Why You're Thinking About Your Budget All Wrong

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How a Budget can Work for You

Maggie McGrath Forbes Staff

Does the thought of tracking your spending every month or living according to a budget sound so torturous that you just... don't do it? If so, you're not alone: more than 60% of Americans don't keep a budget. But while you may not be alone, but you are likely thinking about budgeting in the wrong way.

I recently sat down with financial expert and author Patrice Washington to talk about why it is that so many people don't like to budget. She explained that it all starts with how most people think about budgeting: we see it as a limiting factor, a thing that will prevent us from doing the things we enjoy. But this line of thinking, Washington said, needs to be changed.

"We think it's going to deprive us, but it's about discipline," she said. "Budgeting is not about deprivation at all."

In our conversation (which you can watch in full, above), Washington noted that living according to a budget can actually enhance our lives, because it gives us a sense of exactly what we have on hand to spend, and how we can plan for the future. Think of it as a guideline for getting what you want — and not a rigid set of rules that's preventing you from buying coffee or spending a night on the town.

Different people have different opinions on the best way to build a budget, and Washington comes from the school of thought that says: don't decide to make a budget and then track your spending, but instead, decide to build a budget and then look back at the your last three months' worth of bank and credit card statements.

"When I would tell someone to track their spending, they would lie!" Washington told me, recalling some of the clients she's worked with over the years. "When you're tracking your spending, you don't want to look bad. So you stop doing whatever it is you do on Friday nights and you want to look your best." But, if these are the numbers that you're going to base your budget on, your budget will be based on a lie.

To see more of Washington's tips on building a budget — plus how to find things to cut from your spending list even if it feels like there's nothing you can possibly cut — check out the video above.

And, if you want to learn more about budgeting, including the popular 50-30-20 rule (it recommends spending 5 0% of your take home pay on needs, 30% to wants and 20% to savings), check out this article here or this one, here.

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