This is an interesting topic, and to be honest, the truth is that even I, a financial pro, hate to budget (gasp!). That’s right, I don’t consider it fun or empowering. It doesn’t fill me with financial superpowers or suppress my enjoyment of spending money. However, budgeting is a necessity if you want to be a wise financial steward.
One of the most important elements of a financial plan is cash flow management. In fact, one could argue that if you aren’t effectively managing your income, you have a fairly weak financial foundation. So, why is budgeting our money so hard? We could discuss countless reasons, for we all have our personal specific challenges. Instead, I’ll offer a few thoughts that resonate with me:
We don’t realize how much of our financial choices are influenced by the way we are raised.
Financial matters are largely taught in the home, not in school. That’s right—it’s very likely that you are a by-product of the financial environment in which you were raised. Think about some of your earliest money memories. What do you remember? For me, I can still remember hearing my mother talk about the fact that we couldn’t afford to do something—like eating at a certain restaurant or going somewhere we’d like to go. Was this actually true? I have no idea—I wasn’t contributing to the household economy at that time. What I do know, however, is that my mother grew up in a family that was, by modern standards in America, a poor family. Those memories of her childhood upbringing made an impression on her that she still felt as an adult who was earning a great income. It was a part of her financial DNA, whether she realized it or not.
Financial limitations can often make us feel disappointed / depressed / discouraged about our current financial situation.
Budgeting is not fun. It’s a constant reminder for the majority of us that we have financial limits. Sure, we know this intuitively, but putting it on paper has a way of making it real. I have heard it stated that, once you put down all your income and expenses into a budget, you finally know the truth about your financial life. It will either frighten you or encourage you, but one thing’s for sure, you’ll no longer be blind to what’s going on with your money. It’s so much more comfortable to live in the dark, not knowing where the money goes. Bringing our financial habits out into the open can be painful, and we are naturally wired to avoid pain.
Overcoming our own inertia is usually the most difficult part of forming any habit.
Having a budget requires constant effort. Technology today is making it much, much easier to create and stick to a budget. Many banks have budgeting options in their online portals, and we also have budgeting apps for our smart phones. This is game-changing when it comes to ease of use; however, it still requires a user! We still have to do the work of tracking expenses and making sure our projected expenses line up with our actual expenses. While this can be quite simple with all of the tools available today, it still takes time and effort. It’s easy to do—but it’s just as easy NOT to do. This is why getting started and building momentum is a key component to healthy financial habits.
We don’t understand how to prioritize our financial goals.
Budgeting can become more and more complicated as we have conflicting financial goals. And guess what—no two people are exactly alike when it comes to financial goals. This is why money is such a difficult subject for married couples. Think about all of the conflicting goals you have in a “normal” family: planning for college, emergency savings, family vacations, retirement, healthcare expenses, FUN money, and the list goes on and on. It can be extremely difficult to know how to prioritize our financial needs, especially when we tend to value today’s needs and wants over tomorrow’s needs and wants. This lack of ability to effectively prioritize can wreck our future financial plans because we could one day find ourselves falling short of critical financial milestones like retirement.
Budgeting, often times, isn’t second nature to us.
Budgeting doesn’t come naturally for some of us, and that’s ok. What we need to do is learn how to develop the consistent habit of being intentional with our money. What does that mean? It means that each and every dollar you earn has a job, and your responsibility is to be intentional about how you allocate your workers. Some will go to taxes. Some dollars will go to bills and debt. Finally, some dollars will fund our lifestyle choices. The key to finding financial success begins with financial discipline and “right-sizing” your lifestyle.
One financial trap that we can fall into is the trap of adjusting our lifestyles upward and our incomes move upward, removing any margin we could use for our goals. Right-sizing your lifestyle is knowing how much is enough—and using your excess funds for long-term financial goals. There really is no other way to become financially successful. We often seek short-term solutions, but the truth is, we must develop good financial habits the same way we develop good health habits. The crash diets don’t work for weight loss just like the crash budget frenzies don’t work in personal finance.
Having an experienced, objective financial planner can be invaluable for someone who needs help in setting their financial priorities. Working with a financial planning professional can help uncover your true financial priorities and align your resources for success. Don’t let fear hold you back from asking for help. All of the most successful people have coaches and advisors— it is part of the process. The future that you will experience depends on what you decide today, so stop procrastinating and start (dare I say it) budgeting those dollars.