Learning to Budget is Like Spreading Peanut Butter


peanutsI guess today’s the day I work a peanut butter analogy into a blog post. You’ll agree it’s been a long time coming; I’m sorry I didn’t get to it sooner.

As the parent of a 6 and 4 year-old – and as a cheapskate who tries to avoid eating out at lunch – I spread more than my share of peanut butter.

Transferring mashed peanuts from jar to bread is gloppy business. Yes, your workflow improves over time, but in the early days you’ll make a mess of it – just ask my son (who’s finally mastered using the business edge of the knife to apply the spread).

In the early days, you won’t apply the PB evenly; you won’t get it just to the edges of the bread, and you won’t have your ratio of PB to J quite dialed in.*

*Or, if you’re weird (like my wife), you’ll be using honey. Because I prefer NOT having my mouth glued shut, I’ll stick to jelly.

No amount of study or planning will make you a master of the delicate wrist action required to get your PB just right.

You just have to start and keep practicing until you’ve got it. My son – thank the heavens above – can now produce a PB&J sandwich he will actually eat (those of you with kids know production doesn’t guarantee consumption).

And…so it goes with budgeting. You have to stick with it long enough to develop your own workflow. Just as your PB spreading skills improve with each sandwich, your budgeting skills will improve with each paycheck you enter and each transaction you record. Your only job is to not quit.

Will you produce budgets so messy you have to chuck them and start over? Yes, just like my son had to toss some of his early attempts at the perfect PB&J. No big deal.

If your budget seems like an unrecoverable mess, put the current attempt behind you. Sign up for a live class (really, it will make a huge difference to your understanding of YNAB), make a fresh start, and just keep practicing.

Some of you are in countries where peanut butter is hard or impossible to buy. I’m deeply, deeply sorry. If you’ve never had it, try this: buy a big bag of peanuts, mash them into a delicious, creamy paste, then lick it off your fingers until you’ve forgotten all your troubles. You’re welcome.