Thursday, June 3, 2021

The Luxury of a Budget

The world of personal finance is full of self-deprivation, a choice I often wonder about.  It's almost like if we just squeeze all of the luxuries out of life, we will somehow arrive at a magical destination sooner.  We wander through life avoiding lattes and massages for fear that such indulgences will push the achievement of our goals into an unacceptable timeline.  So, under a guise of mindfulness, we strip ourselves of life's little pleasures and then convince ourselves that the best "treat" we can afford for ourselves is a trip through a fast-food drive-through when we're just too exhausted to cook.  Wouldn't it be nice if a "treat" could really be a treat?  Somehow, there's this psychological idea that we "haven't gone overboard" if we didn't enjoy whatever it was "too much."  Sounds a little wacky, I know, but in all honesty how many of us subject ourselves to strange rituals like this based on scarcity mindset issues that we haven't put to rest yet?

A personal friend and client, who kindly allows me to use these little anecdotes, brought this into focus for me with such clarity.  She hadn't been using any sort of budgeting system but might be considered a generally frugal person.  She's always had a real knack for getting a bargain, which has always served her well.  After we began to work together and she really started assessing how various financial activities in her life made her feel, she came to an interesting realization.  She was pulling through drive-throughs multiple times per week after work.  She was doing this because she felt tired; her day was long, and she just wanted to go home and relax.  Despite her generally thrifty ways, she realized that she was spending a fair amount of money doing this, but wasn't receiving much in return for it.  It wasn't particularly healthy.  She didn't particularly enjoy 90% of the food choices; they were fine, but it wasn't typically an instance where she just really wanted that specific food item.  Emotionally, she also didn't even derive any real pleasure from the activity or experience of the food.  Now, there's another behavior that she noticed that's even more fascinating.  As she pulled back the veil of her own spending, she revealed that she was denying herself access to food items at the grocery store that she truly loved under the guise of mindful spending.  Through emotional scale tracking and the beginning stages of budget analysis, she was able to hold these two behaviors up next to each other.  She found herself ignoring the package of organic strawberries, telling herself that she shouldn't have them, but turning around and dumping the same amount of cash into the vending machine at work.  Quite frankly, she would have enjoyed snacking on the strawberries more than the overpriced pretzels any day.  

So many times when we aren't operating with a budget, we think we're being mindful about certain choices because we're denying ourselves access to things that feel luxurious. Then simultaneously, we allow money to slide between our fingers with purchases that bring us no joy.  There are certain key limiting beliefs that flow directly into scarcity mindset that set us up to living this way.  The amazing thing is that we don't have to continue this unsatisfying pattern.  There is one simple, inspired action we can take to free ourselves of these limitations, and that is to set up a budget.

As I've written about many times, I am not the sort of budgeter that spends tons of time on it.  I use the
50/30/20 budgeting system in order to systematically allot money into the categories: Fixed Expenses, Flexible (Lifestyle), and Goals.  On a monthly basis, the fixed category doesn't change, and the goals category needs very little attention because its plan has been created and we simply need to continue to execute that plan.  So, on a month-to-month basis, the only area that needs updating is the category devoted to flexible, lifestyle spending.  Once the money has been assigned to this category, it's up to the individual to decide how to use it.  Why shouldn't we derive as much joy from that category as possible?  Allot some money to treat yourself!  It is possible to slay the debt dragon rapidly and buy the organic strawberries.  In fact, the woman from my story has even included a line item for a monthly spa treatment for herself while continuing to be on track to achieve the rest of her financial goals.  Her goal certainly includes a certain retirement date and dollar amount, but that's not all.  She also intends to create a lifestyle she enjoys along the way.

Is there something you'd like to include in your budget that would increase your quality of life?  Could you remove something else that isn't bringing you very much value? Your budget is a tool that can be used in order to improve your quality of life if you let it.  Remember, it's okay to give yourself permission for the mindful inclusion of luxuries in your budget.  

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