I did NOT have a money-saving budget mindset. I was bitter about having to be on a budget for years. I wrestled for a long time with it. I was resentful and sometimes angry, and none of that moved me forward in my relationship with money. Here’s how I shifted to a Money-Saving Budget Mindset.
Where Our Budget Started
I got married young. I say 20, but really, I was a few months shy and only 19. We were married in college, and marriage during the starving student days only compounds it. Plus, we had two children while my husband was in graduate school. We started on a budget.
In the first few years of marriage, we expected to be poor. The phrase “starving student” was coined for a reason. We made do with Pell Grants, WIC, and food stamps. Though it was humbling to be on government aid, we found the food stamps actually generous and our food budget comfortable.
But, we got our first job out of college in Florida, across the country, and drained our savings to get there. We thought the salary sounded so generous, but it wasn’t. We made just enough to not qualify for food stamps but not enough to make ends meet. Let’s say we couldn’t afford air conditioning in FL.
Those days of being poor, we created some deep-rooted bitterness around money. The stress of money weighed on us all the time. We eventually moved back to the West Coast and got higher-paying jobs, which created a rocky relationship with money.
Where We Are At Now
We have continued to budget and live on a budget since the Florida days 20 years ago. Living in California with five kids is expensive. We also eat Paleo-ish, which means building a grocery budget around naturally more expensive foods. Salaries have increased, but so have costs, and I recently quit my full-time job to be a full-time entrepreneur. Down to one salary again, things are tighter, and it’s easy to almost panic thinking of going back to Florida tight.
Building a Money-Saving Budget Mindset
But, over the last 20 years…well, okay, really, just the previous 5, I’ve worked hard on my mindset with money. Though things are still tight, here are some shifts that have made all the difference:
1. What do you want to save money FOR?
What do you wish you had more wiggle room in your budget for? For us, the biggest one is adventuring. We LOVE going on adventures with our kids. It’s our favorite thing. Even on the cheap, adventuring costs money. We also know that college is approaching for 2 of my boys next year. We want to be able to pay for part of their college education. This is my “why” around money.
2. What do you want more?
It’s really easy to find things we want in this life. And the ads, aisles, and mailers don’t help. But the question that helped me clarify all my “wants” was asking what I wanted “more.” It looked like this: “What do I want more? A $5 drink at Starbucks or a new memory with my family on an adventure?”
That feels too basic. I know. But that’s how money is saved, one small choice at a time. Most of us will not be hedge-fund babies and miraculously inherit millions. We earn and save it one choice at a time. And when you put it in the proper perspective, the answer is obvious.
3. Finding purpose in the choice
Ok, but how do I not be bitter about not being able to “afford” a $5 Starbucks whenever I want it? Well, I was for a long time in Florida days. I needed to have the right budget-saving mindset. For me, that is:
I’m not a victim of what I can’t have. I am intentionally choosing what I really want.
It changed my language to others. Instead of “I can’t afford that,” it became “That’s not in my budget.” Yes, I could spend my money however and whenever. But that didn’t align with my why and what I truly wanted. I wasn’t approaching it anymore from a place of restriction but a place of empowerment.
A Family Example
Let’s put this into an example from our family’s life. We had been consistently overspending every month on our budget. We had a “budget,” but it didn’t dictate how we actually spent money. I would use it to track where our money went. But I would continue spending once we reached the end of the budget category for the month. TOUGH LOVE: That’s not a budget; that’s a tracking sheet.
My husband and I had a hard conversation about how we couldn’t keep overspending each month. At first, I started shutting down, bringing in the negative feelings about being poor in Florida. I was approaching it as a victim with a scarcity mindset.
Through our conversation, I got clear on what I really wanted. I wanted more money to do fun things as a family, something our current budget didn’t allow. My husband and I agreed – if we could hit our modest monthly self-decided savings goal every month, anything in excess we could use for family fun. It was an enormous reach – we had yet to save ANY money for months. Now we were going to save money AND have leftover to adventure with our kids?
We sat our kids down (ages 10-18 at the time) and explained where all our money goes. We showed them the monthly budget and explained how much we paid to have food to eat, electricity, our home, cars, etc. And we were honest that we had been going over our monthly budget every month, which left no money for the fun things we all wanted more of. I told them that the more money we saved in other categories, the more we would have for family fun. To make it tangible, we made a list of all the fun activities they wished we had more money for.
The Power of a Carrot
With that clarity, I was a woman on a mission, and the kids were on board. I had no problem having boring lunches or simple dinners to save money in our food budget. I slowed my roll on Amazon purchases and avoided buying things that weren’t needed. I devised my No Spend Days, a creative way to save hundreds each month on our food budget.
After 13 months of being in the red every month, we were finally in the green. My husband was shocked, as this had been a wrestle for a long time. He jokingly but correctly said, “Is that all it took? I just had to dangle a carrot out in front of you?”
The power of a carrot is I was no longer approaching my budget with bitterness. Our budget was no longer a means to tell me NO to everything I couldn’t buy. Our budget was a plan to help us say YES to what we really wanted.
We were able to say YES to the annual Six Flags passes. We said YES more often to eating out or bowling nights. Though my fashionable son didn’t always love the budget, we were all on the same page because they knew that saying no to things we didn’t truly need allowed us to say yes to new family memories and adventures.
And that, my friend, is the power of a money-saving budget mindset.