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Find the Money, First.

Or, “Zen and the Art of Eating a Motorcycle.”

Back in the Summer of 2008—a Saturday night, as I recall—I ate part of a 1984 Yamaha 1000cc motorbike.

It wasn’t a very big part, mind you (just a throttle cable and part of its housing). Still, for an otherwise normal Canadian evening, my dinner selection might strike you as somewhat odd. Good instincts. It’s true, I didn’t actually eat the cable and its housing.

The real story is, I went to a restaurant and splurged a bit on dinner—the cost of which completely blew my budget’s ‘Dining Out’ category. I leaned on Rule Three and decided to roll with the punches. (In other words, I’d move money from a different category of my budget to pay for the meal.)

The next morning, as I reviewed my budget to cover the overspending, I realized the true impact of my night out: my ‘Next Bike’ category had taken a hit for a meal that was, all in all, not that memorable (with the exception of this budgeting lesson, of course). Facing my money in the light of day, through the brutally honest lense of my YNAB budget, led me to a question that changed my life:

If I’d known I was eating my bike last night, would I still have ordered the garlic and balsamic mussels as a first course?

Motorbikes or Mussels? Defining My True Priorities…

Now, I’m not so much interested in the food pairing here. I’m sure we can agree that one simply wouldn’t pair a garlic shellfish appetizer with something greasy, like a throttle cable entree. No, what interests me is priorities.

If I’d been paying attention, could I have been more selective when ordering and not had to take money from the bike category? Yes, absolutely. Of course, on Sunday when I reviewed the damage, it was too late to change my mind—the food was eaten and part of my bike budget was gone.

That’s when I drew a line in the sand. From then on, I decided, I would always find the money, first.

Find the Money, First.

It’s not just a catchy phrase—I live by these four words.

See, if I find the money before I spend, then I’m aware of exactly what I’m giving up to get the thing I want right now. In other words, I’m aware of the sacrifice (delayed enjoyment of my new bike), before I shell out the money on mussels. Pun intended.

Finding the money, first, gives me the choice to put my money towards the thing I truly want. For example, I might prioritize dinner with an old friend who, unexpectedly, dropped into town for the weekend well above the urgency of buying a new bike.

Using “Find the money, first.” as my guide, I’d very likely move that cash right on over to the ‘Dining Out’ category of my budget. (Great! And, while I’m re-prioritizing my funds, I’m more mindful of how much I want to spend on the unplanned dinner—maybe I’ll cap my night’s expenses at $100, instead of going all out.)

On the other hand, do I really want to spend my bike money on a casual, unplanned Friday night? I can tell you with complete confidence that take-out food, or an impulse buy on Amazon, will not send my spirits soaring like the purr of a new bike.

What’s Your Bike Fund?

YNAB has made a tremendous difference in my life and, for me, finding the money, first, is key. It’s right up there with “When making decisions, check your budget, not your bank account balance.”

It’s the behavioral game-changer that turned my budget experience from a guilt-ridden, reactive one to a positive, proactive one. I’ve shared this approach with people who attend my YNAB classes, and it brings me so much happiness to see that “Find the money, first.” is helpful to them, too.

If you stopped to find the money, first, is there a category in your budget that could be fully-funded faster? Say that five times fast, and maybe give this a try!

And drop into one of our workshops. If I’m teaching, I’d love to hear how YNAB’s working for you.

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Find the Money, First.