Stress, Money, and Why I Don’t Keep A Budget
Over the past few years, I’ve spent more than enough time stressing about money. To give you an idea, in the last year I got married, bought a house and started paying a mortgage (does that officially make me an adult?). But truly, it doesn’t just take a bunch of big new expenses to get stressed about money. Every day, we are all presented with endless wants through TV, social media, YouTube, magazines, and the list goes on. Trying to satisfy all these wants is, well, endless – and can turn money into a major source of stress.
Given how crappy chronic, ongoing stress is for our health, I say we owe it to ourselves to get this area of life sorted. A bit like making time for relaxation, exercise, and pleasure, taking care of your finances is really an act of self-care. After all, money isn’t a bad thing – it has the potential to give our life a sense of calm, freedom and opportunity.
This is why I’ve decided to throw out the budget, for good. Yep – you read that right!
When Budgeting Leads to A Poverty Mindset
Common advice for getting your money in order is “set a budget”, and stick to it. I must have heard that well-intentioned advice upwards of 1,000 times. Who knows, I’ve probably said it too!
It’s not like this is terrible advice. A typical budget focuses on allocating income to be spent across a bunch of life categories. Everyday spending is tracked and tallied, and as we become more mindful about where our dollars are going, hopefully we stay within the bounds and create some savings. Sounds fair, right? And in a sense, it is. After all, there’s nothing wrong with knowing exactly how much you’re spending and where.*
But somewhere in the midst of all the tabulating and tallying, it’s easy to slip into an ugly headspace I like to call “the poverty mindset”. I’ve fallen into this mindset many times despite the very best of budgeting intentions. For me, it’s an anxious, small minded voice that makes me second guess the number of avocados in my shopping trolley ($3 each – who do you think you are!?). Then there’s social events – they’re worse. A poverty mindset can turn a spontaneous lunch with friends into a source of stress (oh my god, the price of drinks!). I can tell you that tallying my receipts after events like these has brought me nothing but anguish!
At its core, the poverty mindset is about fear of scarcity. There are many ways to get into this mindset, but I believe tallying up spending is an express route. Pretty quickly (in my experience), this fear of scarcity begins to steal the joy out of day-to-day life, and makes living on a budget feel more like a jail sentence.
And everyday spending aside, on a larger scale I’ve come to believe that having a poverty mindset holds us back from making important life decisions. Should I get involved in this creative project, that may cost something up front? Should I make that career change, that involves some investment in myself? Instead of listening to our gut, taking a leap or living at our true potential, we hang back and focus our energy on all the things we “can’t do” because of fear or a perceived “lack of”.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s best to be responsible with money, and it will factor in to many of our life’s big decisions – but the constant fixation on money will never bring us the prosperity and security we’re longing for.
When you look around, we’re all so wonderfully blessed.
Adopting an abundance mindset is about letting go of the small minded, cagey self talk about cash for long enough to appreciate the true blessings that we do have, and becoming open to the opportunities that come our way. When it comes to money, having an abundance mindset means feeling grateful for what we have, and having faith that money is coming to us and everything is unfolding as it should – if we just allow it.
It’s a pretty counterintuitive mindset when it comes to finances, and as a control freak, it’s not been an easy lesson for me to learn. I’m often reminding myself to switch back into this place of letting go, enjoying what is and trusting the future.
It may be a hippy dippy thing to say, but I’m constantly amazed by how things in my life grow (including finances) when I let go of that fear-based, poverty mentality and trust my intuition. When I act from this place of trust and confidence, somehow, things just turn up in my life that I wasn’t expecting. And honestly, I don’t think that things would develop in the same way if I were tediously minding my budget, worrying about every dollar.
So you know that I don’t keep a budget. At least, not in the traditional sense. A bit like how I eat, I like to think of this as a lifestyle – not a budget per say.
But if I had to sum up my “non-budget”, it would read like this: zero waste.
This is easy to stick to when I focus on the areas of my life that make me feel truly rich – like having the money to fill up my fridge with amazing fresh food. I’d also recommend spending less time looking at the latest styles and “must haves” online – because that just invites temptation! But generally, when I focus on feeling abundance and gratitude, my want for more things is much less.
As part of the non-budget, instead of tallying expenses within a certain spending limit, I focus on my decision making. For every decision I make, I try to evaluate whether the item will add to my life – or take away from it:
- How it will feel to own it – will it clutter my house?
- Is it something that’s going to bring me joy, not just for a week?
- Will it take a lot of my time to care for this item, and keep it clean / fresh / up to date?
- Is buying this thing good for the environment, or is it just another throw away thing?
If something passes this test, fine – I go ahead and buy it happily, without regret. If the thing doesn’t pass the test, I’m happy too. I just dodged a bullet!
My non-budget saves me a tonne of money and stress, because instead of exercising my willpower against every new consumer thrill, I’m developing myself to a point where I simply don’t want many things anymore.
That’s not to say I’m perfect. I still get sucked into buying things I don’t need, and things that don’t make me happy. Sometimes, it’s trial and error. But I think that’s part of the fun. For me, it’s an ongoing personal experiment to see how much I can let go of, and discover what I truly need to be happy and free.
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*If you like to track and monitor your spending periodically (e.g. from month to month), there’s some pretty great apps that save you tediously tallying receipts. Check out Pocketbook if you’re in Australia (link!), or other programs like Mint in the US (link!).