Why I'm Grateful for My Struggles ... and YNAB

… because there’s more to life than being a clothes horse.

During a recent work trip, a coworker and I had been chatting when she turned to me and said something along the lines of, “You don’t really care about clothes that much.”

If you knew me at any point prior to 2004(ish)—when I started grad school—I bet your jaw just hit the floor. I was a dedicated fashionista, you see, willing to crawl through endless stores across multiple malls just to find the perfect pair of black jeans or the right shoes to complete an outfit.

I loved clothes. Still do, in fact … but my priorities changed.

Years of being a broke college student and struggling young professional chipped away at my love for shopping. It wasn’t fun to look when I couldn’t buy, so I got out of the habit. Bit by bit, I actually started to loathe the mall and, by the time I found YNAB in 2013, I only shopped when it was absolutely necessary—and I’m still mostly that way today. The big difference is, I’m no longer upset about it.

In fact, I’m grateful.

If I hadn’t been so squeezed for cash, I wouldn’t be who I am, today, and I never would have gone looking for a budgeting solution and stumbled across YNAB. And, it was by working The Four Rules that I finally fully understood …

What’s Really Important

Before I started budgeting, I thought that spending less money was the answer to all of my problems, so that’s what I did—and I felt totally miserable and deprived. I gave up recreational shopping. I gave up a lot of ordinary, not-even-a-little-exciting shopping. I never vacationed. I stopped giving gifts.

Sometimes things went smoothly but, even with my cutbacks, I’d still experience “emergencies” that would derail me. And I felt absolutely punished by how pitiful my bank account looked after paying the bills. Yet, again, there’d be no eating out, going out or spending of any kind until payday.

But that all changed when I began implementing Rule One and giving every dollar a job. It’s funny how, when you plan what you’ll spend ahead of time, it’s less appealing to blow through your entire month’s “Eating Out” budget in the first week. Instead, I funneled my money more strategically to the important things, the things I really wanted, and I metered out my cash to make sure that all of my needs were met throughout the entire month. It felt like magic, and my stress plummeted.

So Much More Is Possible

The best part about budgeting, though, is that I have a newfound sense of control over my life. Instead of focusing on where I should stop spending money, I look for where I should start. There’s something so empowering about the question, “Where will I spend my dollars first?”

It’s frighteningly easy to throw away a lot of money on coffee to-go or those miscellaneous extras that jump into your shopping cart—things that don’t contribute to your happiness, not in a lasting way, at least. Now, it takes a lot more to excite me to spend because I have bigger, way-cooler goals, like owning a house with a quiet, tree-filled backyard and a deck, attending yoga retreats in Bali and Aruba, and paying off all of my debt.

… I still love fashion, but I’ll take a yoga retreat over yoga pants any day! My old leggings are doing the job just fine.

Money Doesn’t Have to Stress You Out

I think it’s hard for a lot of us to see the good that comes our way, not in spite of our hardships but, because of them. There was a time when I was terrified to think too much about my money situation. I tried to ignore how broke I felt and hoped that I’d be able to, one day, out-earn my problems. That way of living left me anxious and wishing for a miracle.

What I didn’t realize was how empowering it would be to deal with my finances, head on. Facing my student loans was a huge turning point for me. The balance didn’t magically disappear, but my stress shrank to a much more manageable size. I saw a path to freedom—it’s possible. But, most importantly, I realized that I have a lot more control than I thought.

And this is why I’m grateful …

My budget introduced me to possibility, and we became fast friends. Now, when I spend money, my choices are (mostly) aligned with my big, life goals. I’m happier in the present because there’s no regret or worry (I’m following my plan!). And, I look forward to a debt-free and just-right-for-me future.