my 40 lb sandbag 2.4 miles from home to the YNAB office on Tuesday.  It was like the Costco walk, only twice as heavy and half a mile farther. It was hard.

Why would I do such a thing?

Because Jesse basically dared me to. We were talking about putting a couple pieces of exercise equipment in the office (I take a few minutes every hour to move around and shake off the desk stiffness), and I said I was going to drive one of my sandbags over Monday night.

“Oh, I thought you liked to walk,” Jesse said (with a bit of a tone).

Well, that settled that.

Tuesday morning I arrived at the office pretty beat. But I’d done it.

See, you’ll always do more with someone in your ear than if left to yourself.

Lugging my sandbag to work had crossed my mind before, you know, just to see.

But had Jesse not given me the (half-joking) challenge, I probably would have driven the thing to work and missed out on the experience.

And it was a great experience – I got some prolonged double-takes from a few mini-van moms. If only it were for my good looks and ripped physique instead of the large duct tape pillow draped over my shoulder. Ah, well. 

So what could this possibly have to do with budgeting?

We budgeters can be pretty smug in the presence of non-budgeters, with our 4 Rules and our peace of mind.

But are we in budgeting cruise control?

Where’s the 40 lb sandbag in our budget we can throw over our shoulder just to see what it feels like?

In a recent podcast (Episode 078: The Black Box of Spending), Jesse described how you can really move the needle in your budget by digging into your “Miscellaneous” category, pulling a recurring expense out of it, and making that expense its own category.

By setting it apart, you’re already triggering the power of awareness, which will automatically reduce your spending in that category.

Now take it a step further. Just for kicks and giggles, cut the number in half.

Then sit back and be wildly entertained by the frantic yelling in your head:

“That’s ridiculous!”

“You couldn’t feed a dog on that, let alone a family of four!”

“I didn’t start budgeting so I could live like a homeless person!”

Give it a shot. You’ll learn great lessons about yourself and the category.

The Unexpected Benefits of Challenging a Budget Category

A couple of months ago Kate and I canceled DirecTV, saving us $100 per month.  We’d hemmed at hawed about it for a couple months; after all – satellite TV was a big part of our post-work, post-kids-going-to-bed routine. In hindsight it seems strange to have anxiety about dropping a TV service, but it was an uncomfortable couple of days.

Fast forward two months, and I’ve never missed DirecTV. Kate and I find we’re spending the time in ways that make us happier:

  • We talk more.
  • We read more.
  • I’m teaching myself to code – building software that will help me improve my writing output.
  • Kate updates the family blog more often.
  • Our kids are watching much less TV (we still have Netflix).

The experiment has been a big win.

Listen, I get it. You can’t cut your grocery budget in half (unless, of course, you can). Could you do a  30% experiment? 20%? 10%?

Giving yourself this kind of challenge is all upside. You’re either going to come out of it:

a) Enjoying the same level of happiness while spending less, or…

b) Fully confident that spending more is making you happier.

So, what’s it going to be? Which category are you going to wrestle for the next few weeks?


13 Responses to “What I Learned About Budgeting from a 2.4 Mile Walk with a 40 lb Sandbag on My Shoulder”

  1. Nathan Hittle

    Funny you should mention satellite TV… we never had it in the almost six years we’ve been married, but my wife had always wanted it. So for Christmas, I got it for her. Locked into a two year contract. Now we both regret it. There is nothing that is THAT great that’s on and you can’t get on netflix or dvd. Oh well, lesson learned.

    Oh BTW, our kids still use netflix exclusively, because they don’t understand the the Disney channel isn’t the same number at our house as it is at Grandma’s :-\

  2. Danny McCurry

    Two unrelated comments:

    1. How many of us are carrying 40 pounds of extra weight all day long every day?

    2. Around here (Highland) you pay Comcast the same amount whether you want internet alone or internet / basic cable bundle. They make it hard to cancel the TV service.

    • mark

      Hey Danny –

      The day I got married I weighed 175. Last summer I was 215. As of yesterday, I’m 191. So, yeah, I’ve been that guy carrying around the extra 40, and yeah, I was thinking about it during the walk. Just 16 to go until I’m back to the wedding weight. Looking forward to it.

  3. Mr Potarto

    We existed for a few years with just Netflix, then the Olympics rolled around and I rung Verizon to see how much it would cost to add TV to our phone and internet. It turned out to be cheaper than not having it!

    • mark

      That’s funny – the 2008 Olympics were the reason I signed up for TV. When 2016 rolls around I may pick it up again, but hopefully only for those few weeks. I really love not having the option to channel surf.

    • mark

      Hi Steven – thanks for your concern, but I think the human back is built specifically for such things. I’m already scheming a carry with a 100 lb bag.

  4. Aoife

    I don’t have a Misc category, EVERYTHING has a category, every dollar has a job and a category. I like detail, I’d like another level above master category. Still chasing my tail a bit with budgeting but I have become frighteningly aware of where I spend and have managed to offload a few sandbags.

    • mark

      Good on you – as long as your micro-categories don’t take you to an extreme where the budget creates more stress than it relieves!

      • Rolo

        Amen to both: not having a misc category and not having too many categories.

  5. JamesW

    Great article, I’ve clipped it so I can remind myself from time to time to check my assumptions on what I do and don’t need.

  6. Marissa

    We got rid of our satellite tv back in November to buy a Roku & we LOVE it! Right now we’re paying about $16/month total to stream Netflix & Hulu Plus. We get pandora & some other channels for free including church channels so we can watch LDS general conference. I don’t know how it would work for the olympics yet, but I know there’s a way to get local channels.

  7. Rolo

    I’m embarrassed to say this but a few years ago my cable box completely broke *6 months* before I noticed it. Rather than exchange it, I just cancelled service (and yes, per their job description, they “save customers from disconnecting service”).

    I like Netflix as it gives me what I want, is cheap, and is on my schedule. Good anecdote, Mark! (and it didn’t cost 6 month’s subscription fees)

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