The most beautiful budget in the galaxy is useless unless we back it up with self-control. Self-control is a nice phrase meaning:
I will not do this/I will do this.
I will not spend more than $100 per week on food and groceries.
I will save 8% of my gross income.
I will not give in to the temptation to buy books.
I will allow myself discretion over end of month extra money in my gas account.
Self-control is counter to much of the way I behave. I am a comfort seeker. The easy way, the path of least resistance, is my preferred choice. Self-control is about evaluating the short-term pleasure of indulging this impulse in the light of a longer-term, more valuable goal.
For instance: It would be easy to go to my credit union, apply for a car loan, and choose something better than my current 15-year-old ride. That’s the comfortable way out. Self-control means that I am better-off saving a car payment every two weeks so that I can pay cash for a newer car down the road. In the interim, I drive an older (but perfectly serviceable) car, but avoid debt. Now, and forever.
Choice. It’s all about choosing the right thing in the moment.
I know why.
I know why people are so poor at making and keeping budgets.
I also know why people are so poor at making and keeping budgets and, even when faced with the overwhelming need for both, do not.
Optimism. Compartmentalization. Laziness.
The act of creating a budget appears – to the newbie – as an act of failure. Either I’m not making enough money to pay all my bills on time and save something for later, or I’m hopeless at prioritizing my spending. Both can be internalized as personality defects, especially when we compare ourselves to others who appear to not have such character flaws.
The truth is that creating and sticking to a budget is an act of success. And we can remind ourselves of how successful we are every day, because we need use our money every day. When we spend money or receive money, we need to refer back to the budget, which can remind us of the power we have over our finances.
But it’s not a sexy message. It’s boring to even write about. Discipline usually is. What we need is a pathway to frictionless budgeting – budgeting that’s so easy that it appears to take no time or effort.
Those who run gambling businesses understand completely the psychology involved.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure that those who risk money on games of chance indulge a specific pleasure center in their brain. Whatever the conduit to this bio-chemical hot-spot, someone will provide it, whether that’s via horse-racing, cards, craps, sports betting, roulette or simple lottery. The latter, it turns out, is a government monopoly, which ought to tell us something.
The lottery is news this week in the US because the jackpot (note the positive wordspin) for the “Powerball” (more spin) this coming Saturday night will be over $700,000,000. That amount of money is energy for a lot of imaginations.
But that’s all it is. You are not going to win this thing. If you’re looking for a definition of complete failure, it is an education system that produces graduates who do not understand simple probability. Yet another argument to take education out of government’s hands.
Somehow there is a way to turn people from throwing their money away on lotteries. How do we disengage that (extremely powerful, I get it) part of the brain that consistently indulges the fantasy that state-sponsored gambling fires up? The tragedy is that this equivalent of tossing dollars into a trash can overwhelming appeals to those who cannot afford it.
Imagine if a two-dollar-a-week lottery customer had $104 in a savings account at the end of the year? That’s something. 52 losing lottery tickets is less than nothing.
My friend Kregg’s clear-eyed view is this: that when we start with self-control, you’re on to something.
Self-control and self-discipline – the latter is my addition and they are not the same thing. But they lie at the heart of success. Personal success.
Also. I add prioritization as the second requirement for a strong life. Ability to control ourselves means more when we understand why we impose discipline and to what end. That’s the art of setting a priority, stating and working towards one goal and ignoring others…for now.
Allied closely with setting priorities is RE-prioritizing. Our list of priorities is like a prized garden; constant attention, replanting, pruning and changing emphasis with the seasons is a part of the deal.
IMO priorities should change with seasons, not overnight.
Which leads to my third point of success, which is knowing when to change. This is probably the trickiest, the most like an art and least technical. If the headline three years hence is X, what are my priorities now, and how should they change?
Look. Looking to the future. It’s a murky business.