One thing is guaranteed to lead to money problems, and that is a feeling of deprivation. Budgets are a psychological issue for most people in the exact same way that diets are. Yes, they absolutely do work, in both cases, with the stipulation that the time is spent examining one's default state and looking for the holes. The trouble is that we're only human. Analyzing our behavior and looking for our personal flaws is not something we want to do with our free time. We'd much rather talk about other people's behavior and THEIR flaws. Think about other people and their money problems. Discuss weird celebrities and their dysfunctional eating/drinking/drugging patterns. Where is Future Self in all this? The goal is to live intentionally in such a way that we are meeting our own standards. Where we spend money is where we spend our life energy, and if anything should match our values, that should.
The ultimate goal is contentment in daily life. When I think about my perfect day, I'm very close to it. I spend time with my favorite people (and critters) doing work I enjoy in an area where I like to live. I'm in the fabled state of feeling comfortable in my own skin. I worked for the body I want to have, one that is free of chronic illness. My surroundings are structured for comfort. If I were going to change anything about my most boringly ordinary day, it would be to add maybe a little more art. There are two tricks here. One is to extract the utmost enjoyment from activities that don't cost anything. The other is to know how much it costs every month to live this way. When your perfect day costs less than your income, you can rest easy and know you won't have financial worries.
Oh, great. Easy for you to say, sitting where you're sitting. That's what I would have thought of this advice ten years ago. Definitely twenty years ago. It would have been so aggravating to listen to someone who was financially comfortable talking about how great it is not to worry about money. The truth is that you don't have to worry about money at any level of income or debt. You just have to work at it until you have it where you want it. Worry is not required. It's just a default emotional reaction. If you trust that your true physical needs will be taken care of, if you believe that you're working toward the asymptote of financial freedom, then you can relax. Keep plugging away at the routine and the time will pass before you know it.
The time will pass before you know it anyway.
Getting out of debt is exactly like losing weight. First there's the extreme reluctance to look at the numbers. Numbers are freedom. Data, nothing more. Hug the data. Love the data. Data can get you where you want to be. Getting an accurate number for your monthly dinger shouldn't be any more emotional than stepping on a scale, and maybe less so. Figuring out exactly what you owe in every area shouldn't have to be any harder than looking at lab results of your blood work. Here am I today, facing reality. Is that the reality I would have chosen, or not? What is free will for, other than that? I have the power to change my attitude and I have the power to influence my circumstances. The sooner I start, the easier it will be.
Debt snowballs and adds to itself at a very rapid rate. Every month that I tremble under the blankets, afraid of that monster in the closet, is another month that it's eating Miracle Grow and lifting weights, sharpening its claws, waiting to jump out at me. Better to get a big flashlight and a crowbar and go in after it while it's still smaller than me.
I lost 15 of the 35 pounds I've taken off by going on a very strict calorie-restriction diet for three months. I cried. "I just want a chimichanga!" I wailed. But I succeeded in losing the weight, and nearly three years later, it's still gone. In retrospect, not only was it totally worth it, but I wish I'd been much stricter. I could have lost another of the 5 pounds that took another month to get off. Getting out of consumer debt in my early 30s was much the same, except that it was psychologically easier for me. In fact, I lost a little weight during that time as a natural result of saving money, and I never thought twice about it. Deprivation again.
During my debt-reduction period, I built my life around wiping out the debt. Aside from my two student loans, I had two maxed-out credit cards, an auto loan, and personal debt to, I think, four people. I spent all my free time either at the gym or the public library, doing a side hustle, reading, or watching library DVDs. Any time I got extra money it went toward the credit card balance. I paid off the personal loans as quickly as I could, starting with the smallest. I wound up selling my car and paying off the loan. After that, I paid off one of my student loans six years early. I paid for my share of our wedding in cash. All I've had in the last seven years has been the remainder of my student loan at 3.22%. That time of my life wasn't so much about budgeting as about restructuring my time for a brief period. It took not quite two years to pay off all my personal and consumer debt. If I'd knuckled down and continued to live that way, I could have finished paying off the student loan in another couple of years, too.
Lots of people would love to feel financially secure, but not at the price that it actually costs. Move to a smaller place. Sell one or more of your vehicles. Get rid of your storage unit. Cancel cable. Quit drinking your signature beverage(s) until you're debt-free. Do your own beauty treatments. Stay away from stores that trigger you to buy things you didn't know existed. Read every book you own. Finish every project for which you've bought materials. If any of this sounds harsh, maybe you don't want it badly enough. Financial security creates an emotional state in which splurging on these things seems silly and self-sabotaging. Financial insecurity creates an emotional state of scarcity in which splurging on these things feels like the only way to get through life. The end results are completely different. Again, it's not budgeting that's involved. It's making personal decisions about your daily behavior, and weighing whether each recurring choice matters as much to you as the knowledge that your future financial needs are being met.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.