Yeah, sometimes it’s not all hot chocolate, matching sweaters, and laughter around the toasty fire when Julie and I are sitting down ready to do our budget meeting. The last one, actually, had a new addition: Julie’s List of Things She Wants / Needs.
She’s becoming quite adept at how this whole budget system works. As a matter of fact, she’s scary-good at it.
Julie knows that living on a budget means living according to what you planned to spend. Living on a budget doesn’t mean you live on ramen noodles and ketchup packets (though it may point you in that direction). To live on a budget means to live in reality.
Yes. Your finances really are that [insert adjective here: good? horrible? shaky? fantastic?].
The key to the budget is to plan. And that’s where Julie’s list came into play about a week ago. She had it there in front of her – removed from its normal subtle spot, which is magnetized to the refrigerator door – ready to plan. You see, she’s so good at this! Her list is so conservative, and she rightly deserves every single item. She just had the problem in meetings past where she would forget that she needed something (like a new pair of running shoes, or a sippy cup for the one-year old).
So of course, when she was out and about later on, she would remember what she needed. But she hadn’t talked about it during the meeting. So sometimes it’s a phone call, or sometimes it’s just a chance for her to exercise some fortitude and pass on the purchase.
We operate on a tight budget – working toward saving for our first house. So we have every reason to pinch a penny.
But alas, now with that list. Living on a budget means living according to a plan, and her plan, is to make sure she has that list so it can become part of the overall plan. And then I can’t say, “Well did we budget for it?” Because we did. Or we should have. Or at least there was a heated discussion about it.
And that’s a long, round-about way for me to get to the point of this whole brain dump. Our discussion during the last meeting was a bit more heated than normal. I saw the list and pulled up the bridge, dropped the gate, threw away the key, and had some of my People add extra water to the moat.
Our budget meeting was anything but peaceful. It took a little bit longer than normal and we came to a consesus in the end. Basically it forced us to reevalute our priorities just a tinge.
So where does the peace come from living on a budget? It comes from aligning your money with your goals.
Peace Happens When Money Aligns with Goals
And that’s why I didn’t notice any feelings of withdrawal when I spent less money during my experiment as a teenager. I simply stopped spending money on things I didn’t truly care about, and I didn’t miss not having what I didn’t care about in the first place.
There are a few things I care about. I care about shelter for the family. I care about adequate transportation, health care coverage, food, clothing, etc. But you know what? I also care about getting my son his first bike for his birthday coming up here pretty soon (it’s a Superman bike, and is so cool). I also care about Julie’s knees not hurting after she runs, which means we need to get her some new running shoes. I care about going on dates with my wife every Friday night — which means we pay a babysitter, or find someone to swap with at least — so we can go out and give her a break.
When I spend money on any of these things, I don’t feel bad at all. But when I spend money on things that I don’t truly value, that aren’t in line with my goals, I get zero satisfaction from them. As a matter of fact, I would say that the net result is dissatisfaction. What a horrible thing: to spend money on something that makes you feel worse.
Living on a budget in the right way means that you take your budget seriously. You assign your dollars their jobs based on what you truly want them doing.
When we sit down and set our budget, we don’t carve the numbers in stone. You can’t reasonably anticipate every happening during the next four weeks. It’s just not going to happen (though its uncanny how regular things are over a longer time period). So when we go over budget, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re straying from our goals, it may just mean we didn’t see something coming.
The important part about the budgeting process is the conscious decision to have your money do what you actually want it to do. Not what your coworkers want it to do. Not what the bank loan officer wants it to do. Not what anyone wants it to do except you.
And when you find that you truly are living on a budget, then you find that you are living in peace. Because finally…
You, and your money, are in alignment. And I’ll bet there’s money enough for that.