Why Fewer Choices is Better in Budgeting & Condiments


From Podcast #179: Decision Fatigue, the one in which Jesse discusses why less is more in budgeting, among other things.


In our efforts to improve our money—or improve anything really—we tend to want to over-complicate things.

I think, perhaps, the over-complicating makes us feel like we’re making more progress. Like, “Gosh, this is extra-hard, so I deserve extra pats on the back for this massive endeavor that I have undertaken!”

But you don’t want to do that with your money. You want to keep it simple. And here’s why: when you keep it simple, there are fewer decisions.

Fewer moving parts simply require fewer decisions—and that’s a good thing.

So, “Where does this money come from? Should it be coming from this account, this account, this account, that account? What credit card should I use to pay at the grocery store — A, B, C or D? How do I maximize those points?” You know, all that stuff. It’s tiring. It costs you cognitive energy. You only have so much you can think about. It really is finite—you can’t think about everything. And so I would encourage you not to fill your head with things that don’t matter.

This truth applies in so many areas of life, but as it pertains to budgeting, there is a lot to be gained. As you budget, and really dial things in—giving every dollar a job, thinking ahead to those large, less frequent expenses and breaking them up into monthly amounts—instead of doing that whole song and dance when the bill comes and trying to juggle payments and wait for money to come in, you’ll just get the pay and pay the bill with money that has been sitting around waiting for that express purpose.

Now, you’ve already made big decisions as you followed Rule One, Rule Two, adjusted with Rule Three as needed. You’ve made big decisions. You’ve thought through your priorities. You have a plan, this framework within which you can operate.

That will free your mind and then you can avoid the decision fatigue where you just always have to be thinking, “Do I pay this bill with this paycheck? Do I put this bill off till the next paycheck? How do I handle this? Do I use this credit card or that?”

You avoid all of that. “Should I buy this? Should I buy this?” Well, you’ve already decided. Is there money in that category for that thing? Then okay. But you make these decisions kind of in bulk. You sit in your budget meeting as you’re asking yourself, “What should this money do before I’m paid again?” you’re looking at the whole and you’re not having to revisit these tiny, little corners of your brain to figure out exactly what you should do when. That’s decision fatigue.

There was a famous study about, I think, ketchup, maybe mustard. People became less satisfied with their choice as they were presented with more and more options—and maybe that’s kind of the same thing that we want to avoid with our money, with our spending.

Work your budget. Trust your categories. Trust those priorities. Adjust when needed. As things change over time, change your budget. And then relax and don’t… You just don’t need to question every little thing. Just work inside that budget and things will work out.


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