Spend Money, Save Time

10 March 2011, by A. Cedilla

“You just gave advice on how save money and now this?”

Well, with every important choice we deal with in life there are always flip-sides to consider. If someone gives you advice that doesn’t jive with you, you don’t have to take it as is. Or reject it outright, either.

Consider pulling a 180 and look at it the other way.

Or take a few steps off to the side, say, like a 90-degree shift. That way, through some cock-eyed mental contortions and inner re-shuffling, you can get a good look from different sides of the equation, and somehow get a better, more rounded view of the entire situation than if you were firmly stuck on just one side of the discussion.

See, there are just some things more important than strict adhesion to a budget. A budget is a plan, a map. It is not the terrain. You stick to the plan without adjusting for real-life circumstance — a busted water-pipe, an emergency root-canal, an utterly unexpected opportunity to see your favorite band — you’re holding “The Budget” as paramount, and forgetting the purpose for which it was drawn up for — which is to use your money to serve you.

Argument one:
“What’s the use of drawing it up if you’re not going to stick to it, eh? Eh? EH?”

Well, that’s why you have emergency funds, for emergencies. A budget is a plan to spend some of the money that comes in to cover basic expenses, the bills that come in regularly, loans and debts, and projects that — with good research and calculation — come with an accurate estimate. A budget is also a plan to save some of that income for security and emergency purposes, and for the future.

When you draw up a budget, it’s usually based on the information you have on hand at the time, and the plans you have over a set period in the future.

Let’s say you have good records of last year’s expenses, and this gives you a very good picture of what you could expect for this year. But then, things change. A project falls through, you or a family member falls sick, the rabbit dies, a very good opportunity opens up– on the other side of the country. Things change.

You have to be able to adapt. You have to develop a plan that can adapt with you and your needs, whether it’s going after new clients to replace the one you lost, having an emergency sick-fund to cover the time you’re down with pneumonia, or start setting aside money for the baby, or discuss with your family the pros, cons and stresses of moving.

You need to start thinking of your budget as a safety net: one secure enough to catch you, and springy enough to help you bounce back.

Argument two:
“You make it sound so easy.” Sniff.

Yes, you want to save time – but you’re worried about the trap of convenience. Oddly enough, many people feel guilty about taking advantage of conveniences. Probably an echo of old Puritan views, where we have suffer to prove our worth. How crazy is that?

And even worse, the attitude of “More is better … including pain,” is rampant in our culture — witness the complain-athon at the water cooler or over drinks on Friday nights about who got the most overtime, who got the least sleep, and trading stories of let’s-see-you-top-THIS-eh?

“Why, back in my day we walked barefoot in the snow to go to school. Uphill. Both ways.” Or “Why, with a little more effort, you could ___/ Should have ___/saved more, spent less, not gone out, etc.”

So we’re told to man up, gird our loins, tighten our belts, put our shoulders to it — and burn both ends of the candle. Which doesn’t really get you anywhere in the long run, but is a great story to share at coffee-break.

The simplest thing is often the hardest to do, because of all the feelings we attribute to that decision to do that thing. “What if it doesn’t work out? What if it does? What do I do? Will it make me happy? What if it doesn’t?” Lather, rinse, loop.

If you remove fear, anxiety (what-iffing), control issues (you really can’t control the future, you know) and hyped emotions (“I’ll never recover if this doesn’t push through…”), the decision is made easier.

You don’t need to complicate your life by making mountains out of molehills. When you’ve weighted all the factors and established a clear view on which way to go, GO.

Go with the flow, stop second-guessing yourself. The world will prove you right or wrong in its own time, no need to hurry. Your decisions aren’t carved in stone, you can always change your mind at a later date.

The issue here, is one of acceptance. You say you want some thing, you prepare for it, you go after it. Here a few things to consider when it comes to making decisions about money.

Disassociate goals with happiness, or a predicted positive emotion.

When I get X, then I’ll be happy.

If you expect X = Happy, you’re setting yourself up for a rude awakening. You’ll be tying an internal state (your happiness, your contentment) to external objects. I get this car, that laptop, the promotion…and then I’ll be happy.

Emotions are fleeting, they’re the daily weather report of your life. If you’re looking to have an external thing impact your emotional climate permanently ( ahem, long-term weather), the odds of that are very spotty. And a few recent studies show that people are lousy at predicting their future levels of happiness:

The main goal for budgeting, aside from proving a clear and concise plan to manage your money is to provide peace of mind.

For example: if housecleaning is a major area of contention between you and your spouse, and no matter how you slice it the two of you can’t work out the division without resentment mounting up, you can spring for a cleaning service to deal with the stuff you don’t want to handle anymore. The distance generated between you isn’t worth the savings.

When it comes to penny-pinching, the emphasis is on “pinch”. At certain times in your life, the situation may merit pinching pennies until they scream, but when easier times come around, you don’t have to keep your focus on how to keep them screaming. Focus on what is essential – necessary to life. Like the big-ticket items in steady doses – peace and peace of mind, calm, less stress, a good relationship with friends and family, and recognizing the chances to enjoy what the world still has to offer.

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