Struggling with budgeting burn out? I know the feeling!
It’s been over two years since I started paying off debt, which required a complete overhaul of my finances. We officially joined the debt free club in July 2018, paying off £16,000 in one year. Budgeting has since become a way of life.
In truth, I feel that budgeting is a necessity rather than a choice, for each and every one of us. In my book, How to Get Out of Debt, I write that even millionaires need to track their spending, because regardless of income, spending more than we have results in debt. So if you don’t want to be in debt, budgeting is a must.
However, budgeting can be as strict or relaxed as you like. You might choose to budget for a generous clothing allowance, travel fund, or social spending. Or you might choose to forgo, or cut down on, these expenses while reaching your financial goals, with the promise that you’ll live your best life when you’re debt free. Most of us who are familiar with the dreaded #DebtFreeJourney can identify with the latter.
Before starting to pay off debt, you are certain that you’ll be unable to make those overpayments. Then, one day, you find yourself in a different frame of mind. You cancel a direct debit, you drop a ton of grocery brands, you start finding £50 here and there in the budget, and become obsessed. Before long, you are picking up a side hustle. Then, you’ve knocked out a debt or two. Now, people are starting to ask how they can morph into a budgeting goddess just like you. #Amazing
And that’s great, until a few months pass and you find yourself a little de-motivated. You’ve brought your budget to the bare bones and the lack of social life is getting to you. You haven’t spent money on a non-essential in quite some time, and it’s been so long since you’ve shopped online that Google has practically forgotten your credit card details. You’re sick of saying ‘no’ to yourself and wondering how long you can sustain your current lifestyle.
That’s when you know you have Budgeting Burn Out, an disorder that, if left untreated, can lead to impulse buying, spending binges, or worse: quitting your debt payoff altogether.
So if you know the feeling of budgeting burn out, keep reading.
I am no stranger to budgeting burn out. Right now, we are nearly halfway through our savings goal to save £4,000 by Christmas Day. In the beginning, I thought I’d make it a challenge by trying to save this sum primarily through side hustles (seriously, who hurt me?). At the end of June, I found out I was pregnant and lost my motivation completely. I was sick all day. I struggled to stick to the budget, let alone proactively side hustle. The thought of our restrictive budget gave me burn out big time.
This wasn’t the first time I experienced budgeting burn out. During our year-long debt free journey, I felt burnt out every few months. Sometimes I felt like quitting, and sometimes I did actually quit for a short time. A few times, I thought, ‘I’m never ever going back to this’.
I put the question, ‘What do you do when budgeting starts to become too much?’ out on my Instagram page a while ago. It got so much engagement that I realised so many people could relate. So I thought I’d share what works to overcome budgeting burn out, and how I cope with it during the pursuit of my own money goals.
#1: Combat Budgeting Burn Out By Taking A Break
It goes without saying that any kind of burn out should be treated with a break. To give yourself the best chance of returning to your goals at some point, you need to take time to breathe and re-boot.
I am forever comparing paying off debt to getting fit because we are really good at understanding the requirements of a fit body. We know what to expect with a fitness journey. We take breaks, we go on holiday, we have cheat meals and simply take a week or two off. And those of us who have their fitness nailed allow themselves to go through those periods of de-motivation without forcing it.
So if you’re feeling so tired of budgeting that you just can’t go on, stop.
That’s not to say I think we should go on a shopping spree when budgeting burn out strikes. Rather, stop looking over your budget, and put it out of your head. Stop challenging yourself to spend less, and let yourself go a little over budget here and there. Take yourself out for a night out, and don’t worry about it. Buy that top you’ve wanted for ages, but wouldn’t allow yourself to purchase. To truly sustain your good habits over time, you need balance, not restriction.
We get so fixated on perfection when it comes to budgeting, like we are kids again and colouring outside the lines will ruin the whole picture. But rather than aiming for perfection, we should look to be ‘good enough’. When it comes to your money goals, what is ‘good enough’? I’m sure once you’re debt free or you’ve reached that savings goal, it was good enough to complete it two months after you had originally hoped, than to completely quit because you’re so burnt out that it became impossible. Remember that.
#2: Make Your Budget More Manageable
If you and budgets don’t mix, it’s not you, it’s your budget! Everyone is capable of sticking to a budget, but the budget we can stick to varies from individual to individual.
So this means that if you really want to get out of debt, but say, your beauty treatments are super important to you, then put some of them in your budget. Successful budgeting is all about knowing what adds value to your life, and what doesn’t, and spending accordingly.
@shesgotthepower says that she puts fun money in the budget to alleviate burn out. ‘We all need the odd meal out, coffee and cake etc. on day trips. It makes life feel more normal.’
#3: Shake Up Your Budget With Saving Months and Non-Saving Months
Ever heard of the 5:2 diet, wherein you eat normally for five days and restrict your calories for 2? Yes, well alternating your saving months is kind of like that!
For example, you can have one month where you aggressively save or overpay debt, then take a month off, and repeat. How often you alternate is up to you; you can have two months of frugality, and one month of normality, or whatever suits.
I found this to be a really helpful method a few months into my debt free journey. Constantly restricting what we spent was just so demanding, so we paused from time to time. After we paid off debt, we alternated saving and non-saving for the first few months, before getting serious with saving again ahead of our wedding.
I think the reason this works so well is because having a goal tends to encourage obsessiveness with doing everything you can to reach it. It can be hard to switch off from. I found that when I was in debt-paying mode that I was completely focused on reaching my goal, prioritising it over balance and breaks. This helped to set a boundary in my head for when we didn’t have to be super-fanatical about our budget. It really helped me to regain balance- and breathe- before tackling the next hurdle.
#4: Set a New Target
Speaking of preventing budgeting burn out, @thecaribbeandub says, ‘I have to literally keep setting targets so I feel like it’s somehow something new, because my God, it can be mundane. October is my birthday month so now I’ll set myself a target to reach. If I reach it, I’ll either slow right down or take a breather’.
Breaking your overall goal into manageable chunks through mini-targets is an incredibly effective way to tackle it. It took me a year to pay back my debt in full. That year felt incredibly long when I was living through it. I just wanted the finish line to be ahead of me already. And it was also incredible exasperating at times to feel like life was on hold while I was overpaying my debt.
Breaking our goal into smaller goals alleviated those emotions. When we paid off our car in full, we took it for a full valet (typically, my husband crashed it a few days later :/) and went out for cocktails and cake. We also celebrated reaching a quarter, one half and three quarters of our target. And we celebrated becoming debt free for a full week or so!
These celebrations made it so much easier to keep moving forward because a milestone was just ahead, instead of refusing to celebrate until we were debt free. So those littler targets really should be a part of your journey, with each milestone a cause for celebration. Ain’t nobody getting burn out from drinking cocktails and eating cake!
#5: Adopt Percentage Budgeting When Budgeting Burn Out Hits
For budgeting burn out, @mamafurfur advises, ‘I go right back to simply percentage budgeting. 10-20% to investments and savings, 50% for bills, and enjoying life and giving with the rest. It helps me to relax.’
Stripping back your budget to make it more simplistic while you take some time off is a great idea. Often, burn out comes from being too obsessive with budgeting and neglecting balance in other areas of life. This method works if we get burnt out by babysitting our budget a little too closely. Percentage budgeting enables a little autonomy from our budget while our finances tick away nicely in the background.
#6: Focus More on Motivation and Less on Budgeting Burn Out
It is so important to keep motivated on your debt free journey, because it really does help to carry you though the tough times. I was initially motivated by the fear that a sudden drop in income (which was a real threat at the time) would lead us to financial ruin. But as time went on, we mastered our budget, dramatically reduced our expenses, and paid off our car. This removed a lot of that fear for me, because suddenly, we could live on one income if needed.
When that fear subsided, there were two outcomes: I would either quit my debt free journey because my original problem was solved, or find a new source of motivation to keep going. So I chose the latter. I started to focus on how much money we would have back in our pockets when our debt was repaid, and the options that could enable. Between budgeting effectively and becoming debt free, we became £1,000 per month better off, so this provided the motivation to keep going.
Towards the end of our debt free journey, I started to imagine what we could do with that money. Investments? Bigger house? Huuuuge pension pot?
To be honest, I’m a free spirit at heart and chose to cut my working hours to alleviate the poor mental health issues I was having at the time. We got married. Now we are starting to save, and starting a family. So that £1,000 actually turned out to enable a drop in income and a number of lovely improvements to our personal lives. Maybe someday we will get to investing and building real wealth. But right now, not having to earn that extra £1,000 per month to fund our lifestyle has really helped us to live a better life, and that’s a great motivator for me.
So how can you use motivation to alleviate burn out? @legallyfrugalbrunette says, ‘Making a debt free wishlist for those ‘better days’ is a good idea. Every few months I would go and check if the wish is still a wish’.
So what is it that debt freedom can do for you? Can you quit that job and follow that career path you’ve always wanted, but couldn’t afford to pursue? Or reduce your working hours? Do you want to travel, take the family on holiday regularly, or move away? Would you prefer to upgrade your home, or have the money to renovate your dream home? Or do you just want to secure your financial future?
Whatever it is that you want, you’ll get there. But in the meantime, use that motivation during times of burn out as your reason to keep going. Your burn out will subside, but motivation for what you can’t stop thinking about rarely does. Make the promise to yourself that whatever you want is your reward for putting in the hard work now.
#7: When Budgeting Burn Out is Getting to You, Make a Bare Minimum Priority List
As someone who loves the idea of ‘good enough’ over perfection, a bare minimum priority list feeds my soul! What is it? It’s a list of your absolute priorities- and nothing else- that you need to achieve. So how will this work for budgeting, and your money goals?
Let’s say right now you are burnt out on your debt free journey. As an example, you aim to pay £500 towards debt every month. Well, it’s time to look at your budget, and re-assess what is an absolute priority and what isn’t, and take what isn’t off your radar for the next three months (or how long you need). For example, why not chose to tackle your smallest debt during the next three months, and only pay the minimums toward your other debts during this time? This will enable you to still progress productively without the pressure to raise £500 per month to overpay debt. You’ll alleviate burn out, without losing motivation because you’ll still have tackled a key debt during this time. When your burn out subsides, simply continue as you were before you cut down on your priorities.
So these are my 7 things that help when you are struggling with budgeting burn out. Let me know in the comments below if you’ve tried any of these, and how you tackle de-motivation when it comes to budgeting.