Budgeting is Fundamental

If you want to lose weight, you should create a record of each and every calorie you consume, and record how much you exercise. This is a pretty successful approach when it’s followed, but it’s pretty tricky to follow.

Similarly, if you want to build wealth, you should spend less and save more. As with losing weight, gaining wealth comes from awareness. If you’re mindlessly eating in new restaurants night after night, you will be fat and poor. (Unless you’re also working out all the time and cutting back in other areas, of course).

A fun way to spend Saturday afternoon.
A fun way to spend Saturday afternoon.

So, if you want to save more – and if you don’t want that then I’m not sure why you’re on this page – you should have a budget.

When I say “you should have a budget” what you likely think is “Yes! I should! And I should take my car in for an oil change and organize old photos and get a physical and go to the dentist and call my mother and spend time with my kids/wife. And I will, just as soon as I have a free day where clients aren’t bugging me and I don’t want to just sleep/exercise/not do things that feel like work.”

Which is to say that it’s not likely to happen.

And brother, or sister, I hear you. Creating a budget sounds like a lot of work and you already work too much.

Two things on that.

(1) Before you create a budget, one thing you can do today, right now, is track your spending.

Awareness is a good first step.

That said, awareness is also a pain. There are a few places online that will track stuff for you, but what will happen for about 98% of people is that they’ll check the page pretty often for a few days, or weeks, then it’ll drop off.

Simply put, automated awareness really isn’t awareness. (at least for these purposes; an automated message telling you your checking account balance may be a little different – but then you’re aware of a different thing.)

The reason awareness works is because you are a horrible historian of your spending history if you don’t do some kind of record keeping. You’ll think “I don’t eat out that often” not realizing that you eat out 6 times a week. It’s the same with food – you’ll think you only have sweets at special occasions, not recognizing that you’re moving to a world where both Tuesdays and Thursdays are special.

But if you write down what you spend, and look at it, so that you can see that you spent, say, $400 in meals out in a week, you can understand why your substantial earnings disappear quickly.

(2) But budgeting really isn’t that hard

Budgeting can be, these days, crazy easy thanks to the internet. The set up process on something like YNAB – You Need a Budget – is ridiculously straightforward.

What isn’t straightforward is getting in the habit of using it. You can set it up, track and categorize what you spend, and monitor where your spending is in relation to your budget, but if it doesn’t inform your behavior when you’re debating whether to buy a new tailored suit or go off the rack, then it’s a little pointless.

The folks at YNAB do a great job of explaining how to use their software and how to think about budgeting; it’s a great program.

And they’re right – you need a budget.

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