Budgets are not one-size-fits-all


I read a lot of awesome PF blogs, each with their own perspective of what you need to do to build wealth and put your money to its best use. Some suggestions I balk at, others I get really excited about and immediately adopt with great success, and a few I attempt and fail miserably. I certainly understand that any suggestions that I make my own laundry detergent, live with roommates, or cut my coffee budget down by so much as $2 is a lost cause.

Everyone is in a financial situation unique to themselves, with their own set of priorities and expectations.

I know that when we find something that works for us, we’re excited to share it with everyone. When they say they won’t or can’t jump on board, we’re confused, or even take it personally. Handing someone a budget that is good in theory but bad in practice just frustrates both parties — particularly the budgetee that can’t make the math work.

I’ve frequently struggled with the personal criticism inside my head for not being one of the the PF bloggers that will eliminate their debt in record time or reach financial independence before age 35. Much of my personal finance journey has been a series of successes and failures, with many adjustments and compromises along the way. Honestly, I don’t “get” how some bloggers earn six-figures but live like they’re on $30,000/yr salaries and feel thrilled about it. Likewise, watching other bloggers make the same financial mistakes over and over again is equally baffling. Sometimes I’m part of the criticizing crew, sometimes I’m the target, but most of the time I try to take a step back and figure out if there’s other pieces to the puzzle.

There’s details you don’t know

My blog is more open than some, but less than others. I frequently share percentages of my earning and spending, but rarely will disclose dollar figures. This is primarily for privacy, but the omission of numbers and purchases can distort a financial story, and I think this is true for most blogs, not just my own. While it might be easy to tell someone they need to adjust their “miscellaneous spending”, you could be telling them anything from stop buying lotto tickets to giving up counselling sessions. Be careful with your words, chances are there’s circumstances you’re not aware of that are heavily influencing someone’s money management.

There’s habits that aren’t easy to break

I can be the queen of frugality until I set foot in a mall, and then I lose all sense of control. I don’t go shopping often, so I will frequently lapse into binge-buying and walk out with $300-$400 in purchases. This isn’t healthy or good but I haven’t found a way to curb this behavior even though I’m completely aware of it. Likewise, other people struggle with impulses that are not quickly abandoned. It’s hard to understand someone else’s perspective if you’ve never been in the same place before.

There’s a myriad of different priorities

Some people value financial independence so much they can’t really comprehend that not everyone is willing to make the same sacrifices for the same goal. Over a period of 13 months (May 2011 to June 2012) I spent over $10,000 traveling. I visited about a dozen cities in six different countries. Now remember that I have $8,800 of student loan debt. Yeah, exactly. This doesn’t bother me, but I can see why someone else might not be willing to join me globe-trotting.

What are your thoughts? Do you share any feelings of inadequacy for not living up to other people’s budgeting or financial aspirations?


  1. I don’t often feel budgetary inadequacy – we don’t make a lot of money so we sort of have to keep it tight. If criticism did come my way (I can’t really remember that it has although I would welcome constructive) I think I’m confident enough in my decisions to not let it bother me. Our budget is fairly honed at this point since we’ve been at this income for 5 years.

    The inadequacy I feel is from the make-more-money camp. It’s questionable whether I’m even allowed to have a side hustle (I KNOW I’m not allowed a side job) so I’m hesitant to stick my toe into that realm to solve our tight-budget issues. I’m basically just waiting for graduation to alleviate us of our small paychecks, which is rather passive.

  2. I kind of go the other way. I’m such a budget and debt nazi, and I often feel like people think I’m weird for being so focused on paying off my debt. Then when I go drop $150 on housewares (like I did yesterday) I have trouble reconciling that with my “official” priorities. I think that everyone just needs to chill out and accept the differences in financial approaches. In the end, we have more in common than we have differences anyway.

    • mochiandmacarons

      That was me. I feel like you wrote what I would have written while I was getting out of debt.

      Officially, I knew I was in debt.

      Unofficially, I really wanted Product X or Product Y.

      After I was fully conscious of what I was doing, I felt guilty when I spent money instead of putting it into debt.

  3. Financial independence isn’t a race!

    I think it’s a personality thing to save so much so easily, rather than a goal of financial independence. I just don’t have a need for a lot of material possessions and I’ve always been that way. I see no need to go spend $10-20 to see a movie in a theater when I could get it from Redbox for $1.50+taxes or something similar – those things just aren’t important to me. I’m not really a budget nazi – I mostly just let myself spend what I want (my budget is really a savings/long-term expenses forecasting tool) and it mostly works out alright, but if I had less income, I would probably spend less money. (I spent like $1000 per semester of school after books, tuition, rent, and utilities, e.g. for food, clothes, and fun with friends. I like what you would call a boring life.)

    I’m really bad when I walk into a mall too, but thankfully I live nowhere near a mall (woo city!) and I’m too lazy to take the bus downtown to go shopping there.

    Perspectives are definitely interesting, thanks for the food for thought!

  4. John S @ Frugal Rules

    Nice post. I don’t feel inadequate as each of us have different situations. We’re all unique and we all have things that help us sleep at night. What’s acceptable to me might be complete nonsense to you. I think financial independence is what you make of it…what makes you happy. Sure, I’d love to retire by 40…but that won’t happen. You have to make the decisions that are best for you and not try to fit in some cookie cutter formula.

  5. SWR

    One of us has chosen a very low-paying career. I feel like that’s really frowned upon in the PF world. So, for me it’s less of a comparison issue as a feeling of judgment for the decision.

  6. We all know what the P in PF stands for :0) I don’t feel like my financial choices are inadequate as long as I explain myself. I’ve been fortunate so far that readers have been nice to me about my posts lol. Haven’t gotten too much flak yet for buying stocks using borrowed money for example. I figure you shouldn’t give a hoot (◎o◎) to the people who judge too quickly without understand your entire circumstances anyway.

  7. Christian L.

    The fact that we’re (PF bloggers) all knowledgeable gives us the curse of knowledge. Every little splurge could give us that guilty feeling. But should we also feel bad when we spend $90 on a dinner that we only treat ourselves to once a year? Probably not. I don’t let others—bloggers, family, friends, etc.—make me feel inadequate. I love my life.

    I save, but I also spend. I’m fortunate enough to have no debt at a young age. Life is short. I recognize that above all else. I could probably save more, but to me that’s not what life is all about. Financially, I’m prepared for the unexpected and started saving retirement money before 25. I could also get hit by a bus tomorrow and that’d be it.

    Bottom line: Live your life, be happy and don’t step on toes.

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

  8. I find that I have the most issues with questions from people like, “You make x money – why don’t you buy a car/have babies/buy a house in the suburbs/lend me more money…” In these cases, I want people to just respect my budget and my choices.

    I don’t feel too bad about purchases that I’ve budgeted, but I do find I can sometimes rush into buying something if it seems like the “perfect” item.

    • mochiandmacarons

      Sounds just like me.

      I convince myself that perfect things exist. I really ought to do more research before lemming onto one particular product or brand and ignoring all others.

  9. I don’t feel guilt except for when we don’t live up to our own expectations. Our costs are going to be different from other people based on our values, where we live, and tons of other factors. While we share the details of our finances on our blogs, it’s not so someone can compare and feel guilty – it’s so we’re publicly accountable for our own goals.
    I wouldn’t take stuff so personally. Part of the journey is getting to make your own decisions – and as long as you’re okay with the consequences of them (still having debt) when you balance them with the benefits (all the travel), then it sounds like your decisions are working for you. And they don’t need to work for anyone else. =)

  10. Sam

    This is the first time I’ve left a comment, so first I want to say that I really enjoy your site. I’m 24, and the GIFs really keep me coming back for more.

    On this topic though I partially agree and partially disagree with you, and I think I have pretty good reasons why. I agree that going off some predetermined level of spending or guidelines is a pretty terrible idea. Whenever I’ve looked at budgets or spreadsheets there are always massive differences in what I think I should spend and the “recommended” amounts. There are some entire categories that are blank for me like life insurance because no one is relying on my income. You’re correct that one size doesn’t fit all and that no one should criticize someone else simply for having different values.

    However, where I disagree with you is that there are habits that can’t be broken. Human psychology is certainly fickle but if you can’t go to the mall without dropping $300-$400 you didn’t mean to spend, you could try a bunch of things to change your behavior like banning yourself from malls, or not allowing yourself to open new purchases until they sit under your bed for a week and you think about whether you really need/want them. What I’m getting at is you should try to practice what Ramit Sethi at I Will Teach You To Be Rich calls “conscious spending”. If $100 sweaters make you happy and you’ve budgeted for them, don’t listen to anyone tell you otherwise. It’s much more important that you hit YOUR goals.

    Thanks for writing.

    • mochiandmacarons

      Yes — as someone who is into spending and shopping, I can agree that NOT going into the mall is the best form of impulse contraception, if you will. 🙂

      It is too easy to want things once you touch and see them.

  11. Everything is rational imo. We do things we like until we stop liking them. $10K a year in travel is awesome! And maybe one day you will no longer want to work as much and change spending habits again. All is good! Sam

  12. You are right to do what is fine for you. Like a diet, you can’t see another person eating only carrots and start doing that hoping to be as skinny as her. You’ll be miserable. Define your goals and achieve them your way.

  13. Brian

    When I first read you spent $10K on travel I thought that was insane, until I went back and looked at my spreadsheets at what I have spent. I guess it only seems like a lot of money when someone actually writes it out.

    Personally we don’t have a true written budget. We know how much comes in, how much we are saving and how much goes out. Neither my wife nor I are picky enough to categorize everything. We do know that we eat out to much, but hey everything is a work in progress.

  14. momoneymohouses

    Definitely agree that budgets are different for every person because we all have different priorities, make different amounts of money, and have different goals. Cute little otter!

  15. I’m with you on the roommates and globe-trotting. : )

  16. mochiandmacarons

    As someone who is a huge impulse shopper and loves malls (I admit it), the best way I’ve found to not spend money, is to not be tempted.

    Like not to go into a mall at all. Or “browse” or “window shop” even online. It stirs up feelings of desire and you are $500 in the hole after obsessing over it for a week.

    People like us, have to just stay away!!! 🙂

    I spend a lot of money in general. Every month makes me cry, especially months where I prepay things like vacation.

    That said, I am aware of my entire financial situation, and I know I’m still in good shape, which is why I am not seriously freaking out. Half seriously.

  17. I’m private when it comes to numbers because I don’t like people that much of business, and I still make some decisions that most wouldn’t like. That being said, I agree with you that budgets are different for different people, but there is such a thing as being dumb with money. Say you have $200 to your name and you spend that wandering around the city with your boyfriend.

  18. I like this version of the gif too: http://i.imgur.com/7CQd4.gif

    Sometimes I feel horribly inadequate for not having the pretty graphs and charts and colours that other PF bloggers do. I’m hoping that 2013 will be the year I keep up with a budget (especially now that I have numbers and can use budget templates as my starting point), even if it’s documentation only. My current “budget” is mainly “don’t spend over $1000 a month past rent & utilities” which I blow almost every month, haha.

  19. The financial advice we dole out is only that; advice. We can’t decide for others what their priorities are. We just have to keep our judgey-pants off and keep on keeping on…even when we occasionally ignore our own advice–LOL.