As soon as you start a budget, everything changes. And many of those changes feel uncomfortable. It can feel stifling — tracking every expense and having spending rules you have to follow. Sound fun yet? I’ll answer for you — nope.
So why do people willingly sign up for this crap? I’m beginning to question it as I type this now. And then I remember — it’s the why factor. We figure out why we need/want/must have a budget in our lives, which far outweighs any growing pains that come with having a budget.
Instead of showing you all the reasons you need a budget, we’re going to focus on the opposite — life without a budget and what it looks like. To most of us, this life probably sounds very familiar, almost deja-vu-like. For others, this life will sound exactly like the one you’re living right this very minute. And that’s okay. Because taking a step back and actually understanding what life without a budget looks like is perhaps the best reason of all to have a budget. Commence real talk.
1. $0 in your bank account is your budget.
When you don’t have a budget, your “budget” is the absence of money in your bank account. That means “going over budget” is actually spending more money than you possess in your bank account. So as long as you’re not spending more than you make, you’re good to go.
2. Your spending is not related to or influenced by your financial well being.
The question is never, “Can I afford this?” Because the truth is that you don’t really know. All you know is whether you have enough money in your bank account to cover that expense. So instead, your spending choices are based on other factors. Emotions. Peer pressure. Appetite. Trends. You’re having a bad day, so you deserve that Target splurge. Or you’re feeling really frumpy, so you deserve a new wardrobe. Your friends are going out, so you deserve to go out, too. You’re craving those cookies from that cookie place. You need those shoes everyone is wearing this summer. The reasons are endless. And you probably do deserve all that stuff, honestly. But can you afford it? You still don’t know.
3. You don’t control your money — your money controls you.
Because you’re living without a budget, there’s no rhyme or reason to your spending. Maybe you found a great deal on a cute shirt. Good job! But you don’t have a budget in place to tell you whether you should buy it in every color. Even if you have a desire to live more frugally, without a budget there’s no definitive reason to say “Yes” or “No” to an expense. It’s always subjective. And so overspending inevitably happens, especially when something is on sale or a “good deal” (also subjective). And at the end of the month, you’re left wondering, “How did this happen again?”
4. It’s a life without goals, which means it’s a life without rewards.
Without a budget, you’re working toward nothing. And when you’re working toward nothing, you’re working without goals. And without goals, there’s no real reason to restrain your spending, so you buy things as you please. You’re working just as hard to earn your money as a person with a budget, but you’re seeing none of the benefits. Buying yourself what you want and need becomes meaningless when your money has no other purpose.
5. You’re not going anywhere.
Like a rudderless ship, you’re headed somewhere, but it isn’t a specified destination. Nothing you’re doing is ensuring you’re better off a year from now than you are today. You’re neither preparing for the future nor learning from the past. You’re just existing.
There will be times (like maybe right now) when having no budget seems like the easiest option. And it probably is. Whether you’re living this life or not, hopefully we all realize why budgeting is worth it. Why do YOU need a budget? And for you naysayers, why don’t you?
I need a budget because I need to know what I have at any given moment. I need to know what’s coming in against what’s going out and what’s left over which I divvy out between savings, debt payments, discretionary spending etc. Take last week for example, I was away for the week and whilst I knew what was coming in, WiFi was limited where I was so it was hard to track spending to the full extent that I usually would. At times, it would take a few days for a withdrawal to show on my account so it was like, Oh, forgot about that! Now that I’m back in the saddle, I’ve had a good look at things and with my trusty pen and paper (I’m old school despite modern technology!) I’m back in the saddle and steaming ahead again. I simply couldn’t survive without a budget. My head would be in chaos! I think most people in their own way have some sort of a budget, even if they don’t label it as such.
Yep. #5 is the one!
I use my budget to make sure that, overall, I am spending my money in a way that aligns with my values and makes sense in light of my goals. If I look back and see that I spent tons of money eating out last month but didn’t really get that much joy out of it, I know I need to do something different this month.
I think #2 and 3 are the ones that rings the most true for me, but especially #3. I also think budgeting is good for relationships. So many people fight about money, often, I think, because it is controlling them. I’m lucky that having a budget in my marriage has meant that we are very much on the same page when it comes to money, and we don’t have disagreements really about purchases or whether or not we can travel, etc.
I’m a guy who can’t function unless I have control in my life. Having a budget is just one aspect of that necessary control. Setting up future goals and the detailed steps to achieve them or to reach them represent other steps. Call me a control freak perhaps but results are what I live and learn by. If life is aimless or one is always in reactive mode to what life throws at you then it’s time to change gears.
Awesome post Joanna! It basically outlines how I lived for the first 10 years of my marriage. Thankfully, that has changed. I still have some work to do (emotional spending is my weakness), but I wish I had this article to read a lot sooner! 🙂 You guys are wise beyond your years, and I’m excited to see what your future holds for you!
I wanted to say thank you for posting this. I have a budget, but lately, sticking to it is another story. I get so caught up in the moment and needing some unnecessary item rightnow, that I let it ruin my budget each month and tell myself I’ll do better the next. Printing out your words and putting them up in my office to help me better define my goals and stay on track!
We all need budgets! At the very least, they open your eyes to your spending. Before we budgeted, we still saved and spent wisely, we just didn’t keep track. Turns out…we we’re spending way more than we needed to (guess that’s a consequence we all face without a budget).
Now, we track our expenses on Mint.com and have monthly goals for each category. I’ll admit, we’re not super strict, but neither my husband nor myself really enjoys spending money. We’re both pretty frugal by nature. While we do sometimes go over-budget on eating out or groceries, we’re always very aware of our spending. Tracking our expenses has honestly been life-changing for us.
Definitely emphasizes the importance of budgeting your finances. It can seem like it’s more work, but really, the stress of not knowing how much money you’ll have at the end of the month is more work! Thanks for sharing this.
“You don’t control your money — your money controls you.” Very relevant quote =)
A great article anyone should read ! Planning, controlling and calculating a budget is crucial. I really liked the part about goals, they’re essential in life, without them, there’s no purpose…