Budget Burnout: 7 steps to avoid it

By Kyle O'Hagan Time of article published Jun 5, 2019

Share this article:

Burnout. Exhaustion. Tiredness. Discouragement. I’m not going to lie. I’m often far too intimately acquainted with these words. Maybe because I’m a perfectionist and try to ensure that every small detail is accounted for in my life. Or maybe it’s just a byproduct of living in a world that is busy and preoccupied with too much ‘stuff’. But it got me thinking, is it possible to reach a similar place of exhaustion with our finances? Is it possible to have budget burnout?

Well, I believe that burnout can touch almost every part of our lives, including our finances. In fact, burnout is such a problem globally that the World Health Organization recently expanded on its definition as a medical syndrome.

So, What Does Budget Burnout Look Like?

So, what exactly is budget burnout? And how do you know if you have it? Well, do any of these sound familiar?

You wonder: What’s the point of trying to manage my money? Whenever I seem to take one step forward, it’s always followed by five steps back. I feel like I’m getting nowhere slowly.

You feel as if your budget is constantly weighing you down, restricting you from having fun and enjoying the present moment.

You start feeling guilty when spending money, even if you use it for what it was budgeted for.

The sheer size of your debt starts to become overwhelming. You feel trapped and constantly anxious. And you feel like you’ll never be able to pay it off in time to retire comfortably and stress-free.

The moment you start to feel like budgeting is burdensome and pointless (or that you just want to throw in the towel altogether), you’ve likely reached the point of budget burnout. And that’s okay, my friend. You’re not the first person to feel this.

We’ve all reached that point, for several different reasons. But there are strategies you can use to alleviate the burn.

1 // Your Budget Isn’t the Be-All, End-All

First off, realize that when you start a budget, the sole purpose is to get your finances in order. It’s helpful, then, to be reminded that YOU are the master of your money – it shouldn’t be the other way around.

You’re not a slave to your budget. And your money shouldn’t own you or your happiness. A budget is simply a tool you’re using to afford financial security, stability, and freedom.

The moment your budget starts consuming your conversations with friends and family, you’ve let it own you.

If you notice you’re spending hours each day fretting over it, you’ve let it own you.

Or if you start to feel guilty for spending even a cent over budget, you’ve let it own you.

It’s moments like these where you need to take a step back and remind yourself of why you started this process in the first place (more on this later).

Your budget isn’t the be-all, end-all. It’s just one of the tools in your financial toolbox. Use it, but don’t let it abuse you.

Related:Make Your Budget Your Bae, Ten Budgeting Blunders You Need to Watch Out For, 5 Budgeting Blind Spots That Are Making You Poor, The Ultimate Guide to Budgeting, How to Budget on an Irregular Income.

2 // Reevaluate Your Financial Goals

I’ll say it again for the people at the back: without goals, you’re directionless.

Setting financial goals is the foundation on which an effective budget is built. If you don’t know where you want your budget to take you, how will you know what financial changes you need to make? How will you measure if your strategies are working if you don’t know where you want to be financially in 1 or 5 years?

But, as true as that is, it’s still possible to go about goal-setting in the wrong way – in a way that can ultimately lead to budget burnout. And this often involves setting financial goals that are unrealistic.

We all do it. We start a fitness routine or a budget or a job and we go into it with all these high aspirations and ambitious goals. Because – if we don’t aim high, what’s the point, right? We’re always told that if our goal doesn’t scare us, it’s not big enough.

But sometimes we’re setting ourselves up for failure by expecting too much of ourselves too soon. Humans are inherently resistant to change. And many goals that we set for ourselves typically involve a lot of the “C” word. We need to ease ourselves into it. And the best way to do this is by setting S.M.A.R.T.E.R. financial goals:

The moment you start seeing your goals through, you’ll gain the momentum and confidence to aim higher and bigger. But, if you’re experiencing budget burnout, it may be time to reevaluate if your goals need adjusting.

3 // Allow Yourself Some Down Time

I know what it’s like to get completely consumed with something – whether it’s work, a fitness routine or even my budget. Everything else seems to take a back seat while you ambitiously work to reach your target. Whether it’s your target promotion, target weight or target savings balance.

But, every now and then, you need some downtime. In your efforts to look after yourself financially, don’t forget to also practice self-care. We aren’t robots, which means we aren’t designed for never-ending repetition.

While I’m not encouraging you to completely let go and let your budget take on a life of its own, I am encouraging you to take regular breaks.

Maybe it means you relax how intently you’re tracking your spending for a week. Or maybe it means you don’t spend HOURS in the grocery store trying to find the best deals on EVERYTHING.

Allow a few breaks in your financial routine so that your mind can relax, refresh and reset. You’re not failing by allowing yourself some much-needed down time.

4 // Remember Your Why

We all start budgeting for a reason (or several reasons). And it helps to regularly remind yourself of this when you begin to feel the symptoms of budget burnout.

Are you budgeting so that you can retire early and leave your soul-destroying job?

Maybe you started a budget to save enough for your children’s college education, giving them the best start to their careers?

Or maybe you desperately want to get rid of your pesky student loans that have sucked the life out of your finances for years?

It’s good to sometimes sit with the emotions that drove you to start budgeting in the first place. Because it’s this emotional response that is going to keep you motivated and give you the boost that you need to follow through (but also to take care of yourself in the process).

If you have to, write down your reasons for wanting to fix your finances. And write down how budgeting will help you get there. Then save it in your phone or stick it to your bathroom mirror so that you can regularly reflect on them.

5 // Remember What You Have

Too often, creating a budget is for the sole purpose of securing your future. You want to save enough money to retire one day. You want to ensure that your emergency fund will cover you when the unexpected arrives. Don’t get me wrong – these are important. But, if you become so fixated on the future, it’s sometimes difficult to remember the blessings you have right in front of you.

When you feel like you’re approaching budget burnout, take a step back and look at what you have and what you’ve accomplished.

Remind yourself of the debt that you’ve already paid off – not necessarily what’s left over to tackle.

Appreciate the roof over your head and food on your table, realizing that things could look very different.

Spend some time with your friends, family or children and remind yourself that life and happiness are about more than money.

Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses and remember that comparison is the thief of all joy.

Recognize and appreciate how far you’ve come and that you’re making efforts to fix your finances. But also realize that it’s a life-long journey, not necessarily a destination. Don’t let the hope of a specific future overshadow appreciating what you have in this very moment.

If need be, make a habit of writing down a few things you’re grateful for each day. This will help shift your mindset away from what you don’t have and towards how far you’ve come.

6 // Seek Advice from Others Who Have Had Budget Burnout

There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re alone in your financial struggles. But, as I’ve said, if you’ve ever felt budget burnout (or you’re currently suffering from it), you’re not the only one who has been through this. So, I encourage you to seek out the advice of others.

Find out why they felt financially overwhelmed, isolated, alone or discouraged and how they addressed those feelings upfront. Did they focus on one of the strategies mentioned in this article? Or was it something completely different that might be helpful in your situation too?

People are our greatest source of wisdom. And they will likely give you much-needed perspective, based on their own experiences.

And, let’s be honest, nothing feels better than sharing the load with others and realizing that it’s okay to not be okay.

7 // Budget Some Fun Money

Budgeting is not unlike starting a diet – both require cutting out luxuries and being more restrictive. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for some sense of balance.

To make budgeting more palatable, always put aside some “fun money”. Decide on a certain percentage of your paycheck each month and dedicate it to personal pleasures.

Maybe it’s for dining out with friends or buying a book to get lost in. Or to buy yourself tickets to the movies or a concert you’ve been dying to see. Maybe it’s for a day trip to the spa. Or simply buying personal luxuries, like 2-ply toilet paper or your favorite perfume.

You worked hard for your money – it’s only right that you deserve to enjoy some of it now rather than squirrel it all away for the future. This will allow you some breathing room when it feels like your budget is too tight and restrictive.

Budget Burnout Breakdown

Whenever you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the idea of budgeting, sit back and ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I allowing my budget to control me and my happiness? Am I a slave to my budget?
  • Do I need to reevaluate my goals? Do I need to become a little more realistic when setting them?
  • Have I allowed myself regular down time from my budgeting routine?
  • Have I forgotten the reasons why I started budgeting in the first place?
  • Have I forgotten the blessings I have and how far I’ve come, financially?
  • Is there someone I can seek out for advice?
  • Have I budgeted sufficiently for personal fun?

Are there any strategies that you’ve used to address budget burnout? Feel free to get in touch with me and let me know what has worked for you.

Dr. Kyle O'Hagan is a UCT scientist and an avid personal finance blogger. With over 20 years worth of experience in the SA schooling system, he has come to appreciate the value of a proper education and feels that personal finance is an area that is often neglected, particularly at a young age.

O'Hagan is one of Personal Finance's New Voices and his finance blog is called the Saving Scientist


Share this article: