Yes, I am the author of The Secret to a Successful Budget.
Yes, in that book I said, “[the budget is] an essential component of any healthy financial plan.”
Yes, I also said, “If I had to identify one financial habit that helped us become debt-free, it would be the budget.”
Yes, I did mention, “For almost seven years now we’ve kept a budget – even now that we are debt-free. And we still think it is the most important factor in maintaining a financially healthy lifestyle.”
And yes, we’ve decided to kiss budgeting good bye.
Why We Kissed Budgeting Goodbye
For the first ten and a half years of our marriage, we kept a budget. We followed all the rules and told our money what to do.
With this plan in place, we were able to pay off our student loans within a year of when my wife and I graduated with our masters degrees. It’s not easy to live off $34,000, pay for two masters degrees, and cover all your expenses. But we did. Thanks to the budget.
In our nearly twelve years of marriage, we’ve only borrowed money for one car and a house. The car loan was paid off in less than a year. Thanks to a spending plan.
The budget helped us allocate extra money each month to help us make extra payments on our home. That outstanding balance is now only 4 digits. How? The budgeting our money.
Last year, we were able to give away almost double what we’ve ever been able to give away before. How? The budget.
So I do think that a budget is an essential component of any healthy financial plan. If you are not budgeting and you are in debt, I highly recommend you consider keeping a budget.
Still, here’s why we’ve kissed budgeting goodbye.
1. The time commitment no longer brings the appropriate reward.
Both my wife and I are creatures of habit. Since we’ve been budgeting for so long, we instinctively know what is too much. I know it sounds strange to budget based on instinct, but we do.
As an example, we have enough money budgeted that we can go out to eat twice a month as a family and once a month as a couple. Sometimes we choose to do three times a month as a couple and once as a family. In the end, we know that if we stick to that dining out schedule, we will be within budget. This has been our practice for nearly five years.
Thus, when we spend time budgeting, it doesn’t do much to affect our already established healthy habits.
2. Our big goal motivations are disappearing.
One of the main reasons we budgeted after we became debt free was to help focus our excess savings (FYI: you tend to have money in your bank at the end of the month when you don’t have debt).
As an example, if we were planning a vacation, we’d allocate x number of dollars each month to our vacation and the rest would go towards the mortgage. We’d have no idea what ‘the rest’ was unless we tracked our spending.
At this point in our lives, we’re doing a lot of free vacations, so we can easily cash flow our vacations. We’ve also reached our house savings goals, so the function of the budget is disappearing for us.
3. It was causing an undue amount of tension in our home.
About a year ago, I decided that I wasn’t going to give the time any longer to keeping a budget. Time was becoming more scarce, and so it wasn’t a priority for me to give my time to doing it. My wife lovingly agreed to take over the budgeting. The problem was that I was trying to take care of half of the financial responsibilities (like paying bills), and she wasn’t getting all the necessary information to keep the budget. (That’s a little something called a lack of communication.) She felt pressure because she wasn’t getting the budget completed every month, and I felt pressure to commit the time to getting all the information to her.
Just last week, we sat down and asked the why question. Why do we keep the budget?
You see, when you’ve done something for so long, you may continue to do it even when the circumstances change. We needed to revisit the why question. If we had good reasons, then we’d just found the motivation to keep budgeting. If there were no reasonable explanations to keep budgeting, we could kiss budgeting goodbye.
We discovered that even if we were reaching our grocery limit for the month, my wife would still buy food because we need to eat.
We discovered that no matter what was happening with the budget, we’d still buy medicine when one of us gets sick.
The budget wasn’t functionally doing anything for us – other than causing us to feel overwhelmed and behind on tracking numbers.
This is not a liberty all of us have, but with a fully funded emergency fund and making more than we spend, we no longer need to watch our spending in such a militant fashion.
The Budgeting Way Forward
1. Track Only Giving
In the end, we decided to track only one category for our budget: our giving.
My wife and I agreed that the category we most wanted to be sure we were giving appropriate attention to was our giving. Because we don’t give all our donations to the local church exclusively, it’s important that we track our different giving activities to be sure we’re giving what we’ve predetermined.
I am a proponent to the budget. I think if you have debt, there is no excuse for not keeping a budget. You’re going to remain stuck in the mud for a very long time. However, in our case, we feel like it’s time to move on.
2. Budget Again
We have also decided that when we move in the middle of next year we will start budgeting again.
Because we’ll no longer be able to trust our instinct. Our living habits will change. Spending habits adjust. When you change setting a budget is important to help you to be sure you’re spending your income on appropriate things.
In June 2012 you can expect a post on why we’re budgeting again :).
An Ode to a Budget
When we thought of budgeting, we couldn’t think of any ‘whys’,
You’ve been our companion for all the years.
But, now we say our bitter sweet goodbyes,
And on this day, we’ll share no tears.