The Budget will Look After Itself – Part 2 – It’s not the Money, It’s the Stuff

Budgeting sucks and unless you’re Leslie Knope working on her parks project – not the kind of person reading this blog – it doesn’t work.  Financial motivators like Suze Orman will have us believe that living on a budget will fix our money problems and make us financially successful – however they define it. Instead, we end up feeling like a failure according to someone else’s definition.  So how do we stop the budgeting insanity?

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We know that we get this many dollars for doing whatever it is we do, but it doesn’t feel like enough.  It can be like a nightmare. Stuff we need to buy looms in front of us like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in GhostBusters – gigantic tv screens, unstained couches, fitbits, interlocking stone driveways – larger than life and more important to us than they really are.  The money seems small by comparison.  Like Dan Akroyd trying not to think about it, when we think of our money, things pop into our heads and before we know it we’re thinking about stuff.

That seems simple – duh.  Why else are we busting our butts doing something we may or may not enjoy if it’s not to get stuff that we do enjoy?  It seems like a fair trade-off.

But in the history of people, money has only been a way to get stuff for about five seconds.  From the first homo sapien who picked some bananas and traded them for some berries, through thousands of years of shepherds exchanging sweet little lambs for textiles, to masons providing their expertise in exchange for someone else’s skills, to starving farmers who trudged to coal mines and then factories to give their time so they could get some money so they could buy the food that wouldn’t grow on their farms, through all that time human animals didn’t use money or trade time to get stuff.  They used it to live.  Hence the term – make a living.

It was only the beginning of the 1950’s (when returning soldiers had to be put to work) that stuff became a thing.  Stuff became the thing.  Stuff became the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man stomping all over our living.

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Living is better than stuff –  Just google what is life about and the internet will return thousands of images of puppies, children and people holding hands or meditating, flowers, clouds.

Living is a place to be, food to eat, maybe some heat and light to keep us comfortable; everything else we have or want or even need is stuff.  Without getting all minimalist on you, stuff is not the stuff that life is made of.

Stuff just as ugly a word as budget – stuff, st-u-ffffff… Stuff that in there, clean up your stuff, stuff a sock in it, stuff and nonsense, I feel stuffed, stuff it, take your stuff and go, overstuffed.  We generally use the word when there are too many things to name as in Don’t forget to bring the party stuff.

Before I lose you, no worries.  I’m not going to make you give up your stuff.  As human animals we are not alone in our enjoyment of collecting and acquiring.  Squirrels and rats do it, crows, Border Collies and Labrador Retrievers, beavers, ants, even some sea creatures.

And I’m not saying that we can never again experience the joy of handling a new phone – those first few hours of its scratch-and-smear-free screen, discovering all its smartness.  We will still feel the thrill of new shoes that give us blisters before they conform in unsightly bulges to our weirdly shaped feet. We will again breathe in the smell of a new car interior before eating fast food in it.  And we will stand back and feel the absolute satisfaction of a new vase in this season’s trendy colour placed strategically on an awkward entry table.

But if we can put living first and keep the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man out of it, then the budget will look after itself.  It’s the stuff that puts the budget out of wack because it tries to come first.

I said this isn’t going to be about having to do something that is hard and I’m trying to stick to my promise, so you don’t have to do anything.  In fact, you must do nothing.  Maybe that’s still asking you to do something.  I don’t know.  Anyway, it won’t be hard.  It will be simple.

For now, don’t think too much about it.

 

 

The Budget Will Balance Itself – Part 1

 Sorry  it took a lot longer to write this than I expected, mostly because it’s not a fun thing and I couldn’t seem to make it fun to read, but  here it is: 

Budget – it’s an ugly thing.  It even sounds bad.  Bud-get.  Bu-dget.  Budge-it – it doesn’t Budge.

We’ve all done it.  Either it’s New Year’s Day or we notice that the credit card balance is getting bigger every month so we decide to start a budget.

Right from the start, it’s bad – we find out that there isn’t enough money.  No wonder we feel so broke all the time!

Then in a pitiful, Marge Simpson-like effort to be improve our lot, we go down the list of things on the budget to try to reduce it:  the cable is usually the first to go, then donations, then a ridiculous oath to stop eating out AND give up the Starbucks runs. This usually requires buying a $300 Starbucks coffeemaker in a deluded attempt to save money.

After a few discouraging days of feeling like Rachel after she decides she doesn’t need her parents’ money anymore, what follows is a lucid nightmare of rationalizing why we “need” stuff – budget be danged!

LuLu lemon pants – fashionable, fitness related, AND work appropriate!  A Big Screen TV – we’ll stop buying tickets to games and watch at home! A tablet – it was only $200 with the new phone plan and I’m getting so much done while I make dinner! New tile in the bathroom – it’s so HARD getting mildew off the shower walls and doesn’t everyone need a “retreat”?.  The resulting stress from spending money we now know for we don’t have makes us feel guilty even as we cling to the hope that the stuff will make it better.

The budget falls off the stainless-steel fridge we needed for the party we had at home so could save money by not hosting a big dinner out.  Realizing we might have a problem, we turn to the internet and the financial geniuses.  Dutifully, we track our spending (sort of) for three weeks and THEN start a new budget, like somehow knowing what we did wrong will stop us from doing it in the future – hangover much?

The gurus tell us sagely to learn the difference between what we want and what we need – like there’s a difference?  To put 10% aside every payday – we’ve already established there’s not enough money and now we’re supposed to get by on even less?  To freeze our credit cards – and then what?  Use the debit card?

At that point we usually give up and go to the big box mall to buy something on sale so we can feel like we’re saving money.  The gurus set us up to fail and we feel like we’ll always be a failure so what’s the difference.  It’s the same as dieting.  If we were the kind of people who could live on a budget or a diet we wouldn’t need someone to tell us how to do it.

So what can we do to get out of the nightmare so the budget can balance itself?

We need to know why the nightmare happens and that it is not something of our own making, even though we do spend the money – next time.

For now – do nothing.  Wait for the signs.