Why Budgets and Tracking Money Might Not be a Good Thing


Is it a word that makes your stomach begin to churn and your chest tighten?

Does a halo of pain and guilt surround you once you start planning for your budget and tracking everything you spend after it?

It’s time to shatter the advice of the financial gurus: Budgets and tracking your spending may not necessarily be a good thing.

Budgets make you feel bad

When you feel bad, you tend to attract bad.

Feeling bad about money means you’ll soon be sitting on your lounge room floor surrounded by bills, eating baked beans on toast, and wondering how and why you keep attracting ways to spend money rather than keep it.

I loved reading about the myth of budgets in a recent article by Ramit Sethi. He says budgets are basically futile, because no one really does anything with the information anyway, except feel guilty. It’s a cycle that continues for the rest of our lives, with rarely any changes, or increase in our money.

He said exactly what I thought, but felt too stupid and financially uneducated to say.

Tracking budgets suck and don’t work because they constantly remind you of how shit you are at managing money, how you can’t afford anything, and how you always have to say no.

We were born to live life to the fullest and experience everything our soul wants to.

Denying our soul it’s pleasures only causes us to shrink and feel bad. (BTW, I know how difficult it is to believe and trust that you do have the ability to say yes to those pleasures.)

The Problem with Tracking Money

When we were in the midst of our financial crisis my biggest regret was,

I wish I never started to track my money.

We wanted to get financially savvy so we could create a life of travel. We were pretty financially savvy before this, without tracking any money, or learning from any gurus – we just followed our guts and invested smartly.

For some reason we decided we didn’t know enough so had to learn from the real smart people, who told us to become financially independent we needed to track every cent coming in and out and follow the budget.

At this time, we didn’t have much coming in and a lot going out, and it seemed as if the more I tracked it the worse I felt and the worse our situation got.

I was fastidious about tracking our spending even though something kept telling me to stop as the awful feelings it was generating was just creating suffocating and devastating experiences.

I soon believed that:

  • I was useless at managing money
  • I can’t make enough money
  • my spending is out of control
  • and I’m broke

All of those limiting beliefs that led to a gigantic financial crash.

But, surely there has to be some good to tracking your spending?

Budgeting and tracking money can be a good thing. It can help you to identify how you’re wasting money on things that don’t nourish your soul e.g. bank fees, and excess fuel costs, so you can make changes. You do need to be aware of your regular monthly expenses so you can pay them.

This is NOT a post giving you permission to be financially irresponsible. But, you can be financially responsible without the over-reliance on budgets and tracking spending.

If you’re one of these rare people that can attach very confident and positive emotions to it, then you need to keep doing it.

But, if you are like me and then you can’t, you need to let the daily tracking go for a while until you develop that money management confidence. (If you have more money coming in then out, tracking it will be more of a celebration for you!)

When we started our road trip around Australia, I was tracking our money every day…and blowing the budget every day. Those old spiralling out of control feelings of guilt and fear came rushing back in.

I felt so bad about myself and so guilty any time I wanted to enjoy a coffee at a highly recommended café. I felt lack and denial and insignificance.

Sure enough, just like our financial crisis, those bad feelings started to dry up the well.

We had a few disastrous months of little income coming in and I snapped to awareness to make a change. I put the budget away, stopped fearing and feeling guilt, and began The Money Project – my journey to feeling good about money for soul nourishment.

The money is now flowing in more than it is flowing out.

When we focus on giving up and cutting back we end up living from guilt, which offers no space of love and service.

It’s an abundance black hole.

When we bring good feelings into our actions, abundance will naturally flow to you. When you have the flow, you don’t have to worry or fret over your budgets.

6 Step Alternative to Budgeting and Tracking

Good money management and financial control is important, so here is an alternative to budgeting and tracking that will help you feel safe and confident about money, plus allow for opportunity to nourish your soul.

  1. Track your money to get rid of those expenses that aren’t necessary or don’t fill you up.
  2. Automate your monthly bills. Now you can feel safe as they are taken care of – no late fees needed.
  3. Pay yourself first into a high interest savings account.
  4. Put money away for emergencies.
  5. Go about your day enjoying your life. You’ve got your priorities covered so now you can relax a little with your money.
  6. Work on developing inner peace so you don’t buy things for a quick feel-good fix. Spend your money on things that nourish your body and soul.

Once you have these things taken care of you’ll feel much better about your money and your ability to handle it, which means you’ll make better decisions about where to spend it and guilt and fear will no longer be your besties.

Extra Big Tip: Earn more money

Instead of cutting back, scrimping, saving and saying no to your heart’s desires, why not just earn more money?

There are the two ways to get more money in your life – cut back or earn more. One feels good, the other feels bad. One gives, the other takes away.

If you feel a lot of guilt, fear, and dislike around money, you’ll never get more of it.

I hate missing out on things, and have never seen the point to saving IF it takes away my ability to enjoy my life as it is now.

So I’ve always worked multiple jobs or longer hours in order to create more money.

It wasn’t easy and it was a sacrifice in itself – long hours, several jobs, and work I hated. But, it pulled in the extra cash to make the travel dreams happen quicker AND so I could still enjoy my life a little.

I loved having money flowing to me from many different directions, and when I had these good feelings, it just kept flowing.

It’s why I’ve always followed the working holiday strategy. Because of it, I could leave University three days after graduation with little money saved, and still be travelling 16 years later. I could never have saved enough money to travel long term for a year. I could just not be dedicated enough to the long-term savings and sacrifice plan.

It’s why we work AND travel now. We’d never have the discipline to scrimp and save to do it in this style otherwise.

So if the tracking money and budgeting is making you feel depressed, then find a way to earn more money, so you can enjoy your life now. AND ease off on the fastidious tracking and try our 6 step alternative approach. (Let us know your results!)

Read More: Don’t give up your daily coffee to save money for travel and 16 ways to create more money for travel

Tell us:

Are you a budget and tracking fanatic?

Do you hate it?

Do you cut back or earn more to save for travel?

27 thoughts on “Why Budgets and Tracking Money Might Not be a Good Thing”

  1. I’m somewhere in the middle; I haven’t found my balance yet. Interestingly enough, since my full time job ended & I found a part time job, I’m spending less & enjoying things more. Being part time has given me the time to enjoy experiences, whereas when I was full time I had to rely on things to make me happy. I haven’t found the right balance of income & free time yet, but it has been interesting to note the changes I’ve made.

    1. I love how you’ve noted how you had to rely on things that made you happy. I really think that’s so important to recognize. I think people need to focus on money being a good thing, as it buys you that time to enjoy experiences- the fulfilling stuff- so you don’t have to rely on things for happiness (which never works for long)

  2. Work and travel, if you don’t mind my asking what type of work do you do? I have been searching many things online wondering how people are able to do this. Thank you!

  3. I so needed this post right now! I’m currently traveling on a tight budget. It is an indefinite trip – I’m planning to cover many places. I’m wondering every day how it’s going to happen. So far, so good. I have spent here in Sikkim (North East India) almost a week now and I still have lottts to explore…

  4. Ok y’all, as a CPA (rough equivalent of a CA) in your old stomping ground, North Carolina, your headline gave me more than a bit of indigestion. I was ready to fly down under and set you straight as budgeting and tracking are givens in my line of work. But, in many situations – both professional and personal – I too have found aggressive budgeting to be wasted time. Budgeting will not fix other problems, and fixing those other problems will lessen money issues. Your 6 steps are right on target and number 6 is the MOST important of them all…something I needed reminding of this morning! Thanks!

  5. We saved like crazy so we could go on this adventure we worked out what we needed and then put that into an account every week, no real budget but wete careful. We are currently 4 months in and we are tracking what we spend to ensure we can last the time we want to. It does not stop us doing all the things we want to we are just careful not to do lots of expensive things at once.

    1. You do need to be a little more careful with your spending and tracking when you’re travelling. Totally want to last as long as you possibly can.

  6. I agree. It’s impossible to predict how much money you will need each day/week so you either end up overspending and feeling bad about it or under-spending and thinking you deserve a treat when really you’d do better to save it. I think just checking how much you have and how much you’re spending is better than trying to keep to a budget. Thanks for the interesting read.

  7. Great post, you’re right! It’s good to have an idea of how much you’re going to spend on a day, but you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you go over …. which always happens! I generally try to have a +/- of 20% on my budget to allow for the “yes, I’ll have a few more drinks please!” response that happens =)

  8. I have become a tracking freak ever since we moved abroad! This is partially because I use that information for my blog, to show that you can afford to travel abroad, BUT I also use it to feel guilty about buying things…
    I usually try to cut back but I did take on a second job when I was saving for my move abroad.
    I really like the suggestion to spend your money on things that will nourish the body and soul instead of the quick, feel-good fix. But I’m a little unsure of how to tell the difference, especially when I’m about to make the purchase… Do you have any suggestions on that?
    Thanks, Casey

    1. Great question Casey. I think it comes down to choices that will actually help you to grow and achieve your life goals OR those ones that give optimal health to your body. You’ve really got to pay attention to how you are feeling at the time when you are buying- are you buying becuase you feel a little lonely, sad, empty, frustrated or angry, or you want to impress. We often buy at these times to help us feel better in that moment.They dont’ really contribute to our lives long-term

  9. Working for myself, I just track my expenses as I go through the day, and when I sit down to work, that total of spent money (including fixed expenses cut down to their per day cost) is the amount I have to earn for the day to win. I often do, and any amount that I finish above the line is money that flows to me without fail!

  10. Loved this post! We’re struggling with this too.

    Saving money definitely becomes a lot easier when you have a goal. Our goal is a 6+ month trip to Australia and New Zealand (we’re leaving in November yay!). For every 50 to 100 euros we save, we say ‘That’s another day in Australia.’ And that feels really good.

    But even though staying at free campsites all the time will make our trip last longer, we know that we sometimes love the comfort of a hostel too, so even though that might shorten our trip a little bit, it will also probably make us feel happier.

    I forgot where I read it, but apparently, for every pay raise you get, about 30% to 40% of that extra money is classified as ‘necessary’ straight away. And then it’s hard to change. But it is possible, it’s just figuring out which things we really can’t do without, and which things we can miss. I mean, as a student I got by on a lot less, and I was still happy, so why can’t I cut back now? But finding the balance is a challenge.

    Things I can’t miss? For me, for example, it’s my daily newspaper. I’ve contemplated a lot about giving it up because it would save us some more money, but I just love reading it. On the other hand, I don’t really care about having the newest phone, so that’s where I saved; getting a cheap phone. And food! We’ve started to save a lot on spending on food without compromising too much on what we’d like to eat. And now, we throw away less food, and we spend less money on buying it 🙂

  11. 1) I’m big on budgeting and tracking.
    2) I love it. I find it very helpful to have this feedback loop. I don’t use the information to punish myself for splurging. It’s just information that helps me ensure I am making financial decisions that align with my goals and spending money on things that bring me joy.
    3) I typically cut back to save more for travel, mainly because I already work quite a bit. Generating some passive income would be nice though 🙂

  12. I spent 5months in France last year working and snowboarding (I travelled a little bit in France ) then I went o Singapore, Thailand and Northern Europe. I loved it but I could only travel for 3 months doing that. It is hard to find a job in France on my visa as France does not like to hire foreigners. I couldn’t find a job anywhere else with out being scared to be kicked out of the country for working (UK-I was nannying for a British family in France and went o see them for a week and the immigration through I was coming to work for them in London. After 5 hours of convincing them I was there to visit and see the sights they allowed me to enter their country)
    What kinds of jobs do you suggest that doesn’t require visas?

  13. Wow! You are SO right! This principle has been at work in my life all along. I’ve just never been able to pinpoint what was going on. Thanks for identifying this and putting it into words. An amazing post. I’m so tired of being made to feel guilty for playing “fast and loose” with my money when that is what actually works for me. I’m not irresponsible, just not obsessed. Those negative feelings caused by trying to constantly track really do infiltrate all aspects of your life. Thanks Caz! This needed to be said for so many people.

  14. I have found that when I live simply and don’t purchase things just to “comfort” myself everything else pretty much takes care of itself. I am a constant traveler but my expenses are far less than they were when I was living in the US. There I was a typical consumer trying to spend my way to happiness. Now I just live a life of happiness and everything else takes care of itself.


  15. This is a great article. Thank you so much for reminding me to focus on joy and ditch the constant budgeting!
    Ive been feeling terrible about money as my part time income doesn’t go anywhere near meeting my living costs. I keep every receipt from my spending as I planned to ‘track my soending habits’ but all thsts achieved is overflowing bags of paper as sense if being overwhelmed and nagging guilt over not having collated the receipts. Some weeks Ive been down to cents in my bank account and I’m stressed all the time about money. I’ve got over $30,000 worth if debt I can’t meet the repayments on and am constantly harrased by collections calls. I wirk part time as I want free time to work on my online business to create a 2nd income. However when I get home from my shift work, I’m too tired to wirk on my business. I’ve been watching motivational videos, visualizing money coming in and doing affermations but money flow is still not happening. I’ve lost the joy out if my life and live in constant stress of how I will pay the bills. As a result of your article I am going to throw out my bags of receipts, schedule back into my life things that I love doing that bring me joy and allow some happiness in even if Im broke! Maybe this change of focus will create a change in cash flow. Even if it doesn’t I will be a lot happier even if Im in debt. Thank you for sharing your wonderful blog post.

  16. I adore your blog! So many useful articles, I think I need to grab myself a cuppa and prepare for an evening in front of your blog! I’m also a digital nomad and I always look for new ways and ideas to improve my lifestyle, tips like this are so helpful! Thanks so much for sharing!

  17. This has really helped to put my mind at rest before my travelling starts in January! I’m exactly the same as you in terms of not being able to scrimp and save enough for the long trip… there are too many opportunities in life not to be missed for that! Hopefully sorting work while I travel will be the way to go for me whilst I’m in Australia! Thanks for the encouragement that everything will be ok…I think I’m going to print this article to read every time I have a money worry day whilst I’m away! Xx

  18. Okay, here’s what I want to say about what I’ve read so far. It was not until I commited to making and keeping a budget and tracking my expenses that I got a handle on my ever increasing credit card debt. So for me it was necesary. However, as Wayne Dyer says: when you change how you look at something, what you look at changes. Now I have to get out of debt if I am going to be able to get the hell out of Norway of lengthy periods of time. So by looking at budgeting and expenses tracking as my ticket to more travel and as a challenging game it has not turned out to be the negative experience I was fearing.

    That said, I love your 6 alternatives even though they are adjuncts for me.
    Figuring out what is necessary and what is not. Spend your money on things that nourish my body and soul and which reflect my values.
    Automating my monthly bills. Paying myself first into a high interest savings account.
    Put money away for emergencies. All of these are things that I have implemented at the same time as I commited to getting my finances in order.

    Do I cut back or earn more. Not so easy. To earn more it seems I would have to spend more time working which equates to less time travelling. So at the moment I’m mostly cutting back. Which is why I really want to figure out a way to make money on the road.

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