Why Budgets Suck- And How to Create One That Doesn't

You’re here because you’ve found yourself googling (again) “why budgets suck?” Well, I promise, they really don’t have to. They are actually pretty liberating. How? Let’s get to it!

I have four kids. We spend a LOT of time in our house talking about words and language. How important our words are, how powerful they are. We talk about how words have lots of different meanings, and then we talk about the meanings, and then we talk about how words have lots of different meanings again because, inevitably, there are confused faces and questions. Then we talk about how words can hurt or heal, how words can carry weight or how they can lift. And then we talk about how words matter and how the words we use shape our thoughts and how our thoughts shape our choices and how our choices are where it all happens – life that is.

WE. TALK. A. LOT ABOUT WORDS IN OUR HOUSE.

I’ve noticed, though, that I also talk a lot about words outside the house. Not just with my kids, but with my friends, my clients, my people near and far. It is clear to me that words matter. The language we use matters – it shapes our thoughts and our thoughts shape our choices, and, like I’ve said (overand over and over) our choices shape our lives.

With that in mind, let’s talk about a word that gets bandied about a lot around here – BUDGET.

Few words in our lovely, mash-up language have received as much negative weight in the modern mind as BUDGET. Maybe DIET carries more? Maybe SEASON FINALE, or SOLD OUT? But, with BUDGET, it just ain’t true.

And here are three reasons why BUDGET is NOT a bad word (and ultimately, if your mind hasn’t shifted to seeing budget this way, it’s a large reason why budgets suck for you!)

A BUDGET IS A PLAN NOT A JAIL CELL

Over and over, what I hear from groups and individuals I work with is “I can’t stick to a budget – it’s too restrictive and confining.” They bring their money stories to the discussion and can’t see past growing up in house where parents couldn’t (or wouldn’t) agree on how to manage the household finances without yelling and shame. Or, they can’t see past their repeatedly valiant and repeatedly failed efforts in the past to “clean up their act” only to run out of will-power nine days into it because they were tired of saying NO to everything all the time.

For so many, a budget becomes both a jail cell and a jailer – holding them prisoner without hope or fun or coffee. “Rice and beans, beans and rice,” as a well known financial thought leader says.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

A BUDGET IS A PLAN.

It’s no different than a blueprint for a house, a Lego kit instruction book or an itinerary for that flight to Paris you’ve saved on Google Flights (just in case). It’s a way for you to tell your money – and, please remember that it is YOUR money – what to do. Because, in case you haven’t noticed, if you don’t tell it what to do, someone (or lots of someones) will do it for you. A budget puts you in an active role directing and takes you out of a passive posture of consumption.

It’s time to stop scream-asking into the interwebs “why budgets suck” and instead shift your mindset to one of freedom and liberation (that takes a bit of work from you to get there).

A BUDGET CREATES BOUNDARIES AND BOUNDARIES CREATE FREEDOM!

I know, I know… huh? But, take a second and think about it. As a parent, I have found over and over that my kids thrive and flourish with boundaries and expectations. They are most free to be their radical, wild little selves when they know the rules of the terrain. They’re free to be curious, creative, brave, vulnerable, joyful. In the moments when those expectations aren’t clear, when they walk into a space without boundaries that are consistent and concise, they flounder, get confused and, quicker than you can say “Conch,” begin to reenact Lord of the Flies – you know, the part with the pig’s head. Yikes.

I’ve found a budget does the same thing – the flourishing part, not the pig’s head part. It establishes some ways and means for the system that is your financial life. And in those map lines it creates a sense of grounding that frees you to live your whole life in an amazing and authentic way.

A budget provides specific borders around the truth of your finances by bringing awareness to where your money is coming from and where it is going. This awareness is a super weapon to help you make choices rather than make reactions. I may sound like a record on repeat here but, choices are the fuel of freedom.

A BUDGET ALLOWS YOU TO LIVE FROM THE DEEPEST, TRUEST PARTS OF WHO YOU ARE, AND WHO YOU’RE BECOMING.

This, friend, is the juice and the jam. This little/not little truth is the thing – THE thing – that helped us not only stick to our debt payoff process, but blossom in the midst of it. When we understood that our budget was a way to live into the deepest, most intimate callings in our lives, the entire game changed. We moved from frustration and fatigue to inspired and excited.

Your budget is a series of related opportunities to make choices that align with the values that guide and shape you.

Religious circles speak about sacraments – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual acts. A budget, if you’ll hang with me for a moment, is a sacrament that transcends church walls and doctrine.

Every time you have a budget meeting with your partner, you are letting your outward and visible signs – where and how you spend your money – demonstrate the inward and spiritual acts of your values. Every time you fund the grocery or entertainment or life insurance or gerbil care line item for another month, you are saying that you choose this thing at this moment to give your energy to because it aligns with who and what and where you are.

A budget is the most direct way to connect the often disparate parts of daily decision making with the mysterious and compelling truths that we hold in our deepest corners.

A BUDGET, IN SHORT, KEEPS US AUTHENTIC AND INTEGRATED. IN A CULTURE THAT WORKS REALLY HARD TO KEEP US CONFUSED, INSECURE AND UNTETHERED TO ANYTHING BEYOND A 3″ SCREEN, A BUDGET IS BOTH AN ANCHOR IN OUR DAY-TO-DAY AND A LIGHTHOUSE SHOWING US THE WAY FORWARD.

So often, BUDGET is a word that means something oppressive and heavy; a hammer of NO crushing desire and pleasure. It doesn’t have to be that way.

With some thoughtful, patient curiosity, and a willingness to change your perspective on the word, I trust you’ll begin to go from that “why budgets suck” google search to understanding that BUDGET has a meaning that liberates and empowers.

BY GIVING YOU A PLAN, BY ESTABLISHING CLEAR BOUNDARIES AND BY CONNECTING YOU TO THE DEEPEST PART OF YOUR SELF, A BUDGET SETS YOU FREE. IT TURNS A HEAVY-HANDED NO INTO A BIG, EXCITING YES.

Words matter, friend. So much so, that we’ll continue to explore these ideas in depth in the future. Stay tuned as we flesh out these ideas more fully, and redeem BUDGET from the bad word column. We’ll also explore how other words and ideas affect our lives in unexpected ways. It’s going to be fun, and I’m glad we get to do it together.

I can’t wait to hear your thoughts – what words have you been wondering about these days? What is in need of reclaiming and redemption?

You know I’m rooting for you.

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MoneyOlivia Zurawski