When creating a budget, ask yourself who you want to be, rather than what you want to have.
I’m a huge fan of mid-year check-ins. Last year I shared how joy-based spending can help you get back on track financially. This time around, my approach is even more radical—and yet it begins with the simplest of questions:
Who do you want to be?Sometimes the most basic questions are also the most profound. I’ve become quite skeptical lately of the way Western culture conditions us to do>have>be as a formula for fulfillment and happiness. Our perception of wellbeing has become more about working hard to reach certain material goals: If only we had a bigger house…a newer car…better gadgets. In other words, we start out thinking about what we need to do, to have the material goods that will make us be happy.
Putting the “be” in budgetBudget sheets can be helpful, as they force us to confront our spending habits, and lay bare the cost of our purchases and experiences in black and white. Finding ways to trim the fat—to do and have less—can be a challenge. In order to meet our savings goals, tough decisions must be made: “Should I cut my monthly gym membership or biweekly shopping splurge—or maybe the weekly trip to the nail salon, or that daily latte (or perhaps all four)?”
But when your starting point is to consider what kind of person you want to be, it’s amazing how the rest falls into place: What does that type of person spend her money on? (You’ll end up having what you’re supposed to). Notice the switch to be>do>have.
Look at the way you currently pursue your goals. Maybe you’re saving money in order to spend more time with your grandkids, or to travel, or to volunteer more for organizations you care about. Notice that your ideal selves—volunteer, traveler, better grandparent—are in some misty distance, like the summit of a mountain. What if you were to shift your perception and start off at the top of the mountain?
Begin with the assumption that you are those things, and then figure out what you need to do: The result might be you having less money or less stuff, but by prioritizing the “being” you over the “having” you, you’ll be a lot happier. For example, maybe that wine club subscription and theater membership aren’t exactly in line with your goal of spending more of your free time outdoors.
Quick exercise: What lights you up?We’re so good at doing—i.e. finding ways to stay busy—that when someone asks you who you want to be, your mind can go blank. So get a blank sheet of paper and draw a circle in the center. Then inside that circle, write “me”. Next, draw arrows pointing from the circle outward, so it looks like a sun with rays. The arrows point to other circles, in which you can list the things that light you up—the times when you are at your best, suffused with joy. “I enjoy moving my body.” “I love spending time with my three-year-old.” These will come from the right side of the brain, the area responsible for creativity and imagination.
Perhaps you like the way your body feels when you’re ice skating. This may lead you to the realization that you’d like to take lessons. Next step is figuring out how you might get the money for that. That involves budgeting decisions and other “left brain” moves.
By starting out with who you want to be—your ideal self—your brain will be more receptive to practical changes.
Wellbeing is your starting (not end) pointAncient philosophies like Buddhism recognize that wellbeing is our default state, not something we acquire. This is the exact reverse of what our culture tells us: That accumulating stuff is a precondition to happiness. Instead of focusing on happiness and wellbeing as an endpoint, flip the formula around.
The best part is that this doesn’t require a six-month or even a six-week plan: A shift in perspective can be instantaneous. You just need to ask yourself: “Who do I want to be today?”
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