The One Word That Helped Me Stick to a Budget


Fact: There’s nothing fun about sticking to a budget.

I’ve never turned down a weekend trip with my friends and thought to myself, “Watching ‘Law & Order: SVU’ reruns will definitely be just as exciting.”

Sure, I feel good about my choice—and smart because I understand the importance of retirement savings. I might even feel a little bit smug because I can pay off my credit card balance. But I rarely use the word “fun” to describe what it feels like to say no to something I’d very much like to do.

And yet, as difficult as it may be, saying no is essential if you want to stick to a budget.

I know this for a fact because I moved to NYC from college in upstate New York in 2009 to become a writer. (Original, I know.) In addition to this career choice making me feel like a human cliché, it also made me realize very quickly that I not only had to create a budget, but stick to it, too. You know, if I wanted to stay in my apartment and eat.

There wasn’t much leftover for splurges. Therefore, I found myself saying no a lot when I wanted to say yes—from manicures to “let’s treat ourselves” dinners to buying quality clothes that held up for more than a season.

I initially felt sorry for myself—until I learned it wasn’t all that scary.

It’s not like I said “no” once and suddenly the invitations dried up or I stayed holed up in my apartment all weekend in sweats, eating ramen noodles from a plastic pouch. I still had a life. I still saw my friends. In fact, the more I said “no,” the easier it got to say—and the more rewarding it was when I didn’t have to.

So even as I’ve started making more money, recouping some of that nonexistent wiggle room in my budget, I’ve stuck with the habit. Over time, that’s given me more flexibility. Nowadays, my “no”s often sound more like a “Yes, but…” As in: “Yes, I’d love to get dinner tonight, but can we pick a restaurant on the cheaper side?”

But I do still whip out a straight-up no to things that sound awesome.

…And fun, and guaranteed to get me so many likes on Instagram. For the sake of my emergency savings, vacation account and “going to other people’s weddings” fund, I sometimes stay in when everyone else is going out. Or I order water at the bar and whisper to the bartender, “Make it look like a cocktail, please.”

Again, it’s not fun to do that. I’d love to be the person who says yes to last-minute trips, or even everything I’ve stockpiled in shopping carts on sites across the Internet. And one day I will be. But, in the meantime, I love the idea of not ever being held back by debt more. So this small word is still a big part of my vocabulary.