YNAB Podcast Episode 88: Perfect is the Enemy of Good


Hello YNABers. My name is Jesse Mecham and this is podcast number 88 for You Need A Budget, where we teach you four rules to help you stop living pay check to pay check, get out of debt and save more money.

Today I want to share with you one of my favorite quotes, which is, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” And I say that a lot to my wife, who does not listen to this podcast, when she’s fretting over things that I don’t think she should fret over. And I have to say it to myself often when just trying to do anything, basically. Those of you listening, there’s a big group of you, because you’re budgeters, you’re perfectionists. You’re Type A, you want everything to be just right. You’re talking to a recovering accountant here – or a recovering accountant is talking to you. And everything has to balance to the penny perfect; everything in life has to be that way; everything just so, just perfect.

A lot of times we want things to be perfect and in thinking that way, and in hanging our hats on that idea of perfection, we don’t do anything. For example, you decide you’re going to get fit, so you devise an exercise plan. But before you devise the exercise plan you need to study out exactly what type of exercise you should be performing. So you go online, you start researching running – too much impact on the knees. Rowing – you don’t have good access to a rower. Swimming – there’s too much time changing in and out of your swim gear. I’ll do strength training – there’s injuries here and there that you’re finding online. I’ll do this, I’ll do that. I’ll just walk – oh, you need something more intense. I’ll do cardio – okay, we’ve settled on cardio. I want to do it long distance, I want to do a high intensity interval training type situation, I want to do it this way or that way. I should do it in the morning, I should do it in the evening, I should do it right after I’ve eaten, right before I’ve eaten. I shouldn’t eat before I do it, I should definitely eat before I do it. I shouldn’t eat carbs before, I should eat protein before. No, I should only eat carbs, no protein. And so on and so forth.

Or you decide, “I’m going to eat a little better.” But in saying “a little better” you really mean, “I’m going to eat perfect.” So you begin doing a bunch of research. You’ve seen, you’ve read anything… My mom had a book from a guy I saw on her bookshelf a while ago that was all about how fat is bad, and now fat is good. Eggs have been bad, eggs have been good; the cholesterol from the yolk is bad; no, the cholesterol is really good – you don’t eat the whites. Drink milk, don’t drink milk; mammals never drink milk; mammals always drink milk. And it just goes on and on. Don’t eat meat, do eat meat. Eat lots of vegetables – I don’t think that one’s been refuted yet – but raw, not steamed, you lose all the nutrients. And you can just get stuck in this analysis… no, paralysis by analysis.

In budgeting, perfect is the enemy of good. You can set up your budget just right, or at least start on it and think about your categories over and over and over and over again, and get everything set up just right and not actually be doing much of anything. You can be sitting there and just agonizing over, “Should I call it the toiletries category, or should I be more specific? Should I include haircuts in toiletries? No, no, no. That’s separate hair care. How about hair and toiletries? Does toiletries include paper towels, because we dry our hands with the paper towels? No, no…” I mean, you can just go on and on – how many accounts you should have, where you should set them up. Perfect is the enemy of good.

Anyway, for those of you who are just… There are some of you that are on a roll. You maybe need to loosen the reins a little bit. I say that because I went on a really cool back country trip to Wyoming last week – two weeks ago. We were on horses for 50 miles – can’t prepare for that sitting in front of your computer, I’ll tell you that. But some of you need to loosen the reins a little bit and just relax. The budget does not have to, nor will it ever be, perfect. It’s okay just the way it is. Just roll with the punches with your overspending, and also just relax about how you have things set up and your process and all of that. Just know that the point of budgeting is to be able to be more aware of your spending and to be able to consciously decide on a frequent basis – there is no perfect frequency, by the way – but just constantly decide on a frequent basis what you want your money to do before you’re paid again. It helps you look ahead and see things that you wouldn’t otherwise see. And it helps you not spend money that otherwise would have been spent. And that money that otherwise would have been spent is there for those things that you have foreseen, like Christmas or annual property taxes or life insurance premiums or vacation – let’s keep it on an upbeat, positive side of things.

That’s basically it. Perfect is the enemy of good.

Until next time, follow YNAB’s four rules and you will win financially. You have not budgeted like this.