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Budgeting isn't to be feared

Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 11:38 a.m. CST

When you talk about being frugal, keeping to a budget and closely observing your expenses, the instant reaction is usually to cringe and then forget about it.

I know that’s how I was when I first started budgeting. I imagined a life with no joy, relegated to eating 3.45454 servings of freeze-dried pinto beans each day, having exactly 1.33333 alcoholic beverages each week while only being able to drive 66.6666 miles every two weeks.

Well, this hasn’t been my experience in the slightest. You see, I never budgeted until late in University. Then, as my career at Iowa State was coming to a close, I knew that not only did I need to save additional funds for my international tour, but I needed a more exact idea of how much I needed to save.

So, I began with the much-dreaded Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet. Hour of painstakingly meticulous research gave me an idea of how much I would need per day in each country. Travelling to a place like Europe, where countries the size of states have wildly different economics, it wasn’t enough to generalize my budget.

I factored in everything. I did allocate myself 1.3333 drinks a day. I budgeted for meals prepared in hostel kitchens with a splurge of one or two meals a week at nicer restaurants. My partner and I knew exactly which museums and attractions we wanted to go to, and all of that was on the budget as well.

I got there, and things changed minutely. We had to adapt. At the end of the day, a budget is a piece of paper that can never fully reflect real life, but the idea was to get it as close as possible and having that budget was what allowed us to adapt. When prices were a little higher, it didn’t feel like a disaster. We knew exactly how much we had, where we could shift funds from, and we made it work.

Rather than become a unbending and unforgiving influence in our lives, our budget actually allowed us an immense amount of flexibility. It opened up opportunities that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to take. Due to our frugal spending, we were actually able to afford plane tickets to visit two additional countries that we hadn’t planned on.

So, a budget is hardly something to be feared. It doesn’t limit you. It is merely a tool to allow you to track your spending, analyze your habits and what can be improved upon, and then do exactly that. I used to not mind spending frivolous dollars on gas station treats and other items. Now, I see how much those things add up to, and I put the money somewhere else where it’ll work better for me, such as traveling.

And that’s exactly what a budget is. A tool that enables your dollars to work for you in a more effective fashion.