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“Ishouldbut” is not a word, so don’t say it.

“You’re should-ing all over yourself.” – Stuart Smalley

YNABers who request budget reviews are a couple steps ahead of most of us – they open themselves up to criticism. For creatures as fragile as we humans seem to be, this takes real guts.

But, in spite of the guts they mustered to send the email, prospective reviewees can’t help but use protective language in describing their situations:

It usually sounds something like “I’d love to spend less/spend nothing on this category, but what am I supposed to do?”

“I’d love to eat out less, but by the time I get home from work, I’m totally exhausted!”

“I wish I could cut this cell phone bill down, but I’m stuck in this contract!”

“I hate how much I spend on my kids’ clothes, but I can’t very well send them to school in rags!”

“The car payment is big, but I need reliable transportation!”

“I wish I could, but I can’t” – is a sneakily disguised “I should, but I’m scared/don’t want to change.”

Just drop the should – stop “should-ing” all over yourself. Own your decisions:

“I choose to have a car payment because I feel safer driving a new car.”

“I buy my kids new clothes because I like how they look.”

“I eat out because I’m really tired after work, and I hate cooking.”

“I pay $100 per month for my cell phone because I like streaming Netflix in the park while I eat lunch.”

The difference between shouldy statements and “owning it” statements is the implied apology – or lack thereof. Read through the “shoulds” again. See how “I’m sorry” would fit perfectly at the beginning or end of every one? Then look at the “owning it” statements. No implied apology.

The self-judgment of shouldy statements puts you in a guilty and defensive state of mind, rather than focusing the internal dialog on what matters most: the cost/benefit evaluation of every dollar you spend.

Whether it’s a car payment, eating out, or your cell phone bill – leave the should out of it. Forget what other people say you should do. Weigh the benefit of the thing against the benefit of the next best use of that money. You may find – for you – that it is the best use of the money.

So, here’s how you break the pattern. Take all the categories of your budget that make you feel shouldy. Write them in a column along with the average amount spent:

Cell Phone $100
Eating out $300*
Car payment $400

Remember, you make no apology for those amounts. There’s nothing inherently wrong or right about the dollar figures. They’re only meaningful in terms of the next best use of the money – so head there next.

Write out some of your financial goals:

Down payment for house.
Zero credit card debt.
Tropical vacation.
Skinny wheels and grandpa handlebars for your bike (to make the ride to work faster and more comfortable).

Now it’s just a matter of having a frank discussion with yourself, using if/then statements:

“If I cut my eating out from $300 to $250, I’d have enough for the skinny wheels and grandpa handlebars in three months.”**

No emotion, no judgment. Just the math. Shouldy statements prevent you from ever dealing strictly with the math. That’s why there soooo dum (see what I did there?).

Having acknowledged the strict math of the decision, you’re ready for an important question:

Would I trade this for that?

Would I trade seven $7 meals per month for three months in exchange for some stylish, sensible g-pa handlebars and skinny wheels?

Yes is okay. No is okay. “Ishouldbut” is not a word, so don’t say it.

If your answer is yes, you move on to the most interesting of all questions:


And that’s where the magic happens.

*I don’t spend $300 per month eating out, but I used to.

**You know the ones I’m talking about. They curve up so you can sit up straighter while you ride – brilliant. I actually have no idea what I’ll pay for the handlebars and skinny wheels. Still need to shop.

Image credit: Wikipedia.

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“Ishouldbut” is not a word, so don’t say it.