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?
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.
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.