What Happened When We Didn’t Keep a Budget


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What Happened When We Didn't Budget

Without meaning to, Johnny and I performed a bit of a financial experiment on ourselves in December and January. FYI, “experiment” is a cool way of saying “slacked off,” but regardless, we thought the results were worth sharing.

We’ve been sorta consumed by our side project-turned-business which has been great and crazy and made for a pretty hectic life the past two months. And during that time, while we had our very best intentions of tracking our spending, it just didn’t happen. In December, aside from keeping track of what I’d spent on Christmas gifts, I fell off the budgeting horse just a few days in. And in January, zero tracking happened. Like none. Both months, we regrouped at the end of the month and sat down together to see what kind of damage we’d done to our bank account.

But as we both stared into the soul of our Mint account and reviewed our spending, we were met with a pleasant surprise. Despite our negligence, we had not completely thrown fiscal responsibility to the wind. In fact, we’d actually done a pretty good job. Aside from spending $100 more on food each month, we’d stayed completely within the parameters of our budget. We were surprised and very relieved. And then we realized something else.

This was no coincidence.

Nope, no sirree. We’ve been budgeting religiously for so long that apparently it’s become second nature. Keep in mind that this year six of our budgeting ways. And in those six years, we’ve learned what we can afford and how that translates in our spending. We know what we can and can’t buy. There’s very little impulse shopping that happens in this house (and the *little* only comes when I go to Target by myself).

For instance, last month, I came to grips with the fact that our barely-turned-three-year-old fits into zero of her 3T hand-me-downs, so I had to buy her an all-new 4- and 5-T wardrobe. And even though it didn’t get tracked in our budgeting app, I still made sure all her new clothes cost us under $100. It took a few hours of shopping deals and debating online what she really needed in order to keep those costs down. Here’s the thing though. I didn’t do all of that because I was up against a certain number in our budget. (Remember, we weren’t keeping a budget the last couple months.) I did it because it’s a habit.

And so it was with other categories of our budget. Not tracking didn’t equal reckless spending. It just meant our spending switched to auto-pilot, which happens to mirror our budget. We’ve become so trained and conditioned that it’s almost a sixth sense. We sort of talked about those mental boundaries in this post from a few years ago, but I don’t think either of us expected it to be as comprehensive as it has become.

So does that mean we’ll stop keeping a budget? Never! Especially not while we’re still in the financially precarious beginnings of starting a business. We may be only three days into February, but I’m happy to say those three days have been tracked perfectly so far. And we plan to keep it that way. Even though we may have trained ourselves to not overspend, budgeting is that safety rail we’ll always need. One thing this experience did teach us is that it’s really not about saving twenty cents here or there or making sure you track every dollar perfectly. It’s about your mindset. Once you’ve quit resisting and resenting your budget and you begin to embrace it for what it is, budgeting becomes easy (well, easier). And having control over your finances goes from a chore to part of who you are.

So to be clear, we plan to continue to stick to a budget and track our spending forever and always, and we think everybody else on the planet should, too (not to paint a broad brush or anything). But we also learned that having the right mindset goes a long, long way in keeping your finances in check.

Budgeting = Good. Budgeting mindset = Really ridiculously good (looking).

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5 Comments

  • Reply [email protected] February 5, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    I don’t know if I could handle not having a budget. I check our budget almost everyday. I love having a guide to keep us on track with our spending.

  • Reply Jameal February 6, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Great article! It’s really all about the mindset. Best wishes to you two in your new business endeavor! You’re an inspiration!

  • Reply Ramona @ Personal Finance Today February 6, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    The moment we slack off with tracking our expenses, we also get more relaxed and spend more. While it’s a tedious exercise sometimes, it does help us stay on track.

  • Reply Melanie February 8, 2016 at 10:27 am

    I cant even imagine the idea of someone telling me to not make a budget for my month! I think I’d feel totally unsure and panicky, haha. Looks like I’m addicted to my budget. :)

  • Reply Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor February 8, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    I agree that a budgeting mindset goes a long way. After being trained by the budget, we’ve switched to tracking, but it’s almost one and the same when you are used to buying what you need, and carefully choosing “wants.”

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