3 Magic Words To Make Your Budget Actually Work For You

Of all the things in the financial world that get a bad rap, budgeting is pretty far up there. Collectively, we’ve got some pretty skewed ideas of what budgeting is and isn’t.

Budgeting is restrictive.
Budgeting is about cutting back.

Budgeting isn’t going to let me drink lattes.
Budgeting isn’t going to be fun.
Budgeting isn’t going to work.

And like, *raises hand*, I have been there too, friends. My biggest budgeting misconception to date — and I’ve had to challenge it multiple times over the past two years, because it’s been so ingrained into how I think about money — is that budgeting is about “or.”

Okay, explain yourself — what does that even mean?

When I talk about “or,” I’m talking about the ultimatums we give ourselves. Like:

“I can buy the latte OR I can be good at money.”

“I can keep my fancy gym membership OR I can be responsible.”

Basically, insert anything that you’ve wanted to do, and then end it with “or I can be A+ at money.” That’s a pretty normal reaction when it comes to thinking about your money and your monthly budget.

But it’s also the kind of thing that budgeting can totally debunk for you.

Here’s why we go directly to “or”

Money is this weird thing, because on a monthly basis, there really is only so much of it. That limit — the amount of money you have to allocate to all the things you want — can change over time, but if you’re literally looking at “how much I have in my account to make it through this month,” it’s a fairly fixed number most of the time.

That means that yes, in some situations, there will be real “or” choices you have to make.

“Oh, I can literally afford car insurance OR a car payment, but not both? Guess I’m buying my car in cash then.”

But the amount of “or” choices that are truly based on the limitations of our monthly money situation are few and far between. And there are way more “and” conversations that you can have if you’re clear on your budget.

Okay, so what’s “and” all about?

Let’s flip some of those pesky “or” statements around, and look at how much better they sound:

“I can drink my latte AND be great at money.”

“I can keep my fancy gym membership AND be responsible.”

And let’s go even further with it.

“I can save for retirement AND take my dream vacation.”

“I can buy a house AND build a business.”

“I can save up an emergency fund AND keep drinking my lattes.”

Whoa whoa whoaaaaaa. Is this just me getting crazy? No. This is what happens when you get crystal clear on your budget, and have a rock-solid plan in place for how you want to spend your money in a given month.

Stop giving yourself ultimatums

One of the biggest reasons I hear about why people don’t want to build a monthly plan for their money (ahem, a budget) is that they’re stuck in the “or” mentality. They don’t want to sit down and take a hard look at how they’re spending and saving their money, because if they did, they’d find a whole pile of “or” statements that they’d really rather not deal with.

But if you go in, fully prepared to figure out how to replace your “or” statements with “and” statements, even if you’re not entirely sure how you’ll be able to do it just yet?

Well. That’s a different experience altogether.

What you really need to find are the “if”s

So with all of this lovely-dovey mindset talk, you might be sitting there like, “AHA! I’ve found the flaw in this wordplay — there’s no way I can afford the Maserati AND the Louboutins!” Which like, are two very differently priced items, but I don’t know many luxury brands, okay?

But in theory, you’re right.

If you only have so much money to work with in a month, you can’t “and” your way into a lifestyle that’s way beyond your means. Anyone who tells you differently has gone off the deep end, and you should kindly gift them a calculator sometime.

The “and” approach works when it’s focused on making sure that you’re not eliminating something you really want from your life, in the name of money. You can definitely afford your priorities, and the best way to make sure you can is by harnessing the last magic word: “if.”

“I can save for retirement AND take a dream vacation IF…”

What that “if” will be looks very different depending on who you are, how much money you need to find to make it happen, and what you care most about.

It could be…

“…IF I compare my car insurance rates and save $40 a month without even trying.”

“…IF I sign up for a travel rewards credit card and can use the miles to cover the flight.”

“…IF I scale back to two pub nights a month, not ten.”

No one can decide your “and”s and “if”s for you

If you’re up in arms right now, shaking your fist at the screen that I DARE suggest you scale back on your beloved pub nights…

Well, that’s exactly why I can’t budget for you. For all the experts in the world, who have all kinds of expert advice on how to do money (ahem, guilty), there’s only one person who’s an expert in what you want to do with your money.

It’s you.

On the plus side, that means you know everything you need to know to build a monthly money plan that works for your life, “and”s very much included.

On the down side, it means that no one else can really do the work for you.

So where should I start?

Listen, there are no magic bullets here (magic words, sure, but those don’t usually kill people), but I do have a good place you could start: the 20-step Quick Budget Fix Checklist, which you can download now — for free!

Desirae blogs about money at Half Banked, and spends altogether too much time onTwitter. She takes “money nerd,” “no chill” and “crazy dog lady” as compliments. 

Image via Unsplash

  • Judith

    All those IFs and ANDs and ORs are a programmer’s wet dream-approach to money. (*raises hand*)

    • Holly Trantham

      LOL

  • LynnP2

    I love this!