Working hard to earn a living, or achieve and maintain a certain lifestyle, can leave you running in circles if you don’t have an effective financial plan. That’s because hard work is only half the equation. But that effort, combined with a solid plan, can lead to success on many levels.
The idea of putting together or sticking to a budget may stir up all sorts of anxiety, but befriending a budget can actually reduce stress. Here are three ways to make your budget—and your money—work for you.
Get clear on your vision. Lifestyle preferences and goals vary from person to person and even for each individual at different life stages (such as accumulating and maintaining wealth). If you don’t yet have a vision for how you want to be living or you do and want to focus on it, spend some time sitting with big-picture questions. For example, if money were not a consideration, how would you spend your time? What makes you live with purpose? What do you love doing that you would like to do more often? What motivates or empowers you (e.g., the desire to serve or to help, a sense of safety or comfort, etc.), and do your actions and time commitments reflect those values?
Once you’ve gotten a sense of the broad picture of what’s important to you—your “why”—you’ll have a foundational point of reference. Write that down. Then get specific about the steps that will bring it about. Write those down as well. Not only is it more likely that your goals will come to pass if you write them down, but you’ll also have something to go back to if you feel like you get off track or need encouragement and reminders along the way.
Know where your money is going. Budgeting is as much a mental and emotional process as it is a financial one. Allow yourself to look at your current spending like an observer rather than a judge. Take stock of where your money goes and the amounts as if you were sitting with a friend helping them through this process. Reducing the emotional entanglements and self-reproach about your spending also helps lower the sense of overwhelm and stress. Ask a trusted friend or financial advisor to sit with you while you do this if you find that helpful.
Give yourself choices. Rather than looking at a budget as something that restricts you or causes you to make sacrifices, perhaps see it as a tool that helps you make choices about what’s important to you. When faced with immediate decisions like whether to eat out or cook at home, or longer-term decisions like how much to put into a retirement account versus a savings account, try to find the balance so you are enjoying today but also being true to planning for your goals. Giving yourself a choice, and then offering a reason that suits your bigger vision, is much more soothing than the thought of sacrifice. Instead of beating yourself up about the past expenses, see a budget as a way to refocus and make choices that suit your bigger vision.
An effective budget that reflects your values, personality and goals is not only your friend, but also a tool for bringing your visions to life. The more you make adjustments to your mindset and approach, the more your budget can be used as a vessel for your enjoyment and financial freedom.
Photo by Emma Matthews
Lisa Taranto Schiffer
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