Get On Board With Priority-Based Budgeting


Budgeting is all about aligning your money with your priorities—the things that matter most to you. All budgeting should be priority-based budgeting, really. 

And it seems like making budget decisions that reflect what you want would be the easy part, right? It’s what you want! But getting to the heart of the matter isn’t always as simple as it seems; sometimes aligning your spending with your values requires digging deep and pushing hard on the why

How to Start Priority-Based Budgeting 

Sometimes a priority is hiding in plain sight. 

I have a friend who, like me, has a lot of kids, and they loved going to the movie theater. Their family just really enjoyed the whole experience—the popcorn, the sodas in those little carriers, the anticipation of the previews. This was their thing and they loved it.

But, boy, was it ever expensive! They were spending a ton of money, and it started to bother him. So, I asked him to tell me about the movies—that experience. 

Well, he outlined the popcorn and the carriers and the food and they loved the smell and they loved the anticipation. I asked why.

“We like being together. We like having the experience together. We’re all laughing together.” 

I said, “Well why?” 

“Yeah, it’s just a great family experience, where we’re all bonding and we can talk about the movie later on. The next day we’re eating dinner, I remember this part. That was so funny or this was interesting.”

I asked why again. 

“I guess just because we are bonding and making connections.”

Learn more about budgeting for what you love by watching, “How Do I Budget for My Hobbies?” 

Examine The “Whys” Behind Your Priorities

And then I could stop asking why because we’d uncovered the root. Did they love going to the movies? Yes. But the movies themselves were not what they valued most; it was the shared experiences, together as a family.

We brainstormed some ways they could achieve this same sense of bonding and connection without spending so much money. 

You might have different “whys” behind your own budget-busting expense, and that’s great! No judgment, just, “Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?” The exercise is just that, asking why until you are sure you’ve hit the heart of what matters most to you. It’s an essential part of the budget process—or should be. 

I want you to do this with each of your categories. Ask yourself why five times. Yes, five times! 

Why do I spend my money here? Answer it, ask why again. Answer it, ask why again and so forth. Do it five times and you’ll get to the core. You might be surprised at what you discover. 

Once you’ve got your answer, look at your budget, your categories, your spending, and your life with a fresh perspective. Are your dollars doing the jobs that matter most to you? Does your spending reflect your values? Is what you think you spend money on for enjoyment actually the thing that you enjoy?

Priority-based budgeting is all about examining your spending through the lens of the life that you want to live, and can become a roadmap to making sure you stay on the most fulfilling path. 

Create your own priority-based budget with YNAB. Try it for free for 34 days!