To budget or to have a budget?

I don’t seem to mix well with budgets. Having a budget to me is like wearing a pair of shoes that have 10 cm high heels, pointy toes and are a size too small: restrictive, uncomfortable and outright painful. Good budgets are like comfortable shoes; they may not be very trendy but they feel part of you and are fit for purpose. Tight, uncomfortable budgets are like high heeled shoes: you can’t walk a mile in them. This is why I budget but I don’t have a budget.

The way I see it, there are three main differences between budgeting and having a budget.

One, budgets are snapshots taken at particular point in time; and not necessarily by you or of your situation. Budgeting, on the other hand, is a process that you drive yourself; it is built upon awareness, reflection, knowledge, learning and a string of decisions. This is why budgeting grows with you and allows you and your life to grow as well.

Two, and related to the first one, budgets are fixed. They are to be obeyed, not to be broken! When there is a mismatch between your budget and your expenditure do you blame the budget? Usually not; usually you end up blaming the expenditure. And it doesn’t matter how hard you try to allow for the unexpected in your budget, it will always surprise you. Budgeting is flexible without being wasteful. Your budgeting can change to accommodate your situation which doesn’t mean that your budget changes upwards to accommodate spending. When done properly you will soon notice that you are spending less.

Three, budgets, because they are imposed, can often feel restrictive. Do you think ‘I can’t go on holiday because I can’t afford it.’? Now this is a very typical effect of having a budget – it makes you think that you cannot afford things rather than asking how you can afford them. ‘Can’t afford’ makes people feel deprived; ‘how can I afford’ makes people feel empowered. Budgeting is about learning to spend or not spend consciously so that you do it because you have decided to (and want to) not because you have to.

I hate feeling restricted and every time someone or something has tried to limit my opportunities and my life I have rebelled. This is why I budget with persistence and imagination but my choice was not to have a budget. Call me strange but I like wearing sensible shoes and loose cotton suits rather than high heeled, pointy shoes and tightly fitting corsets.

Do you budget or do you have a budget?

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