When I first started budgeting—like, really budgeting—there were a lot of new questions swirling about and vying for my attention.
What is most important to me?
What does my money need to do before I get paid again?
Why, Target, why?
What do I usually spend on…?
How much should I save for…?
How much emergency fund is enough emergency fund?
All good questions. But honestly, the question that saved me the most money was much, much more simple: “But, what category would it come from?”
Before I bought anything, before I made a purchase of any kind, I had to stop and think about how I would categorize that money in my budget. Where exactly would it come from? How much was available in said category?
Frankly, I never got much further than that, because the answer was usually pretty obvious. My awareness quickly killed my mindless spending, of which, it turns out, there was quite a bit. So, how exactly did this one question save me money?
It Gave Me Pause
“Pause” doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m more of a go-go-go, louder-louder-louder type of person. For better or worse.
(In fact, now that I have kids of my own I’m often reminded that I probably owe my parents an apology or two. Guys—I’m sincerely sorry for the volume that epitomized the first 18 years of my life. You can be sure that payback is,… loud.)
But having to think about how or where I would categorize a purchase, forced me to slow down and get real. Nine times out of ten, there wasn’t a good answer—and that was my answer.
It Kept Me Honest
Sometimes, it feels easier to just shut your eyes very tightly and shake your head and La-La-La your way through life, hoping upon hope, that your finances will all work out someday, some way, eventually. Except it is never really easier, is it?
Once I was aware of my money, I could no longer shut my eyes. And being faced with the finite reality of what I had and what it needed to do, every time I went to make a purchase—”But, what category would it come from?”—kept me connected to that reality, my priorities and my goals.
The ever-present focus on my priorities made it genuinely easier to walk away from the denim or the throw pillows (or whatever it is for you) because it didn’t feel like a sacrifice, but rather a deliberate choice in service of something bigger—a future of my design.
It Changed My Behavior
I think I still ask this question—I must? But it’s so ingrained, it’s so automatic, that I’m not even entirely aware of it. I simply do not think about money the same way. I don’t spend money the same way. Nor do I want to.
I just do my thing. I save. I anticipate the future. I prioritize and get/do/buy the things that are the most important to me. Some of those things would make logical sense to the world, and some of them wouldn’t. But that is of little concern as I know exactly where my spending is coming from and what job it was assigned to do. Being in control is a beautiful thing. Woot!