My friend J Money heartily disagrees that budgets are boring. I think that budgeting can be made palatable, but fun? If anyone can hit on the magic formula that makes budgeting fun, they'll be very rich indeed.
A blogging colleague was asking around on Facebook about budgeting presentations that weren't “boring and irrelevant for 18-22 year olds.” If a college-aged person follows a budget, my take is that either (a) their parents did it while they were growing up, and they're doing likewise, or (b) they get why it's important. They're probably not doing it because it's fun.
Budgeting is like working out
There are many analogies between personal finance and weight control. I think there's a connection between budgeting and working out. I'll take a quote from the late fitness guru Jack LaLanne. He said that working out was “a pain in the gluties. But you gotta do it. Dying is easy. Living is tough. I hate working out. Hate it. But I like the results.” Those are insightful words from one of the fittest, healthiest people of the 20th century.
The same can be said of budgeting. Budgeting is a pain in the butt, but it has to be done. Getting into debt is easy. Getting out of debt, and staying out, is tough. You can hate following a budget, but you'll like the results.
I recently joined Fitocracy. It gamifies working out. Leveling up, points, achievements, props — it has it all. (I'm only three points away from my first leveling up. Definitely after tomorrow's treadmill workout.)
But for all it has, it's ancillary to actually working out. It still involves stretching, getting into workout clothes, hopping on the treadmill, and putting one freaking foot in front of the other for 20, 30, or more minutes. All of the bells and whistles in the world won't take that away. What has to motivate me is what I'll look like, what I'll feel like, and what I'll be able to do after shedding some pounds. (Or a hundred of them.) That won't happen tomorrow. It probably won't even happen next month. However, it certainly would have been far better if I had taken action to exercise when I was younger and didn't have such a steep hill to climb. But I … didn't see the relevance until now.
Following a budget is the same thing. Regardless of all of the pretty graphs in Quicken, following a budget means carefully tracking what is spent, accounting for what comes in, reviewing credit card statements, and above all, not spending beyond what is brought in. That's the very definition of boring in my book. But it's very important. This importance is disguised by apparent irrelevance. “Why do I need to save now for 20-40 years in the future?” Because 20-40 years will darken your doorstep way too quickly. I know that I couldn't imagine myself at 40 when I was in college. Well … I'm there now!
But when the results come, whether it's a slimmer body or a fatter bank account, it will all have been worth it. Think of what you'll be able to accomplish without worrying about bringing in a paycheck. Think of the really important things that you'd want to spend your time doing. In a way, it's almost a good thing that budgeting is boring. Very little in this world comes without hard work and diligence; why should budgeting be any different?
Budgeting is boring, and appears irrelevant. But that doesn't diminish its importance.