Budgeting is not hard, financial discipline is hard.
Many people think that budgeting is hard to do. The actual process of a budget is simple. You look at how much is coming in and what is going out and adjust both sides to get your desired outcome.
What is hard, is the financial discipline and healthy habits it takes to make the necessary adjustments over the long term to reach the desired outcome.
Over the years, I’ve experienced good budget seasons and bad ones. As I reflected on what was killing my budget, it wasn’t my spending but my mindset.
I was well aware of the benefits of budgeting. Lower stress, less financial anxiety, improved decision-making, improved goal achievement; the list goes on.
To see more reasons check out our video on [Benefits of a Personal Budget]
But just knowing this was not enough to keep me budgeting. I’d start a fresh budget and after 4 or 5 weeks, I would start skipping steps in my process.
My top excuses were:
- I’m naturally very frugal, why do I need to track it?
- Budgets are only for people whose bank accounts are shrinking. Mine is growing, I don’t need to budget.
I was 100% wrong!
I realized that 4 big things were killing my commitment to a budget process.
The Budget Process Killers:
- Lack of Vision
- Short-term Thinking
- No Accountability
Lack of Vision:
This is at the top of the list of budget killers because I believe if your vision isn’t compelling enough, it won’t move you to action.
A compelling vision should get you excited about moving toward that vision. What I’m talking about are the goals and dreams that bring life to your vision.
Before any sort of work is done towards creating a budget, I believe you should sit down and come up with 5-10 dreams or goals that you want to accomplish.
They don’t have to be financial goals like debt reduction or retirement. Those are important but what is compelling you to reduce your debt? Why do you want to retire?
Personally, the big dream that finally resurrected my family’s budget was our desire to travel the United States and visit all the National and State parks.
For others, it could be less stress, more freedom to pursue music, or spending more time fly fishing small streams in Montana. The important part is to make it something that excites you and spurs you to action.
Here is the link to our free Financial Planning Goal Worksheet.
Once you’ve got your goals and dreams written down, make sure you put them all over your house, car, and workspace. I have them everywhere. On the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, the laundry room, and in the car. It helps to keep me focused. I even took a picture of the top 2 goals and put them as the login background for my phone and I put my budget dashboard as the background on my laptop.
A compelling vision is the why behind the budget. Without it, I believe most budgets will be dead on arrival.
A compelling vision is also the energy that moves us to act and helps to push us past the second budget killer on the list, procrastination.
Having a marginally compelling vision leads to procrastination.
Why work towards dreams and goals that don’t get you excited?
I could feel the stress and anxiety that was attached to my financial situation.
Starting a budget felt so difficult because it was going to uncover all the stress and anxiety I felt around my finances. While I knew that my savings accounts were rising, I had no concept of what was leaving my wallet each month.
This unknown of my finances seemed to feed my stress and anxiety and it was the anchor of my budget procrastination.
Some quick tips for pushing through procrastination are:
- Having a compelling vision!
- Self-imposed deadlines
- Reward systems
- Accountability through friends, family, or a financial advisor
For me, it was the accountability of my family. My wife played a critical role in partnering with me to push through our budget procrastination. Our twin girls also helped give us that final push over the finish line.
It took me about 10 hours total to set up the actual budget.
- Building my budget spreadsheet – 4 hours
- Compiling 12 months of bank statements and credit card bills – 30 min
- Inputting 12 months of spending data into the spreadsheet – 3 hours
- Inputting all our assets (savings accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts, etc) – 30 min.
- Setting a monthly budget – 2 hours
There are a lot of ways you can The largest amount of time, which I didn’t track, was spent thinking through my dreams and setting goals that align with those dreams. My wife and I spent hours praying, reflecting, and discussing what we wanted to do before finally writing them down.
It was a blast thinking about my goals and dreams. It didn’t feel like work and it made the actual budget setup much more enjoyable.
Instant culture is rewiring our brains.
Amazon Prime delivers in a day or even the same day. Netflix lets people binge-watch their favorite shows in a single session when they used to have to wait an entire season.
It’s getting easier and easier to set this expectation of instant gratification in other areas of our life, including our finances.
Our mindset around our finances is beginning to shift from a healthy long-term view to a budget-killing short-term view.
Yes, there are things we can do short term that can make a big impact on our financial situation.
An example is establishing the budget itself. This includes taking stock of all your cash inflows and outflows and putting them into a spreadsheet. Something that most people can do in an afternoon.
Healthy change in our finances takes time. Building healthy financial habits doesn’t happen overnight. Small changes will build up over time, much like compound interest.
For example, a small change in your budget process could be taking 10-15 minutes a week to review your weekly spending. Or setting up your banking app to send you notifications when any money is spent. Financially, you could put an additional $50 a month towards your credit card debt.
It is consistent focus and smart decisions over the long term that have the power to dramatically improve our financial situations.
Attaining your financial goals is not easy. Creating a budget can be hard but once it is created, maintaining it is even more of a challenge.
Creating accountability is critical to the process.
Some people have no problems walking the path to financial freedom by themselves. I am not one of those people.
If left to my own, I would quickly let my budget process slide. It would be far too easy for me to say on a Friday afternoon (when my family reviews our budget) that I will do it on Saturday. Then it would be Sunday. Then never.
I invited my family into the process. My wife and I discuss our budget at least once a week. She has taken over the responsibility of updating our budget numbers throughout the month. This allows us to quickly see where our spending is.
On the last Friday of every month, we do our best to sit down for 30 minutes and plan the next month’s budget. This step does not require any additional preparation for our weekly updates.
Accountability can come from friends or relatives. You can find online communities that help bring financial accountability. Financial advisors also help bring accountability. Your team at Clear Creek does this through regular meetings and can bring more in-depth accountability by establishing a financial plan.
I know other people who have a financial accountability group with their friends or even at their church.
There are several ways to add levels of accountability.
The important thing is to add it!
Clear Creek Conclusion:
Budgeting is not hard.
Creating financial discipline is hard.
I do believe that uncovering our “Why” for our budget is critical. Without the “why”, I believe 95% of budgets will be dead on arrival.
But, I know that with patience and perseverance, anyone can establish a budget and stick with it.
In the early stages, don’t set the expectation of perfection. Your goal is not to be perfect but to make small, consistent steps toward healthy financial discipline.
If you get distracted from the process for a season, don’t condemn yourself or feed the lie that you can’t budget well, just take a deep breath and try again.
After a while, you will start to see significant improvement. Spoiler alert, there is satisfaction coming as you reach your goals and see your net worth increase each month.
About the Author: Located North of San Francisco, Jason specializes in financial planning, investment management, and tax strategies for families across the west coast.