If Budgeting Isn't Fun, You're Doing It Wrong
Make a list of your favorite things to do. Start with your most favorite thing to do, then your next most favorite, and keep going until you get to budgeting. Go ahead; I'll wait.
If you haven't gotten down to budgeting yet, that's okay. There's a reason that most people don't enjoy budgeting, which I'll get to in a minute. But first, I want to talk about how you're doing it wrong.
The wrong way to budget
What do you want? In particular, what do you most want to have and what do you most want to do?
You probably had a bunch of ideas pop into your head. If you've got a minute, go ahead and note them down on the same piece of paper where you were making your list of favorite things to do.
Now spend just a few seconds thinking about a budget.
You probably had a short list of "budget categories" pop into your head: Housing, groceries, utilities, transportation, etc.
So, what's the overlap between those two lists: the things you most want and those classic budget categories? Pretty small, I bet.
See what I mean? You're doing it wrong.
Those classic budget categories almost certainly belong on the list of things you really, really want. (Very few people want to be homeless and starving.) You just don't think to put them on the list because you're used having them.
Budgeting the fun way
Think again about what you really, really want — and this time don't forget to include the stuff that you're used to having, like food to eat and a place to sleep. Make a list. Put it into priority order, with water, food, and shelter at the top. Include electricity (very handy) and maybe your phone bill (if you want keep in touch with friends and family).
But don't stop there. Go ahead and add to the list all those other things you want — the new car, the new computer, the vacation in Fiji, the smart phone, the complete works of L.L. Zamenhof. Rank them in with everything else. If you want those awesome new shoes more than you want clean laundry, go ahead and put the shoes above laundry on your list.
Am I that weird for finding it fun to fantasize about all the cool stuff I want to have and do? Does putting the stuff in a big list make it any less fun? Granted, it would be even more fun to actually have and do them. Happily, that's the next step! Go ahead and treat yourself to the items that are at the top of your list!
Yes, at first, that may just mean "Pay your rent and utility bills," but that's not the end of things. The real reason that budgeting is fun is that it's the best way to get further down your list — to get past the things you need and start getting yourself the things you just want.
Still hate it?
As I said at the top, there's a reason that most people hate budgeting. It's because their finances are out of control. If your finances are out of control, making a list like this feels doesn't feel like a step toward satisfying your wants: It feels like putting your nose up against the window of a shop with everything you want but can't afford.
The solution to that is straightforward, if not exactly simple: Take control of your finances.
The tool for doing so is right there in front of you. Take the list of items that you really, really want and put numbers on it — the cost of each item.
All it takes to be in control of your finances is:
- Know what you want
- Know how much those things cost
- Buy things in order, starting with the most wanted
- Quit buying stuff before you spend all your money
Once you're managing those steps routinely — and banking the surplus cash that comes from not spending all your money — you can start planning ways to get those items that fall below the cutoff.
You're probably not going to get the list exactly right on your first try. If all your friends are heading off to see the new 3D movie, joining them is going to seem like a huge want — maybe higher on the list than, let's say, eating lunch out. But after you've bought the ticket and watched the movie — when you're trying to choose between leftovers and a peanut butter sandwich for your brown-bag lunch — maybe you'd rank the movie a bit further down on the list. That's okay. Nobody gets their budget right on the first try. Take your time. Shuffle things up and down on the list. Pretty soon they'll settle down.
That's when it starts getting fun.