Why You'll ALWAYS Need a Budget

Today is payroll day at YNAB, so I spent ten minutes during breakfast entering and budgeting my income. Yep – just ten minutes to give every dollar a job for another month.

If my budgeting process is that simple, do I really need to budget anymore? My categories are mostly stable. Maybe I’m just going through the motions because I work for the company. Maybe my new spending habits are ingrained enough that I don’t need to bother with the software anymore.


Take today’s budgeting session as an example. Quick as it was, I made important decisions and trade-offs during those ten minutes:

  • My son has dental appointments the next two Wednesdays that required $600 in the “Dental” category where I’d normally only fund $100.
  • Kate has her eye on a $250 reading & writing curriculum to use in our son’s homeschooling.
  • I had to pay an extra $95 to the HOA this month, taking that category to $130 from its normal $35.

I shifted money from here to there and from there to here, finishing the session about $60 short. Had to shave “Fuel,” “Restaurants,” and “Household Needs” to close the gap.

If I’d decided I didn’t need to “formally” budget anymore, how would I have handled the dental work, the homeschool curriculum, and the HOA fee? I’d have looked at my savings (where we keep about one month’s expenses), told myself there was plenty of money to cover the “unexpected” expenses, and gone about my normal spending. No tradeoffs, no trimming this or that to make it all work.

Problem is, we budgeters know the truth about unexpected expenses: they’re absolutely expected. There’s no such thing as a “normal” month, even if your discretionary categories are “mostly stable.”

You’ll always need a budget because you’ll always have decisions to make. You’ll always have to weigh the proverbial homeschool curriculum against eating out, going on vacation, and buying new gym shoes.

If you decide you don’t need a budget, you end up covering the “unexpected” expenses and the restaurants, trips, and gym shoes…and oops – that’s how so many of us with credit card balances we can’t quite explain.

If you don’t have a budget, do yourself a favor and start using one now. There’s nothing quite like having a tool that puts your entire financial situation in front of you, allowing you to make the best possible decision about what to do with your resources. You’ll never stop needing it, and if you work a budget as it’s meant to be worked, you’ll never stop wanting to need it.