Here’s the thing about budgeting that most people don’t realize: It’s not about money. It’s about you. Budgeting is personal development in disguise.
Life > money. Having options is better than any dollar amount in your bank account. Spending time with your kids. Giving back to your family. Making unforgettable memories. Living without financial anxiety. Trusting in yourself. And being able to be present for the million moments that make up your day.
Budgeting isn’t about restricting your spending; it’s about expanding your options. It’s about your quality of life. It’s about peace, pleasure, and triumph. It’s about feeling fulfilled, and creating big, beautiful memories—no matter how small your budget.
It’s about being confident.
It’s about being strong.
It’s about being true to you.
And it’s about loving yourself in ways you never have before.
Money Anxiety Isn’t about Money
The first step toward an abundant, happy life is accepting that a life without financial struggle is possible.
On this journey, you’re going to need more than numbers to keep you motivated. What happens when you don’t “hit the numbers” one month? If the numbers are all that matter to you, you might give up. If, however, what’s important is your progress toward a healthier you and a life of value, then numbers—big or small—are not the point. The point is change, growth, action, and creating a life you love.
It’s not just about getting out of debt; it’s about discovering why you’re in debt in the first place (and what we’re going to do about it). It’s not just how to save, but what motivates the self-discipline you need to make saving money a priority in your life. It’s not just what makes you happy in the moment, but how to use trade-offs to fund the life you want today and in the future.
It’s not just about running the numbers; it’s about living.
Start by Answering This Question
A financially fulfilled life will mean different things to different people, which is why it’s so important to understand what it means to you. Doing the work to uncover your why and to visualize
will mean the difference between success and failure when it comes to money.
So many people skip this step. They don’t take time to really reflect on their why or deeper motivation. They jump right into tactics and spreadsheets. And unfortunately, that’s the fastest way to fail at money: not understanding what you want it for.
When you discover your why, you discover your purpose. You’re embarking on a mission and drawing a map for your money. You aren’t just sitting there, letting life happen to you. You’re taking inventory of what you’ve got, what you want, and how you’re going to make it happen.
And you won’t just become financially successful. You’re going to be successful, period.
The Real Reason You Buy
The Recycle Spender: This person makes purchases only to feel guilty about the money and return the same items. This becomes a cycle: buy, return, buy, return. This cycle runs on guilt. If you identify with this one, ask yourself what the source of your guilt might be. Do you feel guilty about your debt, or how it affects your family?
The Hoarder: The hoarder collects their money and does not spend or invest it. They often pay for things, even big purchases, in cash.
The Compulsive Buyer: This person buys to address a need or problem. Often the problem has to do with themselves, problems that cannot actually be fixed with money, like self-esteem.
The Impulsive Spender: This person spends on a whim. When they see something they want, they put their card down.
The FOMO Spender: These shoppers go to thrift stores and shop sales. To them, the cheapest price is the best. They are always afraid of missing out on a deal.
The Magnify Shopper: This person spends to celebrate, to make a moment special or memorable. They want to make a feeling bigger (magnify it) by making a purchase.
The Bored Buyer: This person shops because they need a distraction or something to keep them entertained.
This isn’t even an exhaustive list. The full list could go on for pages. But chances are good you’ll see yourself in one or more of these types of spenders—and that’s perfectly normal.
What these types of spenders have in common is that they are emotional spenders. We all are. No matter how logical you are in other areas of your life, money is always tied to emotion. You can’t stop emotional spending but you can control it. And that’s what we’re going to talk about next.
Highlighting Your Blind Spots
So many of us try to address the symptom of “spending too much” without getting to the root of why. We search the internet for how to stop impulse buying. We read things like how to make a list when you go to the store. You might be familiar with the common tips: budget beforehand, avoid the mall, stop using your credit card. But for many, those “tips and tricks” ring hollow; it’s all just “robot work.” “Make a grocery list” won’t help you in the long run if you can’t see why you’re spending money on things off your shopping list in the first place.
When you stay in the dark, it’s all too easy to spend more than you make and dig yourself further into debt. And worse, it’ll be impossible to foster a healthy relationship with money if you’re oblivious to the one you have now. You’ll stay stuck in the same relationship patterns, frustrated about why you’re experiencing the same problems over and over. And that’s because you can’t change what you don’t know. You have to be honest with yourself, not only about what you’re spending money on but also why. Then, what started as a slap in the face turns out to be the key to moving toward what you really want in life.
What happens when you get real about where you’re at? What happens when you take a hard look at the underlying, emotional causes of your spending? You have information. You get to know yourself. You’re able to make better decisions about the things that matter to you, and how you should spend on them. And most importantly, you’ll be able to trust yourself.
Discover Your True Priorities
It’s true that the fastest way to make progress on a particular goal is to put all of your excess money toward that goal. That’s why so many financial experts stress choosing one goal and sticking to it. For example, getting rid of debt first before saving for any other goals (even retirement) is common advice.
Having a strong foundation isn’t just about learning how to save for one thing but knowing how to tackle more than one financial goal at a time. Knowing how to prioritize where you put your money is one of the most important financial planning decisions you will have to make.
We trick ourselves into thinking that, when we spend money, we’re not giving up anything, that we can afford the credit card purchase and still have money for going out to dinner. But the truth is that we’re always making sacrifices, even when we don’t realize it. Most often, when we’re closing our eyes to consequences, it’s because we’re creating more debt for ourselves and sacrificing our future. We end up having to put off things like home ownership or retirement or even that vacation we wanted. But that’s not what we thought about when we used our credit cards. However, every dollar spent is a sacrifice on some other budget line.
Make a list of all your possible priorities.
Ask yourself, “What are my most important financial goals?”
Ask yourself, “What am I willing to give up to reach these goals?”
Divide these priorities into time segments.
What can you accomplish (or what do you need to accomplish) in one to three years? If you don’t have an emergency fund, make it a goal, here.
What can you accomplish (or what do you need to accomplish) in three to seven years?
What can you accomplish (or what do you need to accomplish) in seven to ten-plus years?
Live a Life You Love
True financial fulfillment is about confidence. Yes, personal transformation brings financial transformation. But the reverse is also true; financial transformation brings personal transformation.
As you begin to live a more financially fulfilled life, watch for the following changes in yourself:
A Focus on Value
When spending money, you’ll start to gravitate toward quality and long-term value. You’ll ask questions like: What will last? What will I cherish for the long haul? What supports my ambitions? What gives me the most time doing what I love?
You will become intentional. You will find yourself eliminating all kinds of activities—even ones that don’t cost anything—if they do not align with your vision for your life, replacing them with activities and relationships that do.
A Readiness to Learn
Instead of thinking to yourself, “I could never learn all that,” you will find yourself open and curious to know more. Even when you feel overwhelmed, you will find that you believe in your own ability. You will take it step by step. And pretty soon, you’ll be way beyond where you were before.
Preparation for Future Risks
You will anticipate future risks and prepare for them. Maybe you want to leave a job you hate to do something you’re passionate about. Maybe you’d like to spend more time with your children or to reposition your life. Maybe you want to become a full-time entrepreneur. Maybe you want to leave your partner. Maybe you just want to be able to take a vacation this year instead of saving the money for emergencies.
You will plan for these changes and give yourself opportunities you never thought possible.
A Long-Term View
You’ll start to see everything in terms of trade-offs. Instead of mindlessly spending, you’ll see everything as an opportunity to prepare for the future. While you still make time for what you love (as I always say, it’s important to enjoy the present!), you keep the future in mind as well.
An Ownership of Income and Investments
You’ll start to think of yourself as the boss of your own income. You do not see yourself as limited by one employer or one job. You see possibilities.
Are you an investor? Yes, you’ll start to see yourself in this light. Even if you’re not investing yet, you’ll take steps to get there. In every way, you own your wealth and your future.
An Inclination to Provide Value to Others
So many people go to work, they do their job to the best of their ability, and at the end of the day, they leave. There’s nothing wrong with this. But watch for the day you shift your focus and ask, “How can I provide the best value to my employer?” This could look several ways. It might mean going above and beyond on a project, helping out on someone else’s tasks, or taking new initiative. Your employer compensates based on the value you provide it as a company. You might earn a raise!
You might find this attitude spilling into your personal life. An abundant life overflows. When you live a life of abundance, you’re able to give generously from a full cup.
As you give to others, watch as wealth comes back to you. It might be in the form of a promotion, a new opportunity, or simply the happiness of giving. More often than not it comes back around. Our cups are not just full or just empty; they are refillable.