The Secret to Lasting, Positive Financial Change


From Podcast #169, Pruning, the one in which Jesse discusses death by pruning and the secret to lasting, positive financial change.


I killed eight of my fruit trees just recently after I read about pruning.

I planted the trees three years ago; I had four apple and four peach. I’d already lost two pear trees because pear trees are allegedly—and obviously now—do not do well in my neck of the woods. And I lost two peach trees, I think, because of my dog—may she rest in peace.

But the remaining four peach trees, four apple trees, one non-fruiting but flowering pear tree—I killed them all. Oh, and some other tree that was planted early on that I can’t identify, I killed it too. I killed them good.

Too Much Enthusiasm + No Plan

I read about pruning quite a bit and thought, “This seems logical,” and I studied it out in my mind and read everything I could get my hands on for about 15 minutes. And then I went out with some fairly large shears and started cutting.

I would tilt my head to the side, look at the tree as if I knew what I was doing, and then I would cut some more. And then I would cut more. And then I would kind of lean my head to the other side and give it a quizzical look, maybe squint, like I was deep in thought and working through some really tough questions. And I would cut a little more.

At the end of the day, I think… I mean, I had this guy come out—he’s a tree expert—and I said, “Hey, so how do these trees look?” And he took one look at them and said, “Er, yeah. These are gone. These won’t do anything anymore.”

So, we’re planting new trees. We’re starting fresh—and now I’m bringing it back to budgeting—which isn’t a bad idea for a lot of you with regards to your budget.

I’m still sad about the trees. Don’t write to me and console me—I’m inconsolable. But I’m moving forward. I’ve ordered the new trees. I’m going to put them in nice, big, healthy holes in the ground. But I lost three years of growth and the good peach harvest we had last year, well, that obviously will not happen again for sometime.

It’s a great time of year for pruning and planning and planting—spring, right? New growth.

Prune With Caution

Now consider your budget. Just think about what kind of small things you could do.

Don’t be drastic like I was with the pruning. Don’t think that you need to do all of the work and just revamp every single component of your financial system in one Saturday morning over the space of about an hour. Don’t grab the big shears. You know, grab the tiny ones where you couldn’t cut off large branches even if you tried.

Just be slow about it. Snip here, snip there, and look at the tree… I mean, your budget, you know.

I’ve said many times before that I consider spending, cutting spending for its own sake, fairly blind. I don’t think it lasts.

There are people that will reduce their spending because they want to reduce their carbon footprint or they’re motivated by minimalist living because they get some emotional benefit and I’m not talking about that. That’s obviously not for its own sake; that’s cutting spending for very specific reasons.

But for those of you that think you’re setting up your budget and you’re just going to hack away at all of your spending, for honestly no good reason, you’re going to kill your motivation.

So, I would encourage you, again, just little, little, lasting changes will do a lot more for you than walking out to your back yard and just lopping off branches left and right, because you’ll have an expert walk by and say you’ve killed it. And in the case of my trees, I needed an expert.

Expert Advice

But when it comes to budgeting, I’m the expert.  I’m positioning myself here as the budgeting expert and I’m saying you’re not the expert. Let me help you.

If you want your budget to last and you’re saying, “We spend too much! We spend too much! I can’t believe we eat out this much! I can’t believe we spend this much on groceries! Our entertainment budget is out of control!” Just snip a little, cut back a little at a time, make sure it’s sustainable, so that it lasts.

Eventually, I want you to drastically improve your finances. I want to see dramatic improvement. I want to see credit card debt completely gone. I want to see the entertainment budget cut to whatever you think is truly necessary—that goes for every other line item on your budget. That’s what I want to see. I don’t want to see you just hacking away with no plan.

So, snip a little, take a week off, come back to it, bend the branches the way my tree expert did. It was like he was talking to the tree. I didn’t do that when I was killing my trees.

Until next time, follow YNAB’s four rules and you will win financially. You’ve never budgeted like this.

This episode aired May 11, 2015.


For more about how to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, get out of debt and save more money, faster — subscribe to the You Need A Budget podcast today!