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9 Jan 2018

Spontaneity: Plan Yours Today

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by Ben Barlowe

If you want a budget that’s for keeps, you’ve got to make room for fun.

Even with Rule Three, Roll With The Punches, sometimes a budget can feel a little, well, rigid. In fact, fear of cutting back prevents many people from ever even trying to budget! Add in the fear of missing out, a.k.a., FOMO, and you’ve got a recipe for financial ruin.

But here’s the truth—and it’s not just my experience, we’ve seen this with thousands of YNABers—when you start giving every dollar a job (that’s Rule One, by the way), you’ll feel freer than you’ve ever felt! That’s right, when you follow a budget, you’ll get more of what you want (and less of what you don’t).

Your Budget Aims to Please

Your budget isn’t there to make you feel broke or boss you around. Your budget’s job is to help you channel your financial power towards the things that will make you feel safe, secure and, the thing everyone seems to forget, happy!

Now, I don’t know about you, but I could never be happy if I felt like I could never make a purchase on a whim or change my plans. We all need flexibility—so plan for it! I know what you must be thinking, and it’s probably along the lines of, “Uh, Ben? Isn’t ‘planning spontaneity’ an oxymoron?”

I know that it sounds counterintuitive, but I’m here to tell you that it’s doable: You can both bask in budgeting peace and, at the same time, go a little off the rails with your spending. Let me give you a few examples:

1. Make Room for Compassion

Let’s say your close friend just wrapped up a no-good, horrible, really-really bad day, and you want to help him take his mind off of things. You think to yourself, “I should take Don to dinner, have a few laughs, and cheer him up.”

You check your budget and (of course!) there’s a whole lot of nothing in your ‘Dining Out’ category. No dollars, no dinner. Sad Don. Dang.

This, my friends, is a perfect example of when to use some planned spontaneous giving! Yes, planned. See, you’re a savvy budgeter, and you’re going to create a little category called ‘Compassion’. Every time you get a chance, assign a few more bucks to this category to cover random acts of kindness. (If you donate regularly to your church or a charity, keep that separate.)

Your ‘Compassion’ category is reserved for needs that you don’t even know are coming—like Don’s disastrous day. Which, thanks to this new category in your budget, you’ll be able to soothe with some seriously super sushi.

Let me tell you, it feels pretty great to spend money on a good time with a friend, especially when it helps turn their day around!

2. Don’t Balk at Bulk

Now, let’s say that you’ve nailed your grocery budget—we’re talking efficiency and savings at it’s finest. Dinners are planned, and you’ve got the shopping list ready to go. Slick, end-cap marketing doesn’t stand a chance. You’re on a mission, and that mission doesn’t include impulse purchases (although you’re ready and willing to accept a few free samples, thank you very much!).

You arrive at the grocery store, stretch your calves, and proceed inside with your cart. Then it practically hits you over the head: a sign that reads “SALE, chicken is half off. Today only!”

Oh man, what’s a grocery budget ninja to do? You want to take advantage of the discount, but if you buy a truckload of that sweet, cheap chicken it would totally destroy your ‘Grocery’ category for the rest of the month.

It’s a classic conundrum, and (obviously) we’ve got a solution that involves, what’s that called? Planned spontaneity! How do you stay on budget and land those chickens? Allow me to introduce you to the ‘Bulk Purchases’ category. Just like with our new ‘Compassion’ category, you’ll add a few dollars every month, and watch it fatten up.

From now on, you’re prepared (you won’t chicken out) when the price of poultry drops. You can stock up, make chicken stock, and plan a ton of discount chicken meals. And all without wrecking your perfectly planned ‘Grocery’ category. Mmm. Saving never tasted so good.

3. Fund Some Fun!

I don’t know why we don’t lead with this (maybe then more people would start budgeting!), but here it is: when YNAB says “Give every dollar a job.” one of those jobs should be, explicitly, for fun. In other words, “Money for whatever I feel like buying!”

It’s impossible to anticipate what’s coming, so why not build in a safety valve—a safe way to blow off steam (a.k.a., blow some money!). Of course, this is a once-in-a-while occurrence, and we’re minding our limits (the amount of cash that’s saved in the ‘Fun’ category), but it can make a world of difference.

Obviously, you’ve got to cover your priorities, first. You know, rent, the light bill, a bit in the ‘Car Repair’ category … but don’t forget to drop some bucks into your ‘Fun’ category, too. Sock away enough so that you can fend off a budget’s worst enemy: deprivation. (When Jesse first started out, he and Julie had just five dollars a month! But it was enough to give them the taste of spending freedom that they craved so that they could, otherwise, be very frugal and make ends meet.)

And that brings up a good point: if you’re budgeting with a partner, you both get a ‘Fun’ category—so that you both get to taste the sweet elixir that is freedom. Trust me, you don’t want to find yourself halfway between paychecks in a dramatic domestic discourse about whether to buy a pizza or a pedicure. That conversation won’t feel good, no matter how it ends!

What’s Your Splurge of Choice?

I hope these ideas helped you see that, budgeting? It’s not an exercise in deprivation. You can have all of the things that matter to you. You just have to plan a little. And on that note, what do you need to feel happy?

After you’ve covered the essentials, and saved for your true expenses, where do you make wiggle room in your budget? Tag a photo of your splurges with #YNABfunmoney—we’d love to see where you employ some good ‘old-fashioned, planned spontaneity!

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Your Next Step

Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)

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