Budgets Suck. Do this instead.

FIRECracker
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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
FIRECracker
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Budgets suck.

There, I said it. And now, as I dive under the covers to hide from the combined fiery wrath of MMM, BudgetsAreSexy, and Mrs.FrugalWoods, let me tell you why.

Now, you’re probably thinking “What the hell are you talking about, FC?” I’m clearly full of crap considering how often I wax poetic about my budgeting spreadsheets and those sexy sexy South East Asian prices. But hear me out. The reason why I say budgets suck is because they just. Don’t. WORK.

Sure, weirdos like me will get off on tracking every dollar spent and fawn over frequent flyer miles. But for most people, budgets are as fun as getting a fire-ant enema.

This is because, for regular, non-crazy people, budgets can feel like straitjackets. And even though I think too much freedom can be bad for you, too little freedom is even worse.

Let me explain.

Budgets tend to look at all your spending and try to force you to ruthlessly cut back on everything. And it does this by comparing every category of your spending to an “acceptable” spending range. But what they don’t do is EMPOWER you. This is because they take away your control and force you to conform to restrictions that don’t work for everyone.

As much fun as it is to be judgemental (and believe me, I know!), the reality of the world is that we are all different. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.

Travellers don’t want to cut back on trips. Homebodies don’t want to cut back on furnishings . Foodies don’t want to cut back on food. Fashionistas don’t want to cut back on shopping.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should just throw caution to the wind and blow your cash on whatever you want. Becoming Financial Independent requires a certain amount of discipline, which means you can’t turn your expenses into a money inferno. BUT that also doesn’t mean you have to cut expenses down to the bone. So put away that hatchet and pick up a pen.

Why a pen?

Because we are about to figure out the meaning of life.

The Meaning Of Life

OK, I may have oversold that last bullet point just a tad, but it’s not too far off. While I can’t tell you about the Meaning of Life, I CAN tell you about the meaning of money.

And the big secret is, the Meaning of Money is different for each person.

So to start, I want you to write down the 3 things that are MOST important to you.

Go head, I’ll wait.

Got it? Okay good.

What you’ve just written down are your top three VALUES.

These are what you SHOULD be spending money on. Everything else can be cut to the bone, but if you cut in these areas, guess what? You are cutting into your happiness.

Take me for example. My top 3 values are:

1) Wanderer


2) Travel


3) Food

So that’s why I always leave ample room in the budget for those things (remember how we spent $1800 in one month on food in Boston ‘cause we needed our lobster fix? Or $650 on getting Scuba Certified? Or $150 on the Robot show?). And even though I don’t drink, because I want Wanderer to be happy, I always make room for booze (even though I consider it a waste of money and it’s taxed like crazy). He tends to help me out by choosing to buy booze from groceries stores rather than going out to pricey bars, but nevertheless we make room in the budget for what’s important to the both of us.

Priorities…

As long as we make up it for it by cutting ruthlessly in other areas we don’t care about (like cars, houses, and clothing), there’s more than enough money to go around.

Think of it this way. Picture a glass jar.

Next to it sits a pile of big rocks, pebbles, and sand.

If you try to dump the sand in first, add the pebbles, and then jam in the pile of rocks, it won’t fit. That’s because sand and pebbles would take up most of the empty space, leaving little room for the rocks.

Photo credit: “Jar of Life” by Brian Pray on youtube

However, if you put in the rocks first, dump in the pebbles to fill in the empty space between the rocks, and then finally top it off with sand, you’ll find that everything fits.

Photo credit: “Jar of Life” by Brian Pray on youtube

In the example, the big rocks are what you value the most. The left over room in the jar will be filled by the other stuff, the things you’re indifferent about.

This is why we were perfectly happy to spend a whopping $1889/month in Boston on food and booze (because Lobstahs!), $988 on accommodation, an anorexic $211 on transportation and even tinier $86 on clothing. Clearly, you know were our priorities lie.

I was willing to take the subway instead of buying a car or taking cabs because I’d rather use that money for extra lobsters and oysters. I hate driving anyways, so buying a car held zero appeal for me.

Maybe a car-lover would rather spend $1000/month leasing a car, but only $800/month on food. Maybe they’re not a fan of lobsters anyways, so they end up cooking more.

And maybe a homebody would rather spend $2000/month on some fancy digs, but don’t bother eating out at all, and spend almost nothing on transportation because they hate going out.

All are different and all are acceptable.

And here’s the other thing, just because our jar was $3200/month, doesn’t mean everyone’s jar has to be that size. For those willing to trade off some years of their life to continue working so they can get a bigger portfolio, that’s fine too.

If you’re willing to grind away at the 9 to 5 for another 5-10 years to expand that jar, do it. Or for those willing to work after retirement so you can have a second jar to catch the spill over, you can do that too.

This is why forcing everyone to have the same jar and the exact same contents makes no sense. My rocks are not car-lover’s rocks, and homebody’s rocks aren’t my rocks.

When it comes to budgeting, we shouldn’t all be budgeting the same way. Everyone’s path to Financial Independence is unique, and uniquely their own. So figure out your values, and fill that jar your way, with your own rocks, and screw what anyone else thinks.

What do you think? What are your top 3 money priorities?

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63 thoughts on “Budgets Suck. Do this instead.”

  1. Another great post! I completely agree. Back when I was spending money as fast as I could in NYC (I was told that’s what you’re supposed to do!) I had a hard time grasping this concept: spend almost freely on what you value most and cut the rest. Not to plug a company (I totally am), but YNAB helped me fix that. Mind you I bought it 4 years ago when their pricing model was pay $60 and use it forever. They technically stopped supporting that version a year or two ago and moved to a $5/month system which even though I would split the cost with my partner I’m not down for. When it stops working I’m going to make my own spreadsheet with the same principles. It really is quite easy when you frame it as you have: spend money on what makes you happiest.

    And now for a random question: Feel free not to answer (like with all questions) 🙂 but you mentioned in this post that you don’t drink and that gave me a flashback to a few of your earlier posts in the “How We Got Here” series where you mentioned drinking out at bars and that “we headed to the pool bar and drank like two greedy, wasteful, alcoholic fish” on your vacation to Cuba which I remember made me laugh out loud. Those comments for some reason really resonated with me as a topic other, older financial bloggers don’t really mention about the stressful accumulation phase. Have you never drank or is that a decision that happened later in life like when you retired? Personally I’ve been thinking about no longer drinking myself and am just curious about your experiences.

    Have a great day,
    Semira

    1. Totally agree! I’m a big fan of coffee, working out and traveling. Those are the things I prioritize and pretty much cut out the rest. My friends didn’t get it at first but when I explained it to them they understood. That made it easier to do.

    2. Wow, fantastic memory, Semira! Remind me never to get on your bad side ;P

      To answer your question, I’m not much of a drinker BUT back then the resort had an all-inclusive package, so I drank every pina colada I could get my hands on. Needless to say, I was passed out for a good 2-3 hours afterwards. That did NOT feel good. But damn it, how could I say no to free drinks?

      When we were in the accumulation phase, Wanderer drank at home on the weekends and when he went out with co-workers. I rarely drank (only at parties and all-inclusive resorts) That hasn’t changed much. As long as it’s in moderation, it won’t destroy your budget.

      1. Hahaha – I only remember because I’ve read your “How We Got Here” series multiple times. It’s a fantastic story. I totally agree that buying a moderate amount of alcohol will not destroy the budget. I guess I just need to weigh how much it enhances my experiences of parties and friendly gatherings with how much it costs. I currently buy alcohol 90% of the time at the grocery store and the other 10% at happy hours, but my optimization brain says I can do better :).

  2. Agreed! When I first saw the budget apps that force you to do math to figure out how much you can spend, I was like FK this! I found YouNeedABudget.com and found it VERY flexible to allow you to prioritize and reprioritize on the fly, it’s helped me, personally, tremendously. Thats how I found your site 🙂 I drove my wife crazy with starting a loose budget (she didn’t want one at all), then after a few months she bought into it because she saw I prioritized our $$ well with Family, Food, and activities in mind before all, and we still cut down our expenses.

    1. That’s just what I was thinking, Bill.

      If you set up YNAB you can still track what you spend but ensure it goes primarily to the things you like/love.

      Granted, it won’t work for everyone, but hoo-boy has it ever helped me out! (Especially as a single dad 1/2 the time)

      1. Wow, glad to hear so many positive endorsements for YNAB! I’m excited to meet Jesse, the CEO at Chautauqua Ecuador! I’ll tell him you guys are big fans 😉

    2. Nice work, Bill! Prioritizing your spending is the key. No one can live on a strict budget for the rest of their lives. That would suck.

  3. Interesting way to put it FireCracker. We don’t budget either, but we never had a problem saving our millions either.

    I guess we always inherently did exactly what you suggested — focused on our priorities (which happen to be very low cost items).

    For the things that weren’t priorities, I would always shrug them off for another time. “That new Cirque show is in town, want to go check it out?” “Meh, not a priority for me. I’ll catch one some other time.”

    For those still struggling with month-to-month living, budgeting can be useful. Once you’ve broken that destructive cycle however, just setting good spending habits is an incredible “budgeting” help. Focusing on priorities is a great way to do that!

    1. Budgets tend to work short-term, but long-term it just ends up feeling like a diet, and people quit too easily. So I agree that it can be useful as a tool, but probably not sustainable long term.

      I think this is also true for actual diets. Putting yourself on a diet tends to yield short-term results, but you gain the weight back as soon as you go off the diet. But changing your lifestyle tends to help more over the long term.

  4. Automation is my best friend. Every payday I pay all my bills, including those bills called RRSP and TFSA, a set amount gets moved into my investment account, and what’s left over is the fun money.

    Fun money includes gas, food, and Go Train tickets and budgets don’t apply.

    If I didn’t do things this way, I wouldn’t have any savings, because I will spend every last nickel in my savings account if I’m given even the slightest chance to spend it. It isn’t logical – I hate moving money out of the investments or using the credit card but I don’t know why – but it works.

    1. Coming from a tech background, I’m going to have to agree. . Otherwise, it’s too hard to keep track everything. As long as you don’t blindly rely on automation, it definitely makes life easier.

  5. Great post, I’ve been giving this advice to people for a long time. We do budget pretty religiously, but we ensure we budget a good chunk of money for things we do care about, like travel, pizza and our rental home in downtown which allows us more free time due to no commute. Sure, we could travel less, not order pizza every Friday night and live out in the boonies and commute to work, but we would be pretty miserable doing all of these. Instead, unlike many people our age, we spend virtually nothing on meals out, alcohol/bars/clubs, clothes, transportation and make up/hair/beauty/jewellery etc. We save money in areas we don’t care about and spend it in areas we do.

    The key is finding a balance to ensure that you don’t feel too restricted, but also that you aren’t spending all your money. It takes a bit of getting used to at first, but eventually your budgeting will become almost second nature.

    1. “Great post.” Is that really YOU, Vancouver Brit?!

      I had to double-check and triple-check to make sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. Are you going soft on me, VB? 😉

      1. Ha! I thought that after I posted it too.

        I could have gone hard and said that what you described by prioritizing your money to areas you care about, whilst spending little in other areas IS budgeting. Budgeting is not simply spending as little as possible in every area of your life, it’s prioritizing what’s important and allocating sufficient resources to that activity, whilst monitoring your spending along the way to ensure you’re in check.

        Anyway, I let it slip 😉

        As a note, I use YNAB too, even though it’s a bit confusing at times.

  6. This post rocks. My top three would be:

    1. Performing Arts (acting classes, theatre, plays, musicals etc)
    2. Food (need I say more?!)
    3. Self-care/wellness (books, yoga, massages, aromatherapy stuff, etc!)

    I can easily spend money in these three categories, self-care is paramount, it’s very important for me to stay engaged with the arts & I just freakin’ love food.

    And on the flip side, I don’t care about stuff like clothes & cars. I do the majority of my clothes shopping in thrift stores & I gave up having a car last year! The money saved in those categories more than makes up for the spending I do in the areas where it’s important to me.

    Budgets are definitely not one-size-fits-all, you gotta do you!

  7. I think budgets can be used well for the short term in order to get a snapshot of exactly what and how you are spending, especially if you tend to overspend and live above your means.

    Once you’ve got a grip on how much you’ve been spending for the past few months, you can loosen up the reigns and just do rough estimates to track your savings. For example, we’ve tracked how much we’ve been spending on groceries for the past year, but now that I’ve gotten a good idea on what that number is, I can just estimate that amount moving forward.

    Long-term, I think budgets are too tedious and like you say, make you feel like you’re in a straight jacket. And unless you’re spending habits are going to change drastically, then there’s no need to collect the nitty gritty details.

    But to each their own!

    – Vanessa

    1. I think the tracking part is definitely useful. After all, if you have no idea how you are doing, you don’t know how to get to your goals. Personally, I love tracking all the nitty gritty details, but that’s just me. Most people have an easier time sticking to their goals if they’re able to spend on what makes them happy, and not have to go nuts tracking spending all the time.

  8. I agree, that is basically what I’ve been doing since moved out of my parents’ house but without really knowing that’s what I was doing. Our main priorities are my family (mainly my spouse and my cat), food and art/entertainment (basically art supplies for me, videos games and computer hardware for my spouse). I’ve never really tracked my spending and gave myself a budget though.

    1. If you’ve never had to track and are still meeting your goals, that’s proof that what you’re doing is working! 🙂

  9. Like several others mentioned, YNAB has been key for me. Budgeting honestly scared me and made me think I couldn’t have any fun. Now I’m much more in control of my money and know where it is going. Certain things I prioritize as well as I start saving up for things too. As for me, I’m not quite sure what my top three are but I do know that I don’t fear budgeting or ensuring these three are a staple in my life thanks to YNAB.

    1. Yet another nod for YNAB! Boy, looks like Jesse has a ton of fans 🙂 I’m excited to pick his brain about how he came up with the concept!

  10. This is exactly how we look at it. If it adds value to our life, through happiness or usefulness, we do it. Everything else is fluff and crap. We love to travel, we like to go out to eat on occasion. So we do. But we’ve cut a lot of other stuff from our life. I think you get ahead by simply understanding the trade off.

    When you think about the trade-offs, you’re ahead of about 90% of the rest of the population, since they just don’t think about it at all.

    1. Well said. It’s all about the trade off. Too many people complain about not having enough money, but in reality, they just don’t understand the concept of trade off.

  11. I agree with the points in your post. I would add that after a long time of assessing my values, then getting my spending in line with those, I no longer need a budget. My spending has fallen into a nice, predictable pattern that is healthy and right for me. It’s a “budget”, but not a BUDGET.

    1. Awesome! That’s good to hear, Paul. Having a regular, predictable spending pattern is what allows you to achieve your goals, because it’s sustainable long term with little effort. Nice work!

  12. Everyone’s top two values has to include Health as either #1 or #2, because you are only deluding yourself if you ignore or exclude it.

    Without good health you are handicapped or deprived from your many other values. Just saying.

    1. Yup. That’s true too. If your lifestyle already includes a lot of exercise and healthy eating habits, good health usually comes naturally without having to budget for it. The issue is when you have unexpected health issues that are outside your control, in that case health insurance is very important.

  13. I agree with this approach, although I usually look at spending and my budget to get an idea if I am getting off track. I don’t want to be so frugal that I don’t enjoy life. My priorities are my kids, date night and fitness. One of the approaches I take are to make trade-offs so I still take care of all of these priorities but at a lesser cost.

    I cancelled gym memberships long ago, I still make fitness a priority but I use youtube workouts in my living room, backyard or the park. Cost=$0.

    I use promos and groupons for date night. Recently we went for a 3 course meal and had theatre tickets. This would usually cost $250 for 2 tix and $100 dinner. The deal was $150 for everything. Not cheap, but we do this (maybe) once a year so it was worth the expense for a special night for less than half the cost. Recently I got tickets to a rock concert ($100 for 2) using my AMEX points (my cost=$0). We also just like to ride our bikes, bring a picnic, late night walks, free movies in the park, etc. Cost=$0

    We like organic veggies and buy some that are reasonably priced, but get a bunch from our garden (no cost). We do like to take a break from cooking, but instead of eating out, we order and pick up. For a family of 4, sushi night at a restaurant (with tax, tip, drinks) is $100. We get a 20% discount picking up, so the cost is $35 + BYOB for our drinks — and we have leftovers! One of our favourite meals are falafels – 2 for $8. My husband and I enjoy these, pretty cheap dinner which we enjoy on our backyard patio. I like wine which is expensive in Canada (sin tax), but go to the make-your-own place and 30 bottles is <$100.

    For me, it isn't just finding the 3 things that I value, but figuring out if there are ways to enjoy these while trading off expensive items for cheaper ones.

    1. Multiple readers have mentioned trade-offs and I believe that’s the key.

      I love how your getting a lot (organic veggies, youtube workouts) for zero cost. I love it when you can get a high quality of life with a small amount of life hacking. Very cool.

  14. At the risk of further irritating the formidable and adorable Ms. Frugalwoods my lovely spouse and I never really did the budget thing consistently and still achieved FIRE without much difficulty. I think it is probably necessary for natural spenders but if you are naturally frugal and your spouse is also then you are likely to avoid lifestyle inflation and naturally save and invest with a vengeance because there isn’t anything else to do with the money when you don’t spend it.

    1. That’s very true. If you’re naturally frugal, it’s much easier to do it without budgeting at all. At that point, it’s just living, not budgeting.

  15. FIRECracker, This is well written as usual. What about investing, emergency funds, having money for bills, etc?

    My budget does empower me. It allows me to spend the maximum amount of money on my top 3 things while still being able to have a place to live. Without it I’d just have a pile of restaurant receipts and a bunch of maxed out credit cards (instead of investing through automation). Even if bills are paid in advance so that the rest can just be blown on our top 3 things, how do we then cover irregular and unexpected expenses?

    My understanding is that budgets aren’t about cutting back or conforming, because we are the ones who decide the amounts in each category. We can budget 50% of our income to restaurants if we want and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s for tracking and planning as far as I can tell.
    -Aaron

    1. I’m pretty sure for the purposes of this post it would go without saying that the reason for why you would be budgeting in the first place is so you would have more money to invest. Considering the theme of this blog, the target audience is people who are interested in saving and investing for retirement.

      Also, she never said to only spend on your top 3 and not to spend on anything else like bills.

    2. There will always be necessities that we must pay for like food, shelter, health insurance, transportation. But how much you allocate to these things vary from person to person.

      To answer your question about how to cover unexpected expenses, it depends on what those expenses are.

      We advocate having 6 months of living expenses set aside for emergencies for these expenses. For healthcare costs, since we travel, we always buy travel insurance so that emergency costs are covered. As for other things like your car breaking down, house maintenance, that’s is the price you end up having for owning things versus renting. One has predictable costs, the other doesn’t. If you own you need to have extra money set aside for unexpected costs (outside your 3 priorities), unless you are super handy and can fix things yourself.

      When most people think of budgets, they think of deprivation and cutting back, so the word itself has gained a negative connotation. I think it’s more about setting priorities and not restricting yourself to spending the minimum amount on everything. A budget is a diet and in my experience, diets don’t work long term. Better to think of it as prioritizing what’s important to you so it’s sustainable long term.

  16. I was thinking about this exact thing the other day. I don’t mind budgeting. While I get out of debt, I find it necessary. But I was thinking about my daughter and how I realize she will Not keep track with a budget. Reading JL Collins article on, “How I failed my daughter and a simple path to wealth” made me realize if I set simple guidelines for her to follow she will be okay. Same goes with me in figuring out healthy boundaries with my money.

    Automate savings and investing. Live with in one’s means or net pay. Healthy habits for me, like if I make sure I don’t go to the restaurant more than 1x every other week then my finances will be okay. Spend with intent or on one’s values.

    My 3 would be… Wanderer, Child’s Well Being, Food.

    With all that said, I don’t know if I can do without the budget…. LOL

    1. Wow, Wanderer beat out your Child’s Well Being and food?! Nice! His head is going to be SO big when he reads this 😛

      1. Wait… was that supposed to be in order?! Or maybe it was my subconscious telling me I need a vaca… haha. My child is old enough now where some of that well-being is her responsibility too. more time to for me wander and eat. 😀

  17. Cool take on the subject. I think the key is to have a plan that works for you, as you’re describing, but to note that most people do need some sort of plan or structure. Sans goals, priorities, budgets, whatever…spending tends be something less than balanced except for those who are naturally frugal.

    In our household, we try to focus on the things that are discretionary (cooking in rather than eating out, beers with friends over boardgames instead of beers out at a bar) and not worry too much about the things that are, at least in our house, fixed (mortgage and, earlier, rent, most utilities, insurance). And we focus on trying to hit a main savings rate target: because like Zig Ziglar says, if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.

    For us, our main money priorities are: our financial independence, our family/friends, and our home.

    1. “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” HA HA. Hilarious and so true.

      Yup, I agree some structure is useful as long as people don’t force themselves to adhere to an acceptable norm for each category.

      From your blog, it looks like you allocating your spending toward your priorities quite nicely!

  18. I know you write posts like this just to get some people’s panties in a bunch. You know damn well that budgets are necessary 😉

    I admit that I loosely follow a budget. However, like you and other readers of this blog, I have placed myself in a position where I can do so by being debt free, exhibiting self control and investing wisely.

    I do get your point. Life is too short to deprive yourself of the things you love most. However, budgets really have nothing to do with deprivation in my opinion.

    I’ll just leave this here…

    “A Budget is a Tool, Not a Chore

    I don’t understand the stigma attached to budgets. I suppose many people equate “budget” with “sacrifice”, which is not necessarily the case. A budget is a tool not a chore. Developing a budget allows you to see where your money is going and how much you have left over for disposable income and investing. That’s it. It’s likely some people fear they will be forced to realize that they are spending more than they earn which, of course, means exhibiting some self control. Sooner or later they are going to need to face the music if they want to start the journey toward financial independence. Instead of viewing it as a sacrifice or fearing it, view the development of a budget as an opportunity to find lost money that can go toward investing.”

    Just in case you are interested in the rest…

    http://www.realsimplefi.com/need-budget-think/

    1. Who me? Don’t know what you’re talking about. *smiles innocently*

      And yes, I agree with what you said. We are essentially saying the same thing, but I just sound bitchier ’cause that’s how I roll 😉

  19. ahhh … it’s Monday! Yay for Millennial Rev post updates. My top priorities … hmm ..
    1. Fitness/Health
    2. Photography
    3. My loved ones.

  20. I am a weirdo, a nerd, who likes numbers, spreadsheets, charts and so on. But at the same time I a big spender. I might’ve spent all the money I have if I didn’t budget.

    I’d say this. Budget helps me to spend on important things without being worried that later I will not be able to spend even more.

    1. Tracking spending is definitely fun, especially for us spreadsheet weirdos.

      Hey, did you ever see that John Oliver skit where he talked about how spreadsheets are the worst and you break into a cold sweat if you so much as accidentally open it? I was like “dude, I have NO IDEA what you’re talking about. Spreadsheets are the best.”

  21. I wanna add a twist! For those of us who are inclined to be militantly frugal, budgets can actually be empowering. For example, a typical end-of-the month grocery trip for me:

    Me: “Oh, fancy tea! That sounds delicious!”
    Overly frugal brain: “Nonsense. That costs 3 times more than normal tea, and you get half as much. Basic black for you.”
    Budget: “Hey hey hey! She has an extra $20 left over from being overly frugal last week. Get the fancy tea honey, you’ve earned it!”

    In my case, this empowerment is especially nice for the things that aren’t priorities. My priorities are family, friends, and travel, and I tend to be pretty ruthless on everything else. Which is troublesome, because those priorities only have significant expenses every few months (traveling to go see my family). Keeping the budget makes me notice that yeah, I’m actually doing really well, and it’s totally okay to treat myself more often. Maybe I’ll get the ice cream, too.

  22. Can’t agree more with focusing on the value. People tend to get caught up in either making or saving money that they forget to focus on what really matters to them. Myself included.

    Personal Capital has made tracking budget a breeze even for an Excel junkie like me. What an amazing time we live in today.

    1. That’s true, Mao. We are lucky to have many useful tools like YNAB, and Personal Capital. It was WAY more painful when everything had to be written down and tracked by hand.

  23. The thinking behind this post comes close to making a category error. A budget is a bit like a diet in the sense that it imposes limits upon consumption. And there’s a natural push-back against being told “you can’t.” To the contrary, a paradigm shift will improve your relationship with budgeting.

    I am eating an eclair and it is chock full of hundreds of calories. Two years ago I weighed 105 pounds more than I do today. I increased exercise and decreased calories consumed. This required intentional planning of my schedule (to accommodate walking 10 miles/day) and my food (to replace high calorie with high nutrition foods). These plan are MY plans. If I want an eclair, I eat one–but only on Friday and I plan to trade off calories elsewhere.

    Your budget is YOUR plan for spending money. If you want to be “the richest man in Babylon,” your plan will specify spending less than you earn. But YOU choose where you spend, not Mr. Money Mustache, not Dave Ramsey, YOU.

    Choose poorly and your finances will be the metaphorical equivalent of the obese me of 2015. Choose better and your finances will be like those of an Olympic athlete. Happy choosing. Like food is not reward, and exercise is not punishment, you should regard spending and saving through the same lens.

  24. People… This is a VERY important post! Thank you FIRECracker. I feel that this is information almost no-one else in the financial world is talking about directly. Off and on I’ve thought about trying to retire early and never really put forth the effort. I work in U.S healthcare and it can be really tough! I wish I had retired by now(45). Here’s the thing…

    My parents retired earlier than most do and my Mom also chose to stay home with us kids when we were young. But, they have never seemed to be very happy! Money was always tight. We heard “No, we can’t afford it” often and yet we were also told we were spoiled and got too much. They’ve never communicated well and seem to be resentful about the compromises that were actually agreed upon. They still do this crap! So for me, as I grew up and thought about saving for early retirement I figured what’s the use. I’ve always put some money in savings and I have no debt. But, now I’m on track with greatly increasing savings and I’m understanding investing more. I am prioritizing how I spend time and money according to my values.

    I believe jobs can really suck and/or feel confining. But I also now believe that early retirement is possible and the road to get there can actually be rewarding and pretty enjoyable. And then, the behavior of prioritizing your values rather than using strict budgeting will guide you in retirement too (as FIRECracker has shown us).

    My top 3 (prioritize AND find good deals):
    1. homebody: Small but nice apartment with awesome pools, gym, dog park. Having a dog(super sweet shelter mutt). Home cooked meals. Decent wide screen TV(love both action and indie films and there are numerous titles at the public library which is in walking distance, some streaming but I don’t have cable).
    2. live music: I love a good rock show, symphony concert, or even a decent cover band at a dive bar is great fun!
    3. nature: annual memberships and park entry fees(hikes/stargazing events etc), road trips to state and national parks, may give paddle board or kayak a try soon(renting first of course!).

    1. Awesome! Spending on your priorities definitely makes the road to FIRE a lot more enjoyable. I don’t think we could’ve made it here if we had cut out all vacations for the 9 years it took to get to FIRE.

      Keep up the good work!

  25. Oh, FIRECracker, stop making excuses and just go buy a house already. And some super expensive cats and electronics. All on credit, of course. And stop being lazy and get a high paying job already. Don’t you want to settle down, have lots of children, and be SUCCESSFUL!

    *in creepy voice* Join us, FIRECracker. Join uuuussssss…………..

    Sincerely,
    ARB–Angry Retail Banker

    1. If that ever happens, promise me you’ll immediately call the nearest psych ward because I’ll have lost my damned mind…

  26. I love everything about this post!!! It’s so true. One of the reasons I don’t talk about my exact budget/finances with friends or family is because I don’t want to be judged by someone else’s value system.

    I remember in grad school one of my peers making negative comments about me financing a car. I didn’t have family within 1500 miles and public transportation there was awful to non-existent. I also lived pretty far from campus to save on housing. So, having a reliable car was important to me. Said peer spent approximately the same amount I spent on my car note on designer purses. Seriously?!? That was evidently what she needed and I thought it was ludicrous. So, to each their own.

    I am always–literally, always–thinking of ways to save, but I realize that I have to save in ways that make sense to me. I could probably cut my cell phone bill, but I get to claim part of it as a business expense and haven’t had much luck finding a plan that works for covering my dad and myself and making sure I still have access to 2G data and unlimited talk/text.

    I can’t remember who wrote in the comments suggesting that I do a home gym, but that was great for me! I bought some cheap weights on sale at Target and now that I’ve moved closer to work and will be walking 2 hour round trips 5 days a week, I can definitely survive without my gym membership. I gave up having my own bathroom to share with 4 strangers, but I save on gas (traveling to work), rent by quite a bit, and can keep my bi-weekly trips to the awesome Ethiopian restaurant that I can now walk to during the week.

    I wonder if we can have a post on ideas for saving/ cutting costs. Would love to see the comments section of a post like that!

    1. MAS, you are a super star! Love that you’re cutting costs even more with a home gym. And yes, I will think about ideas for a future post about cutting costs without cutting happiness. If you can get the same result for less, why not?

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