Why We Hate Budgets

Few terms evoke greater discomfort than the word budget. Our defenses go up immediately at its mere suggestion. We confess we should budget, or we admit our fear of what budgets reveal of our spending choices and amounts, or we just don’t want to face the guilt they invariably cause. Sound familiar?

Most of us hate budgeting because we believe it forces us to cut or eliminate spending on the things we enjoy most. Seems there’s never enough money to do what we really want. When we feel this way or when our budget suggests doing less of the things we enjoy, even eliminating them, it is likely it is not aligned with our priorities. A budget is nothing more than a tool or a program designed not just to ensure that we don’t run out of money, but more importantly, to help us optimally align our spending with what we most want to accomplish.

Actually, money can buy happiness. When used to do the things we truly enjoy, whether entertaining friends, dining out, traveling, or giving generously to the poor, money is a tool we use to bring joy to us and to those we share it with. But the problem for most of us is, we haven’t taken the time and thought to order, to discipline our spending in a way that maximizes our ability to spend on the things that bring us the most pleasure.

Quite simply, to have more money to spend on the things we enjoy, we must spend less on things we don’t enjoy while controlling our impulses in a world designed to take advantage of our weaknesses. The budget is the perfect tool for both. When well designed, it can maximize your lifestyle instead of boxing you into an overwhelming collection of ‘must-pays.’ Impulses satisfy temporary feelings we often mistake as needs, but often the pleasure they bring quickly diminishes. But when our purchases are aligned with our priorities, we spend less on the things that don’t matter as much to us and more on the things that do.


There’s this crazy notion in budgeting that spending is divided into two categories – discretionary and non-discretionary. We say a house payment and a car payment are non-discretionary, unchangeable. The idea is wrong and can be exceptionally detrimental to lifestyle. While it’s true that once we sign a contract we are obligated to pay a mortgage, a car payment, or a big screen TV payment, but no one makes us buy these things.

If impulses rather than priorities rule our spending we will invariably pile up thousands in ‘non-discretionary’ expenses until they eventually overwhelm our budget, leaving little or no money for things we really want to do. The good news is real estate agents, Craig’s List, and eBay are ready 24/7 when we decide to re-align our spending with our priorities and right-size those lifestyle-draining ‘non-discretionary’ items. Better still, we learn early to buy the right house, the right car, and the right TV using our priority-based budget to guide our spending decisions.


The process starts with a new way of looking at the budget. Consider it more a liberating tool than a device of confinement and guilt. If you design it properly, considering ALL spending as discretionary and order your spending according to its importance to your lifestyle, then your budget will begin to reflect who you are and the things that are important to you. You begin to take control of and order your spending, rather than allowing your budget to control you and dictate where your money goes. You will liberate more and more of your lifestyle as your new budget frees money otherwise trapped in spending areas you thought were fixed and unchangeable.

In some cases it may take just a little tweaking – spend a little less on clothes or groceries to entertain friends or go out once a week. Or it might suggest a reboot. After much conversation with your spouse you decide that your house is more than you want or need. Selling it and down- or right-sizing it would free up thousands of dollars a year for travel, helping the kids, or giving more to charities. It might be something in between like selling the off-warranty BMW that costs a house payment to maintain, or perhaps dropping a club membership you rarely use, and in truth, hold primarily for appearances sake. Let your priorities be your guide.

To use the budget as a lifestyle liberator you must be willing to take control of your life and to become intentional about how much, how often, when, and where you spend your money. It requires resistance to temptation and inertia. All spending is considered fair game, analyzed, and committed to change if required. It should be as closely aligned with your priorities as the limitations of your income allow. But in the end, you will be rewarded with a product, a process that is infinitely more useful and productive as it is aligned perfectly with your best interests rather than against them.