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Freedom: It’s Why Budgets Rock!

I love my budget!

Jail cell window openSome of you think that’s crazy talk. Budgets conjure up images of men in straightjackets, whispering quietly to themselves in padded rooms. They are restrictive torture devices often forced upon us by an all-knowing and all-wise budget Nazi (aka the spouse or other special someone). They make us feel confined and boxed in.

I’ve been there.

I love to spend money as much as the next person and once felt like a budget wouldn’t help me accomplish any financial goal. I knew for sure it wouldn’t make me feel good because I couldn’t buy the things I wanted. Budgets seemed so difficult to piece together and I frankly didn’t have the time (or want to take the time) to figure it out.

Fortunately, my special someone (Mrs. Luke1428) was patient and loving in those days (and still is). Slowly, over time, we (I) agreed to give budgeting a three-month trial run. That decision changed our lives. And the best part was, we received something I never thought a budget could possibly produce:

Freedom.

That’s right…budgets produce freedom, not bondage. Here’s how.

Focus. In 9th grade, my dad and I built a wooden telescope for my school science fair. The mirrors reflected the light so that an image could be viewed through the eyepiece. The telescope worked perfectly except for one problem – it didn’t focus clearly enough. The image of the moon could be seen but not the fine details. (We built it that way on purpose as my only point was to show the reflective properties of light. Got an “A” on it, so woo-hoo!)

Focus fine-tunes our life. It brings to the forefront issues we haven’t been seeing clearly. Or maybe issues we know are there but have been avoiding. Deciding to focus on our lives and create a budget revealed big, gaping money holes, ones that were causing us to lose financially.

Discipline. See a new computer…buy it! The new Nike shoes just hit the shelf…charge it! Tired after a long day at work…eat out…at someplace NICE! This was our mindset, day in and day out – completely undisciplined in how we spent our money. Money was controlling us.

The focus we began to develop spawned discipline in our spending habits, something we had been sorely lacking. Now that there were categories with dollar amounts allocated in them, we seemed to be more careful with splurge spending. We actual had thoughts run through our head like “Do we really need this?” and “Maybe we can wait until it goes on sale.” That was the first sign things were changing.

Crisis Avoidance. As our discipline increased, it became apparent we were no longer managing from crisis to crisis. As part of the budgeting process, we had allocated a certain amount each month to be deposited in an emergency savings fund. This continued to build each month until we had several months of expenses saved.

Now when the stove broke, we didn’t have to scramble to get it replaced. If the kids needed a doctor, we didn’t check the budget to see if we could afford it. When the car unexpectedly wouldn’t start, we had the money for the tow and the repairs.  All the money to cover these “surprises” came from our emergency fund.

I can’t describe the pressure this released out of our lives. No more crisis managing. And it was all because of our budget.

Deeper Relationships. I said budgeting changed our lives. But it wasn’t all about money.

In a marriage situation, you just don’t sit down at a computer one day and say, “Let’s make a budget.” The reason is that we are different. I like to spend. My wife prefers to save. Our vision on how to handle money is different. We are money opposites, headed for conflict, unless we talk it through.

The budget numbers cannot be queued in until the personal issues are resolved. Budgeting requires communication beforehand – deep communication, about values, goals, dreams, and fears. We have to be willing to see the needs of the other person and understand why they are like they are. For many couples, this will be the toughest part of the whole budget process – actually talking with their spouse. In the long run, however, it will be the most rewarding for the oneness it will develop in your relationship.

The budget freed me from an undisciplined and unfocused lifestyle. It relieved the pressure of managing crisis to crisis. And it brought me into a deeper and more meaningful relationship with someone very special to me. And through it all, choices became simpler to make because we developed a plan.

If I had known budgeting would do all that, I would have created one sooner.

What’s holding you back from doing a budget? How has budgeting changed your life? Do you feel more freedom or does it still feel like the budget controls you?

Image at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Next Post: I Can’t Jump Anymore – Adjusting to Changes

Prior Post: Attachment: The Giving Killer

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Comments

  1. Thinking about and planning where your money is going is a great way to start living a less stressed out life. My budget is definitely not perfect but it definitely is a great guide as to where the majority of my money should be going. Now budgeting everything together with my bf instead of just splitting it down the middle…that’s going to be a tough one!

    • Haha…we’ve all been through those money issues in our relationships Amanda. Getting on the same page with the bf will be the single biggest thing that will move your relationship forward. It’s not going to be easy because you are both different people with different visions on how to spend money. I thought I was on the same page as my wife when we got married. Turned out I was wrong. We are vastly different but we worked through it. We now work as one team on our finances and it’s awesome!

  2. Great post! We don’t follow our budget exactly, but it is a good guideline to see where our money is going and where we are spending too much.

    • Thanks Michelle! Budgets should be flexible and designed for some give and take. They don’t have to be rigid or restrictive. I guess it’s all in the mindset of the person. I choose to view them as freeing.

  3. Nice post Brian! I could not agree more that a budget really can be freeing. I started budgeting when I was in debt and we’ve been doing it for about the past 9-10 years of our marriage. We don’t really restrict ourselves, but view it as a roadmap for our money so we can put it to the best use for us. That gives us the freedom to make choices and not feel like we “have” to spend all the money we have allocated in each category.

    • “A roadmap”…that’s a great way to view it John! We usually don’t spend all the money we allocate to a category. Now that you mention that, I wonder if that’s why people may view budgets as restrictive…that if they say they are going to spend $300/month on clothing for the family then they have to spend that $300 ONLY on clothing. Well what if you only need $150 of clothing one month? Do you spend the other $150 on needless clothing? No…you just move it to another expense category, or savings, or investing, etc. That’s where the freedom comes…to make those types of choices…and when budgeting gets cool!

  4. While I can’t say that I have stuck to a budget month-over-month, I have been tracking our spending for over a year now and it definitely has been beneficial to review from time-to-time and make adjustments in our spending/saving as needed.

    • I love to review our budget. It has even helped me to see what we did in the prior year in any given month. Sometimes I forget a regularly occurring expense in a certain month (like I have to budget in July for back to school clothes). It helps to leave notes in the budget that can trigger my memory the next year at the same time.

  5. Planning is very much important when it comes to budgeting and both should agree to that plan so that it gets realized in longer term. This would definitely help us be it in emergency situations where we need not press the panic button for our unforeseen expenses

  6. Brian! Great to see you over here. I like your setup. We were using eleven40 on http://www.allthingsfinance.net for a while as well. Thanks for hitting me up over at Modest Money.

  7. Yes! People tend to relate the word “budget” to the idea of suppression. But if it weren’t for my budget, I wouldn’t be free to do what I really wanted! Instead, I would just spend on frivolous things that really don’t matter in the long run.

    • I’m embarrassed at all the frivolous things I have spent money on in the past. Now I’m more focused on need and the value that a purchase brings into my life.

  8. FI Pilgrim says:

    I’m a huge fan of budgets myself and I agree with Grayson– keeping a budget for a little while will definitely teach you discipline and self-control, even when you don’t track it closely anymore.

  9. I had to budget when I was in debt, but now that I am out, my budget is less restrictive. I actually am able to do most of it in my head because I know the numbers so well. I am not a fan of budgets, but I do understand the power of them.

    • As long as you are aware of the numbers and are seeing positive movement with your financial situation, I think that is fine. I know some of your story Grayson and you definitely aren’t being crazy with your money now that your debt is gone. Even though I’m a spender, I have a bit of a nerdy streak in me and like to see the numbers put down on paper (excuse me…I mean an Excel spreadsheet). Seems to keep me more grounded.

  10. TacklingOurDebt says:

    Congrats to you both for getting a budget going and working on it together. It sounds like it is really going well for you guys.

    We’ve been following a budget for about 20 months now and it has made things easier for us. We still have times though where we spend too much. I am not frugal by nature so it has taken me a lot of work to change my ways.

    • The funny thing is, after doing a budget for that long, it becomes like clockwork. In the beginning, I spent well over an hour putting a monthly budget together. Now that I have such a long track record built up and have seen how things mostly stay consistent from month to month, it only takes me about 15 minutes to put one together.

  11. Alexa Mason says:

    I completely agree that a budget is freeing. I am living on a lot less now then when I was married so it has been crucial for me to live on a budget. I feel so good about myself when I stick with it.

    • I like the confidence and positive feelings sticking to a budget brings me as well Alexa. To keep me motivated, I’ve made budgeting almost like a game, where it’s me vs. the budget. I win if I can stay within the allocated numbers by the end of the month. I don’t always succeed, but I win more often than not. That makes me feel good.

  12. Alas I cannot proclaim love for my budget with the same fervor you do. I have a love-hate relationship with it since am still learning the ropes of sticking to it and by golly does it take some discipline getting used to it especially after having a pretty much budget free life (which didn’t turn out particularly well). This post in a way creates a probable ideal I should be working towards with my budgeting efforts. Hopefully I can avert looming crises and reach budget nirvana 🙂
    Great post

    • Budget nirvana…I love that Simon! This post would have been WAY too long if I had detailed all the frustrations and challenges we met along the way. I’m a spender, so the idea of having a budget wrapped around my neck was not something I was looking forward to. I just proceeded with little baby steps. Small events along the way began to shape my discipline – like the time I walked away from a pair of shoes at a department store even though the purchase of them would only have put me $15 over budget. Believe it or not, that was a big deal for me. I could have easily said, “Eh, it’s only a few dollars over. No big deal.” But I chose to stick with the process. Eventually these type of decisions (and the other benefits I was seeing of budgeting) changed my outlook on the whole process.

  13. Great post! I think like you it gives me focus an makes me feel more in control over my money versus the other way around. I used to pay no attention at all to what I was spending. Now I really think things through. It’s taught me to spend more on what I value versus just blowing it on things I don’t need like magazines.

    • “…spend more on what I value versus just blowing it…” That’s huge Tonya! Spending on what we truly value I think ultimately brings us more pleasure and fulfillment in our lives.

  14. Holly Johnson says:

    I agree that budgeting has gave me a lot more freedom. A lot of people see budgets as restrictive but I haven’t found that to be the case with our finances at all.

    • I don’t see them being restrictive either Holly. It’s comforting to know where my dollars are going and it makes it easier month in and month out to make decisions.

  15. Couldn’t agree more about the freeing power of a budget done well. Having those emergency reserves, as you say, is huge. Things that previously caused so much day-to-day stress can basically be shrugged off. And having a budget opens your eyes to thinks you’re wasting money on, which simply frees up your money to be directed to the things you actually care about. It’s not a quick process, but starting down the road of at least tracking your spending is one of the best things you can do for your finances.

    • “…of a budget done well.” That’s a good addendum Matt! it took us about 5 months to really get rolling on our budget and work all the kinks out. It is a process that takes some time – and unfortunately many people don’t want to make the effort. A good budget doesn’t happen overnight.

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