3 Essential Traits of a Good Budgeter
Starting to budget isn’t easy. Maybe we do a month-long spending freeze and feel confident, only to stumble later on a spending splurge. It’s OK! This happens to the best of us. Budgeting might not come naturally at first, but the good news is you can improve over time. Let this blog post serve as a simple encouragement if you’re starting or restarting your budget journey.
I’ve been trying to grow a garden on and off for no less than twenty years. And you know what? There were a lot of sad little red peppers and plots of head-high weeds (years 1-19) before I grew my first dahlia the size of a dinner plate (year 20).
Consider the process of growing a garden:
- Prep the soil
- Plant the seeds
- Water consistently
- Protect the plants from weeds and bugs
- Wait some more
- Finally, harvest
From idea to a beautiful bouquet, the process is a long one. And it’s not at all unlike the process of budgeting and building your financial health. There is a saying: “a man (or woman) reaps what they sow.” And between the sowing and the reaping, whether growing a garden or learning to budget, there are three essential traits to be successful:
- Work hard: it won’t always be easy
- Persistence: just keep going
- Optimism: Be positive about the future
When we talk about your financial situation, the law of the harvest (that you will reap what you sow) is alive and well. The only question is whether you choose to live it.
Money doesn’t have to feel messy. Check out our comprehensive guide on how to simplify finances.
1. Work Hard: It Won’t Always Be Easy
And it is hard! You’re learning a completely new tool that is incredibly powerful, and at the same time, you're learning a whole new way of managing money! Yeah, we get it. That’s complicated and difficult!
To make the learning curve more of a gentle slope, we offer free workshops, numerous video courses, and a Getting Started Bootcamp. And I say all this to drive home a point that’s probably been lost a bit in this tangent:
Despite all the helpful resources, experiencing the benefits of budgeting will require some hard work on your part. You will reap what you sow, however.
And all that hard work? I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. You reap what you sow (examples found here).
2. Persistence: Just Keep Going
While the world is full of cute sayings plastered onto inspirational posters of sunsets and sailboats (a journey begins with a single step, if you see a man atop a mountain–he didn’t fall there, etc.) the actual details of getting something done and making change happen is much less glamorous.
You don’t feel glamorous when you have a stack of receipts piled next to you and some dorky budgeting software staring you in the face (budget apps are by a nature dorky, but we are proud to say ours is a very beautiful dork. Manic pixie dream girl style). But those moments are when things get done.
If you’re a spouse “flying solo” because your significant other isn’t on board (yet, see optimism below), you don’t feel so glamorous trying to wrangle your finances with them smirking or muttering–or both.
There certainly isn’t anything glamorous about putting a few candles back on the shelf at Target once you see that your total is over budget. That doesn't always feel good (sometimes it does! But then sometimes it doesn't).
But yet you persist, because persistence is key to change.
You may not feel especially successful when you first begin this process of change. Think about it. You’re possibly reversing years of bad habits. While I’d love to tell you a fairy godmother will wave her magic wand and make you the savviest shopper, wisest budgeter, and sage-iest sage of investing in an instant...
That won’t happen. Ever.
You must persist in doing things that are good for you. You have to want the change more than you want those new tools, shoes, and gadgets. Persist!
To sharpen focus, I will give you three things which you must persist in doing in order to be a successful budgeter:
- Track your spending. Gauge how frequent this needs to be for you and then never ever ever stop doing it.
- Plan, at least monthly (with each inflow if necessary), what your money should be doing.
- Reconcile regularly to ensure your budget matches up with the reality of your bank accounts.
Need software for that? Absolutely not. Any excuses worth mentioning? Absolutely not. Any reason why you can’t start today? Absolutely not.
“That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
3. Optimism: Stay Positive
When I planted those flower seeds, year after year after year, I was optimistic about what was yet to come. I believed that the weather would fare well enough, I would water frequently enough, and that the seeds I planted would grow. And even after years of letdowns and failures, my optimism was relentless and I’ve finally cultivated a hard-earned green thumb.
You too can be optimistic about your financial future!
And a crucial note: be wary of damaging your optimism by comparing. Don’t compare yourself to anyone except your past self. Don’t worry if you have mountains of credit card debt when someone else doesn’t, that you make less than Joe or Jane. Don't worry if you couldn’t take your kids on the fancy vacation that your kid’s friend went on over the summer (and don’t try and puff yourself up by assuming it was all on credit card debt—just don’t worry about it at all).
A surefire way to feel down about yourself is to compare to others. Realistically, the only person you really can compare yourself against is your own self. Financial situations are far too unique to be comparable to any degree of meaning.
When you work hard and persist, you have a right to be optimistic. You don’t have a right or guarantee of success. I heard it phrased once that we believe in equal rights, not equal results. So hang onto the right you do have. Based on the law of the harvest, you have a right to be optimistic. Be just that!
The law of the harvest stipulates that what you sow, you will reap. I’ve seen it in action. I’m certain you have too.
Put in the necessary hard work. Learn YNAB’s Four Rules and use them in your financial life. Persist in your efforts! Be optimistic that you will achieve those goals you have in mind.
When you sow the seeds of sound money management, you will reap the rewards. You’ll be debt free, your retirement contributions will be on autopilot, your emergencies will be small speed bumps, and you’ll be on your way to financial peace of mind.