Bitterness. That’s what it was. More specifically, that “entitlement” thing I’ve heard people talk about. I felt like I deserved it. Unfortunately, our budget disagreed. Budgets can be cold and unfeeling like that. I get why so many people hate them.
In this case, our budget was telling us that we couldn’t afford cable TV. And that stung.
I grew up in a house without cable television. My parents thought it was trashy and, frankly, didn’t want to pay for it. Or maybe they couldn’t afford it. Likely a little of both. So I grew up listening to my friends talking about shows and movies and sporting events (My goodness! All the sporting events!) they had watched the night before…and I was left in the high school cafeteria longing for the day when I moved out on my own and got all the cable TV I wanted.
Eventually I did move out of my parents house, but for some reason I decided to hold off on getting cable immediately. Perhaps the “not wanting to pay for it” gene had rubbed off on me. But when my wife and I got married, I decided I had waited and sacrificed long enough. I was finally getting Cable.
There was just one snag – the budget.
Fresh into our “Debt Destruction” phase sparked by Dave Ramsey, we sat down one night and did our very first budget together. It wasn’t hard. It was just writing numbers down on paper. Our income was about $44k a year. Before taxes. Combined.
So as we wrote down all the mission critical monthly expenses like rent, car payments, food, gas, credit cards, student loans, blah blah blah, we ran out of money way before we got to cable TV.
That’s when I felt my first bitter feeling toward the budget. This dumb piece of paper was telling me I couldn’t have something I wanted. Or, at least, that I shouldn’t have it. Of course, I could do whatever I wanted. This was just a stupid piece of paper and I could crumple it up, throw it on the ground and smash it to death with my giant angry foot.
But the problem wasn’t the paper. It was the numbers on the paper. Those numbers represented this little thing called reality, and raining down blows of destruction on that flimsy piece of mashed up wood pulp would have no effect on changing reality. (It might have felt good, though.)
Instead, I had to change to meet reality’s cold hard truth.
After a fitful few moments (hours? days? It blurs together.), and some work trying to finagle the numbers to fit the lifestyle I wanted to live, I finally gave in to the truth. We resolved that we had lived our whole lives without cable, so what was another few years while we knocked out some debt, getting some of our hard earned money back. (My wife also grew up in what I must assume is the only other family on the planet that didn’t have cable TV either. A match made in heaven, right?)
And that’s how this whole crazy journey began for us.
Fast forward about a decade and you know what? We still don’t have cable TV, although we could easily afford it now. But you know what else we don’t have? Debt.
Instead, we now have a full 6 months of living expenses in our savings account, a growing 401k, two ROTH IRA’s, more money piling up in our brokerage account, two paid-off cars, and we’re living in our completely paid-off house.
Oh, and we have 4 kids. Not assets, per se, but worth mentioning.
Have I missed not having cable TV for the last decade? Not really. It turns out there are so many more important and exciting things to do in life than sitting on the couch like a zombie every night.
Looking back, I think we made a good decision letting that dumb piece of paper bring a dose of reality into our lives.
As you start your journey, if you feel like the budget is holding you back from the things you want right now, that might be true. But what you don’t see are all the incredible things the budget is making possible in your future.
So as you’re tempted to shout and scream and let your piece of paper (or spreadsheet or app or however you do it) turn you back into a self-centered 3-year-old, take a breath. Learn to embrace what the the budget (a.k.a. reality) is taking away from you, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised what new things will “magically” show up in your life in the years to come.
Budgeting and tracking your spending aren’t easy. If they were, you and all your friends would be millionaires already. But it does get much easier over time. Like riding a bike, it may feel really uncomfortable at first, but you will get the hang of it…eventually.
Then you’ll be able to ride bigger bikes. Then you’ll be riding mountain bikes. Then road bikes. Then riding a bike will just be something you do every month and you won’t even think about it. And all your non-bike-riding friends and family will think you’re a weirdo.
And you’ll just smile politely as you whiz on by.
So what experiences have you had with a budget? Any good ones? Maybe some bad ones like me? Let me know in the comments if budgeting has been useful in your life.