I think being on a budget is like being on a diet. It’s hard to stick to the plan if the rules are too strict.
I think maybe 10% of us are disciplined enough to stick to rigid rules. I envy those people. Sometimes I wish I was more like them.
But when I think about it more deeply, I’m glad I’m not. Because life is about more than money.
Don’t get me wrong. I can budget with the best of them. But then stuff happens.
For example, when I was married, at one point we found out that a relative was facing hardship. My husband and I gave this person money every month until he was back on his feet.
A wealthy relative gave advice and sent information on government programs that could help, but did not personally contribute anything.
There is a reason the rich have money, and I suppose if my husband and I had been “wise” money managers, we would have done the same and our retirement account would have been fatter.
Or, as another example — when our cat of almost 20 years got sick, we didn’t immediately put her down. We asked the vet how to extend her life while keeping her comfortable. She lived an extra 9 months. We only put her to sleep when we could no longer give her a good quality of life.
Again, a “practical” person might say, that was a foolish choice. It cost us both time and money. But it was worth it to us because we loved our cat.
Last example — when I was a new graduate, I had a ton of debt I. I had no travel budget, even though I dreamed of going to Europe. Then one morning I opened the paper and saw an incredible promotional fare to England. I called my best friend and we booked our tickets.
Looking back, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m glad I took it. Never again would my friend and I both be able to take a week off like that.
So I shot a hole in my budget, but I had a brilliant adventure and followed a dream.
So what is my take on all of this?
Of course you should budget. It’s important to make wise choices, to save money and to live within your means.
Right now, when I get together with friends, I sometimes ask to meet for coffee or go for a walk because my budget doesn’t always allow a sit-down meal at a restaurant.
And that is OK with me. Just like it was OK, when I was in graduate school, that I didn’t have a phone for a semester.
I was a teaching assistant with a take-home income of about $600 a month. I couldn’t afford a phone, but I had an office with a phone on campus. If people wanted to call me, they could reach me there during office hours.
During this time, I also gave up TV, restaurant meals and driving. It was important to me that I not take on debt for graduate school, and the way to make that happen was to live very frugally.
So I get that having a budget is important.
But… I also believe that spending decisions can’t be purely logical. A budget is not just numbers — rational, emotionless and capable of always giving a single right answer. There are feelings involved because we use money for things that have emotional meaning.
Maybe it’s not in the budget to buy flowers for a friend, or to care for a sick pet, or to help a family member. Maybe it’s not in the budget to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to follow a dream.
Here’s the thing though — what is the price you put on compassion? And what is the worth of a dream?
I think it’s very important to be careful with your money. But it’s not the be-all and end-all of existence.
When you die, you won’t take your money with you. And while people respect wealth, money in a vault has little impact. What is more meaningful — the experiences you have, the compassion you give. Those are treasures that have no value because they have worth beyond money.
This post was previously published on The Startup and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: Shefali O’Hara