Are you struggling to fall in love with your budget? Love and budget in the same sentence? Yeah, you read that right! I’m a firm believer that our relationship with money is not much different from our relationship with people. It tends to require a similar amount of attention, scrutiny, and honesty.
But most people tend to swipe left, thinking that budgeting is not the right fit for them. It’s too restrictive. It takes too much time. It’s not worth the effort. It takes out all of the fun. In other words, ain’t nobody got time for dat.
But, just like any relationship, if you want to take back control of it, you’re going to have to put in some work. Below are some of my favorite strategies to better your relationship with budgeting.
Set up a date night with your budget
One of the main reasons budgets don’t work is because they lack consistency.
You can’t expect your budget to work for you if you don’t meet it halfway. It’s a give and take relationship.
One of the best ways to maintain your relationship with your budget is to set aside some time each week (or month) to ensure you’re on track. Put it in your calendar. Block off some time. Tell your friends that you’re busy. It’s worth it!
It doesn’t have to be a full day. Maybe it’s 1 or 2 hours on the weekend. Possibly 15-20 minutes at the end of each day. You get to decide on the schedule. As long as you’re consistent, you’ll find that, as time goes on, you’ll eventually start to enjoy reflecting on your progress.
Consider it “me-time” to figure out where you’re at, where you’re going and what your goals are. Record your income. Track all your expenses. Monitor your savings. And set some financial goals.
This is the time to learn from your past and to set the course for your future.
Keep it an open relationship
There is no one size fits all budgeting approach. Some people prefer to write things down. Others prefer to create a spreadsheet on Excel. Still, others like mobile budgeting apps that do all the work for them. Some like a combination of all three. There’s no right or wrong answer. Merely preference.
Maybe you’re not even sure where to start? Then, my advice to you is to give them all a try and see which method you gravitate towards. Whatever feels most intuitive, comfortable and easy is what you should stick with.
No matter what platform you use to start your budget, know that you’re not bound by it indefinitely. If you find that a strategy is not working, change things up. Similarly, if you find that a certain method becomes outdated, find a new one.
There’s no point in sticking to a budgeting method that doesn’t fit with your schedule, your capabilities or your goals. Initially, it’s trial and error. But when you find what works for you, commit to it!
Communication is key
Have you ever taken shortcuts with your budget? Ever wanted to glance over certain expenses? Are you worried about what financial baggage you might unearth if you’re completely honest?
You’re not alone. There have been times when I’ve closed my eyes as I’ve opened my bank statement, hoping that the damage from the previous weekend wasn’t too bad.
Sometimes, we try to hide expenses from our budget because we know that they’ll result in overspending and require some serious damage control. Of course, this isn’t a nice feeling. And our brain’s natural response is to avoid pain and find pleasure. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
The problem is: your relationship with your budget will only ever work if you’re honest with it. Communication is key. Your budget will never lie to you. Just as dogs are man’s best friend, your budget is your wallet’s best friend.
Get honest about your debts. Be aware of your spending habits. Realize where you’ve gone wrong and accept it. This is not so that you can beat yourself up for making bad decisions. Rather, it’s to learn from your mistakes and chart a new path forward.
Tell your budget the truth! Address your fears and failures! Learn from them. And don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re only human. And you’re at least making an effort to address where you’re falling short!
Plan your future together
Your budget is your financial sidekick. The Robin to your Batman. The peanut butter to your jelly. The beer to your hangover. Where you go, so should your budget.
Too often, people view budgeting as a chore when, in fact, it should be viewed as a blueprint.
A budget is not there to simply point out where you’ve gone wrong. It’s there to help you plan for the future. It’s there to encourage and motivate you when you’ve made progress. A budget can be your financial highlight reel if you let it.
I’ve previously written posts that encourage you to dream about the future that you want and to ask the right questions about financial freedom. Essentially, we all want the same thing. To not have to worry about money. To have the the freedom of not being tied down by debt.
A budget is simply the tool that you’ll use to navigate your way to reaching that destination. If you view it in this way, you’ll find that budgeting moves higher up on your priority list.
Allow some room for fun
I’ve heard all the excuses!
“Budgeting is too restrictive!”
“It just takes too much time and effort!”
“It sucks the life out of me!”
“Budgeting always reminds me of what I’m doing wrong!”
These are all statements that tend to be true if you don’t allow some wiggle room for fun. Budgeting is a marathon, not a sprint. And there are times when you’re going to have to stop and take in the beautiful scenery or take a breather and recuperate.
You want your budget to be something you stick to in the long-term. The moment you lose sight of why you’re doing it, it may be time to give yourself some breathing room. I’ve previously written a post on why I think taking a financial cheat day is sometimes good for your long-term strategy.
As long as you don’t go overboard, sometimes you need to budget in a few of your guilty pleasures to keep you sane and to regain perspective.
Familiarity breeds love
Social psychologists have been studying the “mere-exposure effect” for some time now. What is it, you ask? Simply put, the more often you’re exposed to something (even if you dislike it at the beginning), the more you’ll grow to like it.
Think of one of your favorite artists who debuted a song that, initially, you were disappointed with. Or maybe they released a great single, but the rest of the album was mediocre, at best. Fast-forward 6 months and you find yourself listening to the entire album on repeat. Why is that?
Through the “mere-exposure effect”, you release any prejudices you have and begin to embrace change. Budgeting often doesn’t come naturally to people. You’ve heard of all the limitations and restrictions. It sounds mediocre. You wonder if it’s really worth the effort. And this puts you off from even trying.
But, I want to encourage you. Just give it a shot. Allow yourself some time to settle into the change. It’s no different to starting a diet. You’re not going to see results immediately. But, over time, you’ll see gradual progress.
And that progress will fuel the momentum to continue.
Expect some drama
Conflict is natural in relationships. It’s no different with your budget. There are going to be times when you’re frustrated, tired and moody because your budget just isn’t achieving what you had hoped.
There will be financial emergencies or unexpected expenses that sometimes derail all your efforts to stay on track and keep yourself in the green.
But, know that this is a natural part of the process. Be gentle with yourself. Extend some grace. And don’t be ashamed to ask for help if you need it.
Your relationship with your budget will not always be smooth sailing. But, when you do hit rough waters, don’t simply surrender. Know that this too shall pass. And, even though there might be some damage control to attend to, realize that you’re well ahead of those who haven’t started this financial relationship.
Having a budget is not unlike having a partner. Whereas one satisfies your social needs, the other ensures that your financial needs are met.
If you’re struggling to know where to start with regards to setting up a budget, I encourage you to download the Financial Starter Pack. It’s completely free and can serve as the starting line for your financial future.
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.