Budget Madness: What Are Your Final Four Priorities?

You need a budget. You do. I’m sorry, we all do.

Even if you know that and believe it to be true, most of us, from time to time, need to mix things up and bring the budget back to life again. And so I present to you: Budget Madness.

The Draft

What if you were to list all of your categories—which is just a fancy word for priorities or goals or values—and then you ranked them?

You could seed them, essentially, “This is my first seed category, my most important. Second seed, third seed, fourth seed…” All the way down the list. From life-sustaining importance to the super random category that only you have.

You might find the ranking is very difficult—just like with basketball—and it’s a big secret, unless it’s leaked.

Once you have all your categories listed, draw your bracket. Pick your top seed and then just work your way down. You won’t know the end result of your actual bracket, but start looking at it this way.

The endgame is really just to recognize that money is finite and there are trade-offs—constant trade-offs—that you have to make.

Make The Necessary Adjustments

And at the end of the day, when you’re looking at a basketball game, you’ve got the coach making the half-time adjustments and your situation is no different.

You have a bunch of priorities and they conflict with each other sometimes, and their value shifts from time to time, and you have to adjust your spending accordingly. It’s very fluid and it can change—it should change.

There will be some upsets that surprise you. And that’s OK. That’s how it goes. You adjust and keep playing or budgeting, as the case may be.

The Final Four

So build your bracket and determine your final four priorities.

And of course—you know I have to say this—if you’re in a shared financial situation, it’s important to make sure you have the same bracket, where you could say, “These are our final four categories. They’re the big ones. These are the ones we hit, no matter what.”

Early on, you might kind of know, “This one? Definitely more important than this one.” But as you get closer to the end, into that final four scenario, that’s where it starts to get interesting. Narrowing it down to just four priorities forces you to ask really hard questions. Like, “If my money were doing these things, how would I feel?” Sometimes we ask, “What should my money do before I’m paid again?” But I was talking with my friend Mark, who does a lot of budget coaching for businesses following the YNAB way, and he gets business owners to ask, “How would I feel if my money were doing these things?” I love that.

So when you get to that Final Four, after you’ve run your bracket all the way through all the different rounds, ask yourself, “How will I feel when my money is doing these things? How will I feel when I’m paying down my debt rapidly? How will I feel when I’m putting away even a little bit for my kids’ college? How will I feel when I’ve saving for that vacation that I’ve been wanting to take for a decade? How will I feel?”

Because at the end of the day you’ve got to make sure the bracket that you end up with is the bracket you actually wanted. And by bracket I meant budget.


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