The Problem With Budgeting – Budgeting Gives You Freedom Part 3

Hi Pocketchangers, and welcome back to part 3 and the final entry in our series – Budgeting Gives You Freedom. Today we’re going to put our imaginations to work for a bit, but before we do, let’s go over a quick recap of where we’ve come from in case you are late to the game. Here are parts one and two in our budget series, Budgeting Gives You Freedom.

  • Budgeting Gives You Freedom Part 1 – we looked at the first two steps in what we as a family would consider the ‘process’ to creating a budget. 
  • Budgeting Gives You Freedom Part 2 – we discussed step 3, which is reviewing the categories for ways to reduce them or cut them out. We also made some great suggestions on ways to cut your expenses, so give this a read!

In the first post, we looked at four steps to budgeting. Here there are again:

  1. Understand what a budget is and how it functions!
  2. List all possible budget categories
  3. Fill out the budget with known expenses, and make adjustments as necessary
  4. Put budget into action

As we move into the last and final step, we’ll discuss the hardest part of the budget.

WISHFUL THINKING

Before we tackle the budget, picture yourself as you are in your current financial situation – car problems, house maintenance, life struggles, and everything. Put yourself into thinking mode. Nothing in life is different.

Now, again picture yourself as described above, except you now have 5 million bucks.

Yes, $5,000,000.00 big ones. 

We’ll take it a step further. Let’s also say that $5 million dollars are sufficient to put your financial mind at rest for the remainder of your long, 95-year life. For us at Pocketchange Lifestyle, that’s another 65 years. 

Think about all the things you can do with this cash. Having this sum of money on hand grants you the ability to do some of the following:

  • Pay off your house, car loan(s), or credit card(s)
  • Pay off your student loan(s)
  • Invest
  • Donate and give to charity/churches/etc.
  • Travel to that country or place you always wanted
  • Pay off family debt(s) 
  • Build a water park (Lottery winners did this!)
  • Quit that less-than-desireable or utterly terrible job

Really… the list is endless and I’m sure you can think of a few ideas. The point of this exercise is to convey that having this cash on hand ultimately gives you the freedom to do whatever you want. Sounds good right? Sign me right up.

Okay, back to reality. Take a moment to sigh, breathe, etc., then move forward!

BUDGETING HAS A PROBLEM

Perhaps this part of the post will resonate with you more than others. 

Budgets have this glaring problem – you have to DO SOMETHING with them. I’m a numbers/Excel guy. I work with data all day long. However, budgeting isn’t my favorite hobby. Um, why are you writing a finance blog if that’s not the case? Well, budgets are just a small tip of the financial iceberg of course! If you think about it, budgets are just numbers. They represent what you and I have decided to spend on any given category. But this ‘taking action’ step is hard work. It’s easy to throw a list of possible expenses together, and fairly easy to assign them a value.

The innate problem with budgets is that they are useless without action.

BUDGETING REQUIRES MORE THAN A BUDGET – IT REQUIRES ACTION

Budgeting requires more than just a list of expenses, values, and some neat Excel graphs. The answer to our riddle is that a budget requires you to take action, and more specifically make changes to your current lifestyle. This is why it’s a good idea to review your budget frequently, so you can learn and grow from your own experiences and choices. But, let’s not hypothesize about this. Let’s discuss what “putting it into action” looks like through a few practical examples.

If you took a look at your budget categories and decided that you need to spend less on eating out… it doesn’t do you any good to just say “I need to reduce the amount I spend on eating out” does it?

No, of course not.

You have to make the lifestyle change to decide to not eat out. That could be demonstrated through several solutions, such as deciding on how many times you’ll eat out or a specific dollar amount you will spend on eating out. Perhaps a solution is to spend more in your grocery budget to accommodate the change. Whatever you decide, you have to “act” on that decision. 

Or, if the category you chose cut is cable, that requires you to call your cable provider and cancel service. Likewise, if you’re looking at saving money on car insurance, you need to get quotes. Again, more action is required.

You see the picture forming now, I’m sure. Budgeting looks great on paper. Telling your friends you spent some time on Saturday working on your budget doesn’t sound fun (maybe for someone out there it does). However, the proof of a budget working isn’t that you spent time categorizing transactions in Mint or in Excel – it’s that you can make and sustain lifestyle changes based on your financial life and goals.

Without action, and sometimes sacrifice, creating a budget is worthless. You must understand and make changes to your lifestyle to make a budget function!

UNTIL NEXT TIME

For Mrs. Pocketchange and I, we’re following after the FIRE movement instead of traditional/conventional financial wisdom. The same wisdom that sees our generation up to their eyeballs in student loans, car loans, and credit card debt that they’ll take years (if ever) to pay off. We don’t want this lifestyle.

Instead, we want to trade these lifestyle choices for a higher savings balance, investing in the market when possible, and to plan for our future. Budgeting and the lifestyle changes that follow give us the freedom to choose, and these choices will pave our way to FIRE.

Friends, thanks for following along in this series. If you got nothing else out of it, I hope that you will give your financial lifestyle a good and deep overhaul. Consider what expenses you can reduce to increase your cash flow, and give yourself a pat on the back for making it this far! Budgeting is tough, but the follow-up actions after budgeting are much harder.

Don’t give up, keep your chin up and keep pushing forward!

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