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Why Starting Fresh Isn’t Giving Up

Quick word association quiz: What’s the difference between “starting over” and “starting fresh”?

One of them feels pretty heavy, doesn’t it? A little bit like failure: “You mean, I have to start over?!” I’ve had this thought part way into countless projects renovating our "antique" home. It’s come up in <ahem> one or two conversations with my kids about homework.

But a fresh start? Almost liberating, right? “Today, I have a chance to start fresh.” Deep breath.

Ever start a new job? Go off to college? Wake up to a new day after an argument the night before? Start writing this blog post for the second or third—OK. fine—fourth time? Each one a fresh start.

In the last seven years, I’ve had five different budgets. The first time I started a new one, it felt like starting over. But I’ve since approached it differently—a fresh start—an opportunity to learn and improve every time.

And that’s not just an odd quirk of mine. We’ve been talking about the value of starting fresh for a while now, whether that’s a haircut comparison, a search for the Mythical Perfect Budget, or realizing that learning to budget is like learning to spread peanut butter.

Why start fresh? Your next budget will be better than the last. Every. Time.

Align Your Money With Today’s Priorities

A YNAB budget is all about eliminating your financial stress. That stress disappears (psst, this is the secret!) when your money is aligned with your priorities. But if your budget is three years old, well? Do you have the same priorities now that you did then? Some of them, sure. But all of them? Unlikely.

Don’t get me wrong, you can shift your budgeting priorities in the same budget. YNAB was built for it. But starting fresh allows you to see these changes more clearly.

When you look at your money as one big pile, you aren’t distracted by all the detail in your current budget. You can sit down with your budget and truly ask, What do I want my money to do?

Some of your money will end up right back where it was in your old budget. And some of it won’t. But all of it will be aligned with the priorities you have right now, not tied to the priorities of your four-years-ago-self.

Getting out of Budgeting Ruts

It's all too easy to get stuck. People are pattern seeking. We love patterns, and we get used to thinking or doing something one way. So we just keep thinking or doing it: "Well, I always budget $XX for eating out every month, so I’ll just do that again." Month after month, we bring forward our past budgeting averages and plop it in the next one. Efficient? You bet. Better than no budget at all? Beyond compare.

But what would happen if you wiped all those habits away and looked at all your money with fresh eyes? You might notice that some of that eating out money should really be going to paying off your debts more quickly or working toward that vacation you keep talking about—things that have big impact. In the long term, these small changes move the needle.

A Communication Boost

There’s one more benefit especially for those of you budgeting with a partner. Starting fresh is a great time to sit down and break these budgeting ruts—to re-prioritize—together.

Life is busy! Month-to-month, maybe you miss a few budget dates. One person becomes the de facto keeper of the budget, and you go about your business, er, romance.

Starting fresh is a great time to look at that one big pile of money as a team. If you’ve forgotten how good it feels to sit down together and talk about the week, month, or year to come, now is your chance. Your new budget is full of possibilities, make sure they reflect that you’re sharing them.

Nothing to Lose

When you start a fresh budget, you have nothing to lose. You’re not quitting your job. You’re not tossing your phone in the river. You’re just taking a fresh look.

Your history? Yes, you won’t have your spending averages in your budget, and I have gone on record as saying those are important. But you’ll re-build them, and they’ll be aligned with your current priorities. And being more focused on what you need next month is always better than being focused on what you did last month.

Don’t start over. Start fresh. Take what you learned in your last budget, and make your next one the best one you’ve ever had. Then sometime down the road? Do it again.

Todd Curtis is YNAB's Chief Executive Officer. He obsesses about teaching people how to budget, among other things that do not include eating kiwi sandwiches.

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