As in, a vacation from my budget.
I’ve been a pretty avid budgeter for about 3 years now. It’s the thing that first got me hooked on personal finance. And as much as I know (and I really do…) that it’s not the ‘most fun ever’… I kind of love it.
But the start of this year taught me something I didn’t really know before…
Budgeting isn’t fun at all when you’re not making any money.
In the grand spectrum of variable income the first third of this year was more valley than peak… in fact it’s been pretty much all valley. There have been a few small gigs, but largely I’ve been living off my payroll buffer. Which is fine… because that’s what it’s there for. But after a while, living super frugally gets really old. It’s frustrating to watch all those categories you spent months building up slowly dwindle away to nothing.
Seriously guys. I was doing really well: living on the bare minimum, meal planning, shopping the sales, only going out to eat like… twice a month. I was totally killing this budget/not a lot of income, lifestyle.
But man… does that get annoying after awhile.
So I decided to take a .. vacation.
Well, I didn’t really decide. I just ignored it all for about a month.
A budget vacation sounds like it would be a nice idea. You take a break from the structure and come back ready to kill it financial styles… but there’s a problem.
While a normal vacation is a way to escape life for a little while, get away… recharge… when you come back, even though your life has all the same problems and stresses, you’re a little calmer and a little more equipped to deal with it. Vacation success.
My budget vacation on the other hand was mostly an exercise in delusion. I didn’t go crazy… I didn’t whip out the credit cards and spend myself into thousands of dollar of debt. But I stopped telling myself I couldn’t afford it. I ate out more, I went to the movies, I gave in to a lot of the little pleasures I’d been denying myself.
And when I finally “came home” from my little month-long fling…. I had somewhat of a mess on my hands.
Nothing had changed as far as how much money I was working with… but now there were more bills to pay.
Being aware of your financial life isn’t about creating a new reality… it’s about facing the facts about this one.
And my new fact was: I had spent a bunch of money that I didn’t have.
Honestly… it’s just annoying, because I knew it as I was doing it. But maintaining any kind of discipline is hard, and I do have a love for escapism (for proof please refer to my career choice: dressing in costumes and telling stories for a living).
The thing is, I’m not sure what I’ve learned from this either. This is not a “tie it all up in a neat little package” story. The fact that I flaked out and took a month long vacation probably means that my budget was a bit too strict, or maybe I should have been allowing myself smaller cheat days to relieve some of the pressure. But the thing that feels the most true is… it just sucks to not have much money. It sucks to say ‘no’ all the time when people want to go out. It sucks to have to eat leftovers 4 times a week (although sometimes that can be fun!… it depends if what you made is good or not… #cookingfails make for sad sad leftover weeks).
But as much as it sucks to have no money for frivolous fun… it sucks more to have to deal with the consequences of ignoring reality.
Because you have to pay for it. At some point… this is a fact.
So, here’s a question for all you living-on-lessers…. How do you guys avoid budget burnout? What do you do when money is really tight to escape reality for a little bit while avoiding the financial hangover?