Is it possible to discuss spending and saving without mentioning the word “budget”?

Many people—and plenty of so-called financial experts—insist you can’t pay your bills, set enough money aside for retirement or understand your spending unless you create and follow a strict budget.

Their rationale is that when you see where your money goes, you can then trim your spending and siphon off cash for fun stuff like vacations or obligations like paying off your mortgage or credit cards.

When it comes to budgeting, I take a very different approach. I don’t encourage my clients to make or set budgets because I believe strongly that this approach positions them for failure and feelings of deprivation, which leads to rebellion and overspending.

I view budgets kind of like diets: They emphasize what you can’t have … which of course makes you want those things all the more.

During my decades advising clients on money management, I’ve found that we are much more motivated to stick with a financial plan that is a tool to help us achieve our dreams rather one that becomes a vehicle for punishment and denial.

Long before I recommend investments or analyze clients’ spending, I ask them what they really want to do with their money. We work to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads, but once we’re able to check off those essentials, what do they want to use their money to accomplish? These are some of the goals that make my clients light up with joy and possibility:

–I’d like to take a year-long backpacking trip through Europe.

–We want to pay for our granddaughter’s college education.

–We’ve always dreamed about being buying a summer cottage on Cape Cod, where we had so many wonderful vacations.

Those are all compelling causes, and there’s no question that it’s far easier to save money when you’re inspired by a goal like a trip or a vacation home. Embracing that idea is the first step to making it a reality. Funding it will require a disciplined, long-term savings plan. That’s where I can and do help.

But honestly, I’m more a cheerleader and guide at that point than a taskmaster. Because having a dream and vision is a powerful motivator on its own. My job is to help my clients navigate the path to success.

They decide how. Will they bring their lunches to work and put the savings in the 529 fund they set up for their new granddaughter? Maybe one spouse will take a consulting job and funnel his earnings into paying down their mortgage principal. Seeing your earnings grow and watching yourself move ever closer to your dream is hugely empowering.

The sacrifices you may have to make to achieve your vision don’t really feel like losses. Instead, they feel like gains – because you’re focused on achieving the freedom or adventure you want, not giving up something along the way.

It’s all a matter of mindset. So when you think about what you want from life, be sure your financial plan isn’t a budget that will deny you happiness but a roadmap that will lead you to it.

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