Budgeting From Nothing

You know when you see a child throwing a tantrum after having their iPad privileges revoked or dessert prospects threatened with an ominous, “no ice cream for you”?

I remember one such occasion while babysitting a shockingly tech savvy four year old. He was so glued to the computer, I had to physically remove his hands from the keyboard to turn off the screen and get him to the dinner table. In that moment, he collapsed to the floor in a dramatic fit of despair as if someone had cut off his lifeline.

These childish overreactions are familiar to us all – whether we’ve experienced them ourselves as the enforcing adult or witnessed them from afar at the supermarket checkout line. We laugh, shake our heads and think – “someday they’ll know what it really means to lose something”.

And yet, we adults aren’t much better. The mere suggestion of cutting back on a discretionary expense in favor of greater savings or more aggressive debt pay off triggers a defensive, even angry response, reminiscent of those childlike tantrums.

How dare you suggest I reconsider my need for a premium cable package or forgo an engagement ring equivalent to my consumer debt balance?

Yes, we’re all entitled to our own spending choices, but like children at the ice cream truck, let’s remember that we don’t need every item on the menu to satisfy our sweet tooth.

budgeting from nothing

Cutting Back vs. Building Up

Much of the resistance I’ve encountered in response to my suggestions for budgeting seems to be triggered by an aversion to cutting back. The focus instantly skews toward the negative – “what I can’t have” or “what I have to give up”- turning many away from the foundation of fiscal responsibility- smarter spending.

What if, instead of starting from some preconceived notion of what is considered “normal” and cutting back, we approach our lifestyle from zero and build up from there- budgeting from nothing?

Rather than maintaining some arbitrary, hyper-consumer status quo and seeing everything that falls short of the McMansion, performance vehicle and luxury filled “American Dream” as sacrifice, we shift our perspective to recognize the abundance we’re already enjoying- in whatever form it takes.

Budgeting From Nothing

Mr. Money Moustache exemplifies the value of this bottom up approach in his description of what many consider a lifestyle of extreme frugality …

“I mean, holy shit, we are […] living in an expensive house with a stream of luxury goods, services and food shooting at us from all directions. Not only do we bathe daily in this spectacular river of affluence, but we even walk casually away from it a few times a year in order to ride in a Jet Aircraft which allows us to sample other unnecessary parts of the world. The total bill for this nuclear explosion of consumption is an outrageous $ 25,000 per year.”

While this description may be dripping with disdain for the collective consumer consciousness, it’s totally true. Just as we prod our children, telling them “they’ll live” in the midst of their tantrums for being denied the latest toy, we’ll live too without the bells and whistles of the luxury lifestyle- and well at that.

Let’s not forget to reground our own perspective when we start losing track of all the abundance we’re already enjoying.

When you build from a place of nothing, everything is a bonus. When you come from a place of excess, everything is a sacrifice.

Shifting your perspective to the former may prove the most valuable tool in promoting both your fiscal security and your happiness as a whole.

This article by Stefanie O’Connell first appeared on The Broke and Beautiful Life and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

For more information, click here.

Leave a Comment