Budgeting Wisdom from a Dentist


There’s a kid-focused dentist’s office in my town that has slick flat screens where Nemo and Dori swim across the ceilings and cheerily dressed hygienists offer all sorts of fun. The theme park atmosphere calms and entertains young patients while they rest in cushy recliners. It also serves as fair warning to adults that this little endeavor is going to cost a ton. Your kids won’t let you take them anywhere else from then on, so go ahead and take the Keurig coffee and apple scone–you’re definitely paying for them.

I would have loved those distractions when I was a kid. Cheeks stuffed with the typical fare, I was left in sterile silence except for the occasional one-sided conversation.

The only decoration I remember was a framed cross stitch on the wall. In block letters was the message: You don’t have to floss all your teeth. Only the ones you want to keep.

It didn’t make me floss more as a boy, but it certainly left an impression. Awkward memories aside, I have found myself adapting that logic to conversations regarding budgeting.

I was walking a friend through the process of starting his YNAB budget a while back. His voice was filled with angst when he talked about all the things he wouldn’t be able to do. “I just don’t want to feel guilty if I decide to have a cup of coffee, see a movie, or whatever.”

“No problem!” I told him. “You don’t have to keep track of all your money. Only the money you want to keep.”

“What?” he paused.

“Well, once you’ve covered the essentials, you have some money left over, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Then take some of that money and drop it into a category you don’t track. Decide how much money you want to blow and go have a blast!”

Ah, the freedom.

Your slush fund, fun money, cashola to burn, or whatever you call it, is essential to budgeting health. It’s liberating to take a chunk of money and blow it. Unashamedly. On whatever.

I, for example, now have throwing knives. Three of ‘em. I’m terrible, but my boys think I’m a ninja.

YNAB’s Rule #1 is to give every dollar a job. Make sure to tell some of your money to go have a good time.