Welcome to the seventh installment of Sunburnt Saver’s Budgeting 101 series. During April, we’ll be talking budgets: why we should budget, how to prioritize your budgets, and how to plan for the expected (and unexpected!). If you like this series, please share your thoughts in the comment and let me know what questions you’d like answered (you can even comment if you don’t like this series!)
Today will be discussing something that happens too often in budgeting – letting tempting events ruin your budget. Much like eating a piece of chocolate cake while dieting, sometimes it’s easy to let a little temptation ruin your hard work. However, like dieting, you have to get back to work and not let one slip ruin everything. Unlike dieting, a budget slip can really derail you, so let’s discuss how to plan for and work around budget temptations.
I have a confession to make: last week I went to an unplanned happy hour with coworkers. For most people, this might not be a big deal, but as you know, I scrupulously plan out my work events with coworkers. With all my careful budgeting, why did I let myself go to happy hour when I knew it would put me out of my budget? Because I had a fear of missing out (FOMO). I thought if I skipped this happy hour, my coworkers would stop inviting me and I might be seen as “not a team player.”
After I got over my frustration at my inability to say “no”, I realized this would be a good thing to mention during our budgeting series. It’s hard to say “no” all the time to fun events – especially if it’s your kids asking you to take them out to that fun new movie. After all, what’s life without a little fun? Or, in my case, what’s life without a little networking with coworkers?
However, we do have a plan – we’re sticking to a budget and prioritizing our goals by tracking our income and expenses. We have a goal we’re saving for (freedom to spend time with family, work from home, travel, etc) and we can’t let a few slips completely derail our budget. Here’s how to keep FOMO from derailing your budget.
Avoiding FOMO: Knowing Your Triggers
What makes you blow your budget? In my case, my fear of missing out on coworker news encouraged me to overspend on my “work expenses” budget category. For some reason, I had this weird feeling that I would be seen as not a team player if I didn’t go along. After going to happy hour, I realized this wasn’t the case at all.
For you, you could blow your budget because of stress, or family pressure. Have you ever gone on a trip with your family or friends knowing you didn’t have the money to do it? Did you ever dislike the trip because you knew you’d face a big credit card bill when you got home? It’s happened to me a couple of times, and trust me – while it’s fun to go on vacations with family, it’s not a good time if you know, in the back of your mind, that you’re going to pay for it when you get home.
Once you know your triggers, it gets easier to plan around them. I have a “work expenses” budget category for events like this – happy hours, lunches out, coffee breaks. Anything that gets me out with my coworkers and spending money is already planned out a month in advance. I try not to say “no” to too many work events, but I do occasionally have to do it.
It’s all about thinking about what makes you fear you’re missing out. If it’s family time, try to plan ahead for trips by making a trip budget a few months ahead of time. You may need to cut out other budget categories to save up, but it will be worth it when you can go on vacation with family or friends and not have to worry about putting the whole thing on credit cards.
Avoiding FOMO: Enlist in Your Tribe
Whenever I feel like I’m missing out and “need” to spend money, I turn to my tribe for reassurance. Who is in my tribe? My fiance, B, and people in my personal finance blogosphere. Yes, I turn to other bloggers for reassurance!
Your tribe is anyone who has the same goals and motivations you do. If your coworkers, family, or friends don’t “get” your budgeting (and trust me, some people just will not ever “get it”), they’re not in your tribe. Your tribe is made up of people who will support you when you start to feel FOMO. They’ll remind you of your goals, they’ll reassure you that you don’t need to spend money to feel like you belong, and they’ll support you.
Some people will just never understand that we’re on a budget. I remember a conversation with a coworker, when I said I couldn’t get lunch with him that week because my budget didn’t have room. Maybe saying something like that was too honest, but this coworker was insisting we get lunch. He just didn’t want to be in the office and, instead of packing a lunch and eating it outside, he wanted me to ditch my packed lunch and pay for a meal out. No thanks!
While this coworker was annoyed, I didn’t miss out on anything. We ended up getting lunch the following week, when my budget allowed, but I realized he’s not part of my tribe. He’s equally in debt (in student loans) as I am, but instead of making paying off debt a priority, he’s willing to live the status quo.
I had to remind myself that I’m saving for a bigger goal: debt freedom. While a $10 lunch out doesn’t seem like much, it’s easy to justify little expenses that keep adding up. If your family or friends don’t support you, lean on the personal finance community (like me!) to remind you of why sticking to a budget is important. Choose your tribe well, and it will be easier to ignore those feelings of FOMO!
Avoiding FOMO: Your Money Doesn’t Define You
Sometimes it’s hard to set a budget a stick to it. Sometimes your FOMO feeling is too strong, sometimes your tribe is flaky, sometimes you just want to buy a new blouse, all right? That’s okay. It’s okay to occasionally treat yourself – after all, even people on diets are allowed to have a piece of candy now and then.
However, consider your big picture. The money you have doesn’t define you. What you spend it on (in terms of “stuff”) doesn’t define you. Your coworkers can have the newest, nicest TV, but that doesn’t define them.
What defines you (and all of us) is how you live your life. You could make $250 a week but live a happy, good life because you’ve paid off your debts and are doing what you love. You could be making $250,000 a week and feel stressed every day because you’re paying kids’ tuition, mortgage on a couple homes, car loans, etc.
As long as the money you bring in lets you have an enjoyable life, doing what you love – you’re a success. And if you’re not happy with where your life is headed, it’s time to crack down on that budget and focus on what will make you happy. It might take a while – heck, my time frame has me “free” by the time I’m 35. That’s almost 10 years away!
The point is, money only defines you if you let it. Don’t let your income dictate how you live your life. If you want to live frugally, you do you! If you need to spend your money a certain way because of your job, you do you – just budget for it.
Next time, I’ll be ready for the coworker happy hour. I had a good time, and I did do some important networking. It’s something I’m willing to budget for – but I’ll be sure to cut out a lunch to balance out my budget to make room for it.
Homework: Define your tribe. Who supports your goals? Who will back you up when you’re feeling FOMO creep in? Think about your FOMO triggers, too. How can you avoid these feelings to make good decisions? If that means texting your supporters, write that down. Keep your goals in mind when you’re feeling a little FOMO!