My wife and I use the envelope system of budgeting. At the beginning of each month, we sit down with YNAB and decide how we’re going to spend last month’s income. Each dollar is put into an envelope (most of them virtual).
Then we go to Safeway and buy groceries from the envelope labeled Groceries. We fill up the tank from Automotive. We freshen up our wardrobe from Clothing.
When an envelope runs out, we have a choice: we either stop spending or move money from another envelope that has too much.
It’s a simple system. It shifts your focus from “I have this much money overall” to “I have this much money that I can spend on this”. That’s an important difference. If you only look at the balance in your checking account, it’s a big number. When you start breaking it down into all your present and future obligations (and past, if you have debt), your paycheck can disappear quickly.
So you prioritize. You plan. If things don’t go according to plan (and they rarely do) you roll with it.
Your week is the same way. You have a fixed resource—168 hours. It can seem like a lot until you start allocating it to your obligations.
Before your day starts, you sit down and start planning it out. The things you have to do (usually Quadrant 1 activities) tend to get assigned first, like work, meetings, sleep, and life’s other necessities. Then there are the Quadrant 2 activities (getting ahead so you’re not in Quadrant 1 so much tomorrow) and the things you just want to do—the whole reason why you’re being so productive in the first place.
If you come up with 27 hours’ worth of stuff to do, you need to make some decisions. Sometimes, they can be pretty tough.
One of the first things to is our sleep. I can take two hours out of the Sleep envelope and put it over into the Netflix envelope. I’ll be fine…
Or maybe take that hour out of Exercise and put it into Work. Or an hour out of Family Time to go Exercise. An hour out of Work for Errands?
When our day doesn’t go according to plan, we start making these decisions, too. Be intentional and mindful about how you do it or you’ll end up overspending and overdraw your balance for some envelopes.
Most people have the same visceral response to words like budgeting and planning. They’re focused on the restriction—when the plan says No.
A budget—for our money or our time—isn’t supposed to be restrictive. It brings freedom and peace of mind. It’s an incredible feeling to know you can do something, no matter how tight the budget feels in other areas.
You know that five o’clock feeling where you’re done with Work and now it’s time for something else? Anything else?
There will always be more at Work you want to do. When your Work envelope is empty, start spending your time from another envelope. Family Time? Netflix? Golf? Sleep?
That’s your plan saying Yes. Your plan (your budget for your time) is telling you you’ve spent enough time for now on this. Now it’s time to go do that.
And that can be something fun. Something you’re excited about doing. Planning isn’t about making sure you spend all your time doing boring stuff you hate doing (though there is that, sometimes).
A budget is a plan. It’s not restrictive. It brings freedom.
If you have the money in the envelope, you can afford it. If you have the time in your schedule, you can do it. Re-creation is an important part of a sustained high-productivity lifestyle.