Budgeting Rule No 1: You Have to Want It

How many times have you written out a monthly budget that would make your bank proud, only to completely forget about it one week later as you charge the day’s third coffee to your Visa card?

How many times have you written out a monthly budget that would make your bank proud, only to completely forget about it one week later as you charge the day’s third coffee to your Visa card?

You’re not alone. Budgeting ranks up there with dieting and getting regular exercise as a very important habit that’s very difficult to form. The good news? Once you do get in the habit of making and sticking to your budget, you won’t even have to think about it. And you’ll save more money and have more financial control.

Why Budgeting Is a Challenge

So how do you make the habit of budgeting a seamless part of your life? You have to want it. Have you ever heard somebody say: “Well, he’d loose all that weight if he really wanted to?” While certainly some people struggle to get out of bad habits and into good ones for other reasons, this concept – and the power of psychology – is true. Our bodies will never accomplish something our subconscious mind doesn’t want to.

I say subconscious mind because often times we tell ourselves, “I want more than anything to get out of debt” and yet we don’t cut up our credit cards or stop spending money on our favorite things. Consciously we’re making a statement to change our financial habits, but subconsciously we’re ensuring we stay right were we are – in debt.

Why would your own mind sabotage you like that? It’s because your subconscious wants to keep you comfortable above anything else. The mind is hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and if you don’t consciously fight that primitive instinct, your subconscious will always point you on the path of least resistance.

When it comes to budgeting, the path of least resistance is buying anything you want, whenever you want it. But when you start following a budget you begin to deny or delay purchasing certain items, and you deny or delay the gratification you receive from purchasing those items. And you cause yourself pain.

Fortunately, the pain you feel by denying yourself something in a store isn’t major; it can be overcome. But if you’re weak, if you haven’t convinced your subconscious that you really want your budget to work, eventually you’re going to break down.

This is why wanting to stick to your budget, or wanting the additional savings or money to pay down debts that will result from sticking to your budget, is critical before you try to start changing your spending habits.

Making Budgeting Work

How do you make yourself want something? Think about it. Think about it a lot.

Think about the last time you went on vacation. Before you left for vacation, how often did you think about your trip? How often did you imagine what your destination would look like? What the weather would be? What fun things you would do with your family or friends? Often times this anticipation of a vacation can be as pleasurable as the event itself. That’s the power of our own imagination.

To make yourself want something, all you have to do is harness that power and channel it towards what you want. For example, you want to get into the habit of living by your budget, starting next month, because you understand you’ll be able to save several thousand dollars every year by eliminated unnecessary spending.

Rather than thinking about how difficult it will be to track your expenses or forgo your coffee or lunches out, think about how good it will feel to see your first month of savings. Now think about your savings account growing with the money you have saved after a few months. Finally, imagine your bank account at the end of the year – two or three thousand dollars bigger.

When you wake up in the morning, while you’re stuck in traffic, and before you fall asleep each night, picture how you’ll feel with all that extra money. If you want, imagine what it could buy you or take you. Imagine it like you would imagine an upcoming vacation. Like the vacation, you know that you will actually be there in a short time. You are anticipating your future, not as you hope it might be, but as it will be.

If you do this for a couple of weeks, you’ll find yourself sticking to your budget without even thinking about. You do have that budget written, don’t you?

If not, get started with our budget spreadsheet, software like Quicken, or an online service like Mvelopes.

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.