I have been budgeting for almost four years now, and amazingly I have come to really enjoy the entire process of balancing our family budget. It has become such a joy that I typically get excited at payday, not only because we are getting paid, but because it means I get to play around with the budget! I love tinkering with our totals and projecting how much we will be able to pay towards our student loans! You might be thinking I am a major nerd, which I am, but I truly get joy over seeing us meet our goals. If you don’t feel the same way I do about budgeting, it’s okay, I didn’t start out this way either. It took a couple years of heartache and frustration. The good news is that anyone can develop this joy through practice and dedication. I want to share a secret that has taken a lot of stress and frustration out of the equation, and was something we added after almost a year of budgeting. You certainly don’t have to wait as long as we did, but definitely make sure it fits into your budget first. It is very simple, but extremely freeing! We gave each other an allowance!
Before the Personal Allowance
My first feeling that I associated with budgeting was restriction. I felt very restricted by the formulas and numbers in my spreadsheet, which dictated how I could spend my money, and more importantly to me at the time, how I couldn’t spend my money. I hated the feeling of not being able to buy things when I wanted them; to grab a beer with friends, give gifts for families on birthdays, or get a new dress shirt just because it looked great on me. My wife felt the exact same way; restricted and trapped. Even though we had long term goals to keep us motivated, it doesn’t mean we enjoyed learning how to budget. Sometimes it downright sucked! Trust me, there were many arguments about loosening up the restraints simply so we wouldn’t go crazy, and plenty of times that tears entered the equation. Maybe you have felt like that. Or maybe restriction is a fear keeping you from starting a budget in the first place. Either way, I think these feelings are both okay, and a natural part of the process. For us, the entire point of the budget was to be accountable to our goals, and if either of us splurged, it would almost feel like we betrayed one another. Our two conflicting goals were sticking with our budget to reach our long term goals and being able to buy small items that we simply wanted, but didn’t fit into the budget. We wanted the freedom to spend money without needing to check in with each other or feel guilty about it. That’s where the personal allowance fit perfectly.
After the Personal Allowance
We decided the best solution was to add in personal money every month. It is basically a small allowance that we set aside for ourselves to spend however we want without feeling guilty or jeopardizing our monthly goals. The beautiful thing is that we built it into the budget! I created a row for Jamie and another row for Jenna, and each month we decide how much we get. I have the freedom to spend my personal money however I want. If I want to spend it all on new clothes, get Starbucks for a whole week, or buy a gift for my Mom, I have complete freedom to do that without feeling guilt or doing any harm to our budgeting goals. If it is a tight month, we can always reduce the allowance, but for the most part we keep it pretty standard and consistent. At last, our paradox was solved! Now we have more freedom to spend money on ourselves, but also stay within the guidelines of our budget. Gone forever is the guilt and feelings of selfishness over spending money. I honestly think it is one of the best additions to our budget.
Not everything we want will fit into this small monthly allowance, but if I want something that is more expensive, I will need to save up for a few months before I can buy it. Right now I really want a bicycle that is much more than my personal allowance, so it will take me a few months to save up, but if it is something I really want, I have the means to buy it without breaking the budget. It also helps me realize if a purchase is really worth it. If I am not willing to spend my personal money on it, I probably don’t need it. I can easily prioritize my spending.
Putting it into Action
If you are looking for more freedom in your budget, I highly recommend adding a category for personal money, and one for your spouse if you are budgeting together. If you don’t have enough space in your budget for even a very small amount, that’s okay. You can use the goal of personal money as a motivator to crush your current goals until you can afford to create more space. Sit down and crunch the numbers to see what you can afford right now and make goals to increase it down the road when your budget becomes more flexible. The beautiful thing is that you get to decide how much personal money you get each month. Right now, we only give ourselves $50 each month because we are really focused on paying off all of our loans by April. Once we reach our goals we might increase it. It all comes down to priorities.
Flex Your Budgeting Muscles
Over the years, our budget has changed a lot and we have made many improvements along the way. The only way to get better at budgeting is to remain consistent and stay focused on your goals. I like to think of practicing budgeting in the same way an athlete works out and practices new skills. When you practice a new skill, you are teaching your muscles the proper movement and techniques, creating muscle memory through repetition. The goal is that through this repetition, your muscles will be able to complete the movements quicker, easier, and with more strength. Budgeting is the same. When you consistently stick to your budget and practice restraint in your purchases month in and month out, you are flexing your budgeting muscles. As time goes on, your budgeting muscles will get stronger, making the process easier, and allowing you do more than when you first started. That’s exactly what we did! At first, we felt trapped, restrained, and frustrated at the limits of our budget. So we started flexing our budget muscles! Nothing changed overnight; remember building muscles takes time. Eventually we were able to add a personal allowance into our budget, and have experienced much more freedom ever since. If you really hate budgeting right now, it’s okay, it gets better. I believe that budgeting actually leads to much more freedom in your finances than living without a budget, you just have to put in the work to learn how to do it well.
Related Post: How to Start a Budget
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
While you are budgeting fiercely and crushing your debt, don’t get caught up in comparing yourself with your friends and family. First off, you probably have no idea what their finances look like. If you see friends spending more money on personal stuff than you, it could be for a bunch of reasons. They might make more money than you, have less debt, they could be putting it all on a credit card, or a million other reasons! The point is, it’s okay if your spending habits look different than those around you. Most people like you who achieve great success look and act differently than the people around them. I would say it’s a good thing. Don’t let others influence how you spend money, unless it helps you move toward your goals. Second, you are making sacrifices now for the delayed gratification of having no debt. Living debt free will give you so much more joy and freedom later than you could experience now with the short term pleasure of instant gratification.
Wrapping it Up
Adding more freedom to your budget can be as simple as giving yourself a personal allowance. It removes the guilt of unnecessary spending, while allowing you to pursue your financial goals. It truly is a win-win situation. If you don’t have the space for personal allowances now, add it to your list of goals and work hard until it becomes part of your budget. Flex your budgeting muscles and keep crushing it!
Let Me Know in the Comments
Do you give yourself a personal allowance? How has it changed your mindset for budgeting?
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