Growing up, I’ll admit that our family never wore our seatbelts. It was before there were rules about wearing them, and it was just accepted not to wear one. Granted, I grew up in Pennsylvania where they still fight helmet laws for motorcycles. But for some reason, when I began driving, I wore my seatbelt. In a way, I knew I couldn’t trust my own driving, and luckily that belt saved me when I crashed head-on into a telephone pole just months after getting my license.
Today I got an email from our city’s distribution list that they’re participating in the county’s new seatbelt check program, and for some reason I flashed back to those days of riding around without a seatbelt and how I now force all my riders to also wear theirs (even my parents!), at least when I’m driving. And for some reason my mind made a connection between personal finance and auto safety: a budget is just like your own financial seatbelt! Hear me out on this one…
The shared purpose of Budgets and Seatbelts
The biggest reason I hear most from people, including my family, about why they don’t wear their seatbelt is this:
“It’s too restraining and uncomfortable”
Some people simple don’t like that feeling of something holding them back, or worry that they’re too locked in to escape when needed. Can you see the parallel with financial budgets yet? No? Let me ask you a question: Do you have a budget? No? Why not? I bet you’ll give one or more of the following reasons:
- It’s too restraining: You think a budget will hold you back from having fun, or being fun when you’re with friends. Even if you set aside $1000 for a “Fun” category and only ever spend $100 normally, you’ll still think it’s too restraining. You just don’t like authority, or pressure, or feeling confined, so you refuse to set any sort of limits for yourself.
- It’s too hard: I’ll admit that it’s daunting to figure out your expenses and income for the first time, and then continually revisit your budget, but after a while it’s “set it and almost forget it”. You know it’s there and you’ve trained yourself to subconsciously monitor your spending to keep yourself in check without having a sheet of paper reminding you.
- It’s too uncomfortable: Just like a seatbelt can chaff your next or squeeze against your gut (like mine), a poorly configured budget can irritate you or your family so much that you just throw it away and never use it. But configuring both your seatbelt and your budget to the most appropriate settings takes time and practice before you know just where they should fit to both protect you and still feel comfy.
- What if an emergency happens? You’ve seen movies where someone is stuck on the train tracks and can’t get out of their seatbelt. Or they’ve driven into the water and can’t get that buckle undone in time. C’mon people, seatbelts are made to hold you when you need held and release you when you need to go. Similarly, a budget is just a piece of paper or electronic file that tells you where you should be (you have to do the work to figure out where you currently are), but it’s flexible to adapt to your lifestyle.
Simply, a budget is there to protect you, but you can modify it if it feels smothering or unsafe. If you feel like you’re throwing too much into savings and aren’t carrying enough in your checking to cover bills each month, then fix it. If you’re feeling stressed out, then up your entertainment or recreation budget. It’s simply a guide and safety mechanism, not a control device.
The seatbelt/budget won’t stop you from driving off the road, but with proper planning (i.e. fastening the belt properly…or budgeting enough for emergencies), it can save you from personal or financial injury.
PS: Here’s a great list of budget templates if you need to start fresh again.
Photo by Criterion