What I Learned About Budgeting from a 2.4 Mile Walk with a 40 lb Sandbag on My Shoulder


I carried my 40 lb sandbag 2.4 miles from home to the YNAB office on Tuesday. It was like the Costco walk, only twice as heavy and half a mile farther. It was hard.

Why would I do such a thing?

Because Jesse basically dared me to. We were talking about putting a couple pieces of exercise equipment in the office (I take a few minutes every hour to move around and shake off the desk stiffness), and I said I was going to drive one of my sandbags over Monday night.

“Oh, I thought you liked to walk,” Jesse said (with a bit of a tone).

Well, that settled that.

Tuesday morning I arrived at the office pretty beat. But I’d done it.

See, you’ll always do more with someone in your ear than if left to yourself.

Lugging my sandbag to work had crossed my mind before, you know, just to see.

But had Jesse not given me the (half-joking) challenge, I probably would have driven the thing to work and missed out on the experience.

And it was a great experience – I got some prolonged double-takes from a few mini-van moms. If only it were for my good looks and ripped physique instead of the large duct tape pillow draped over my shoulder. Ah, well.

So what could this possibly have to do with budgeting?

We budgeters can be pretty smug in the presence of non-budgeters, with our Four Rules and our peace of mind.

But are we in budgeting cruise control?

Where’s the 40 lb sandbag in our budget we can throw over our shoulder just to see what it feels like?

In a recent podcast (Episode 078: The Black Box of Spending), Jesse described how you can really move the needle in your budget by digging into your “Miscellaneous” category, pulling a recurring expense out of it, and making that expense its own category.

By setting it apart, you’re already triggering the power of awareness, which will automatically reduce your spending in that category.

Now take it a step further. Just for kicks and giggles, cut the number in half.

Then sit back and be wildly entertained by the frantic yelling in your head:

“That’s ridiculous!”

“You couldn’t feed a dog on that, let alone a family of four!”

“I didn’t start budgeting so I could live like a homeless person!”

Give it a shot. You’ll learn great lessons about yourself and the category.

The Unexpected Benefits of Challenging a Budget Category

A couple of months ago Kate and I canceled DirecTV, saving us $100 per month. We’d hemmed at hawed about it for a couple months; after all – satellite TV was a big part of our post-work, post-kids-going-to-bed routine. In hindsight it seems strange to have anxiety about dropping a TV service, but it was an uncomfortable couple of days.

Fast forward two months, and I’ve never missed DirecTV. Kate and I find we’re spending the time in ways that make us happier:

  • We talk more.
  • We read more.
  • I’m teaching myself to code – building software that will help me improve my writing output.
  • Kate updates the family blog more often.
  • Our kids are watching much less TV (we still have Netflix).

The experiment has been a big win.

Listen, I get it. You can’t cut your grocery budget in half (unless, of course, you can). Could you do a 30% experiment? 20%? 10%?

Giving yourself this kind of challenge is all upside. You’re either going to come out of it:

a) Enjoying the same level of happiness while spending less, or…

b) Fully confident that spending more is making you happier.

So, what’s it going to be? Which category are you going to wrestle for the next few weeks?