When I first started learning about healthy personal finance behaviors, I was caught off guard by how frequently it was recommended to check-in with my budget.
It felt like every purchase, every item had to pass a test before the transaction could proceed. It was a complete 180 to my previous purchasing behavior which was more-so based on do I have room on my credit card, will I use this more than once, and is it necessary or beneficial in some capacity?
I didn’t understand why I had to check-in with my budget before buying myself lunch, a book, a sundress, or makeup. After all, I needed all of these items for various reasons. Maybe the “experts” were wrong – maybe I could buy what I wanted when I wanted and still work toward my life goals like buying a home, starting a family, and dare I say, retire both my husband and I by the time we’re 50?
One thing I’ve learned about myself on my journey to incorporate new, healthier personal finance behaviors into my life is that I’m the kind of person that learns from experience. You can tell me all day long what I should or should not do, but until that experience is cemented in my mind, I’m only half-listening to the advice.
It’s not that I’m trying to incur additional credit card debt, it’s that my mindset hadn’t completely shifted. That is until I turned my financial wants and lessons into a game of “Would You Rather?”
Would You Rather?
If you’re not familiar, “Would You Rather” is a game that challenges a player to decide between two options that are given to them by another player. Sometimes the options both sound rewarding; other times it’s more-so an exercise in selecting the lesser of two evils. But the game essentially forces the players to really evaluate what they value in life. A bonus of the game is that it can lead to some hilarious explanations from your fellow game-mates.
What makes “Would You Rather” such a great party game and a great game that applies to finances, is that there really isn’t a right answer. It’s all based on your personal perception, values, desires, and needs. Sure, there may be some answers where players can find a general consensus such as:
- Would you rather be debt-free or have every material item you’ve ever desired?
- Would you rather have 5 different sports cars and owe $850K in auto loans or drive 1 mid-size SUV and be debt-free?
But then there are also questions that can spark a very interesting conversation like:
- Would you rather own a large, mansion and never have the money to travel or would you rather live in a moderate-sized home and travel to a new country every year?
- Would you rather live right on the beach and pay higher taxes or would you rather move to a lower cost of living area and take a month-long beach vacation every summer?
- Would you rather have a large wedding celebration or put a down payment down on a home?
- Would you rather own the latest technologies when it comes to your phone, your computer, and TV, or would you prefer to invest that money in your retirement savings?
How a Budget Supports Your Life Goals
Our life goals are oftentimes things that take time to save up for or require a certain amount of investment. For example, if you asked me what my ideal life would look like or how I would spend lottery winnings, I would tell you I want to:
- Own my own home
- Start a family
- Adopt more puppies
- Increase my charitable donations
- Purchase a Chanel handbag
- Retire by age 50
- Retire my husband by age 50
I could list more but you get the idea.
Starting a family is not cheap, nor is adopting a pet, buying and owning a home, or traveling.
They all require some kind of money exchange or investment before you even get whatever it is that you wanted. And without a plan for where my money is going both in the long-term and short-term, how am I ever going to support my own dreams of achieving those goals?
So in other words, when I spend money on items that don’t support those bigger goals that’s fine to do as long as I understand I’m borrowing money and time from that goal.
Let me break this down with an example.
Let’s say I’ve allocated $15 toward lunch seven days a week in my budget. That is $105 per week I’m spending just on lunch. Now, that may sound high for some and low for others. When that figure is compounded over a longer period of time, like a month or year, it’s even more dramatic. About $450 in a 30-day time period and about $5,475 over the course of a year.
Now in the personal finance world, if your $15 lunch didn’t result in you incurring any debt, that could be deemed a success. Maybe that was your long-term goal: to budget in a way that allows you to eat out every day for lunch. And if it was, all the power to you.
But for me, when I stare at a figure that’s nearly $500 per month, almost $6,000 per year, it forces me to pause and reconsider whether I’m using my budget to just stay out of debt aka stay at the status quo or if I’m using my budget as a tool to achieve my long-term goals.
My goal is not to have take-out for lunch every day. I would rather own my own home than be able to go out for lunch seven days a week. Now that I know what I would rather do, I can act accordingly.
Instead of viewing it through a negative lens as if I’m on a budget as a form of punishment that I have a budget, I now view purchases like eating out daily as not in alignment with my goal. Not good, not bad, just not for me right now.
And here’s the best part. I find myself feeling less stressed about money and the people in my life are incredibly supportive.
Putting the ‘Personal’ Back in Personal Finance
We all have different goals in life. We all have different wants in life. The key when it comes to budgeting is to weigh your expenses and wants against those life goals and see if you’re still in alignment with what you would rather do.
It may sound obvious, but when we remember our long-term goals, particularly in those moments in which an impulse purchase is calling our name, it’s easier to say focused on achieving our bigger money goals, and help us discover what we would rather do.