For a long-time, an embarrassingly long time, I avoided having a budget.
Budgeting totally freaked me out. Mostly because I knew I wasn’t being smart with my money and I didn’t want to feel guilty about buying expensive jeans. Oh and eating out. Every meal. Which is pretty much how I lived for the majority of my 20s.
There was always a reason. I had lots of reasons. I mean, I worked so much. And how else would I see my friends? I think for a while, there was even a line of reasoning that went something like, “Well, I’m only one person. I think I am actually saving money, by not buying groceries that would go to waste. It’s really, the responsible thing to do, to stop wasting food and continue eating out.” And since I lived in Seattle at the time, I probably threw in something about saving the environment as well. So yeah, I didn’t say they were good reasons…
But every so often something would happen and I would think, “Sheesh. I have got to get it together. I’m a grown-up. I need to be a grown-up with my money.” For instance, whenever I did my taxes, it would go something like this: “Is that right? I made that much? Oh, wow. Huh. WHERE DID IT ALL GO?”
Or when something unexpected would happen. For me, unexpected almost always means car-related. And in my little universe anything car-related is—99 percent of the time—bad, expensive and my fault. So when something car-related would occur and it wiped me out or I had to put it on my card, I would think, “This is ridiculous. I make plenty of money. I should be prepared for this stuff.” (Ironically, I never stopped to ask, “Why are these things constantly happening to me?” but that is probably another post.)
In retrospect, I think I was ashamed at my inability to get it together, and I did not want to be made to feel bad about my choices. They were my dumb choices and I didn’t want to talk about it. I just wanted to look cute in my expensive jeans, OK? SO SUE ME.
The future felt really, really far away. I mean, by the time I was 36, I would practically be dead, right? Well, twenty-something self, I am not dead yet. And I have perspective you could only dream of. Maybe if you lend me some of your jeans, we can talk about it.
Just kidding. I still have my own expensive jeans! And that is the beauty of the budget. It is my budget and I can prioritize however I want. I might not be able to buy new jeans every Friday night before going out (who would do that?), but I know that when the money is there, I can.
Several years ago, when my husband and I finally got on the budgeting train, it was a bit of a revelation. It wasn’t all about denial and guilt and shame, in fact, quite the opposite. It removed the guilt and shame that I had carried around for years.
The budget served as some healthy boundaries, but within those boundaries there was freedom. It forced us to think about the big picture, what really matters to us, what really makes us happy, and how we will get there.
With my budget, I do buy far less. But it is remarkably more satisfying. When I buy something, it is intentional, I have thought it through, I have the money, and it isn’t taking me further away from my long-term goals (or paying my mortgage). It’s all part of the plan.
I can budget responsibly and still buy expensive jeans. GO FIGURE.
Sometimes I think about where I would be today, if I had discovered that budgeting is freedom when I was 23. But I can’t think about it too long because it is so depressing.
So, me and my awesome jeans, prefer to look forward. Do we wish we had more money? Sure, sometimes. Do I wish I could go out to dinner more often? Yes, pretty much every night. But saying no to sushi, means saying yes to something else, and that isn’t a sacrifice so much as a choice.
And now that we’ve tasted not stressing about money—I choose that. Every time.
It’s not that we have an excess of money coming in, but we have a plan. We don’t worry about money in the day-to-day, because we have outlined our priorities, and with the budget keeping us honest, and our “Car Disaster Emergency Fund” category fully funded, all is right with the world.