Back in the day when Madoline and I were concerned (or maybe obsessed is a better word) with weight loss and weight control, we would set restrictions for ourselves – daily caloric limit, no fat, no sugar, no carbohydrates, no wheat, etc., depending on the type of diet we were on. We were never really that overweight to begin with but were obsessed with being thin. From the year after graduating from college up until around 3 years ago (about a 4-year period), we lived in a permanent state of deprivation and craving. And when we fell off the wagon, we really fell off. For example, we would buy a bag of chocolates and eat it all in 1 or 2 days. We’d bake a cake and eat half in one evening.
There was a period when we limited ourselves to 1,200 calories and ran 5 miles a day (after working 8-5), then sit around the rest of the evening looking for things to eat until we were up to our daily quota, and then sit around still hungry, wanting to eat more and planning what we were going to eat the next day when the calorie count started at 0 again. Sometimes we went over the 1,200 and had 1,300 instead and guilt-tripped about it all night. We did lose an impressive bit of weight during that time (which we gained back plus more as soon as we ended that diet), but we were also miserable, hungry and food-obsessed.
Then, a few years ago we decided that a life of deprivation and restriction was not how we wanted to live for the next 60 or so years, so we opted to try the “no-diet” system and eat what we wanted in moderation. And we have never looked back.
So the point of all this and how it has to do with finance? It works the same way. This may not be true or may not work for everyone, but I believe that it could for certain types of individuals. There is something about a restriction that creates a tendency in human nature to go right up to, and sometimes test, the boundaries. If one receives a budget or allowance for something, the natural tendency is to use it all up and then wait for and start planning the various ways in which one is going to spend the next month’s allowance. How often has the thought, “I have $___ left. What can I buy with it?” come into your head when given an allowance to spend on something?
Therefore, for individuals who have good self-control, perhaps a better system would be one without restriction. Or one could look at it as a budget of $0 and trying not to go over it too much. Instead of making it a system of restriction, look at it as a system of achievement, with the achievement lying in spending as little as possible. e.g. When we manage to spend only $250 on groceries one month instead of the $300 of the previous month, we look at it as an achievement.
Also, when we think of not buying something as “choosing not to” buy something instead of “not being allowed to” buy it, we often think twice about it and end up deciding we can wait or don’t really need it after all. And, instead of spending each month’s allowance on smaller items that will fit within the limits of a budget, you can save all that money for when there is something more costly that you really do want or need, at which time you will be able to buy it without remorse or breaking of the bank.
Again, this system may not work for everyone. If not having a set budget for all your expenditures will cause you to spend more each month, then the no-budget system might not work for you. But for those who can look at not buying things and saving money as an achievement, then the no-budget system could possibly help you to save even more.
In closing, we still try not to eat too much fats and sugars, but we no longer count every calorie or fat gram, and our average weight has stayed about the same as during the ups and downs in our years of dieting. We now buy a bag or 2 of chocolates that will sit in our kitchen drawer for a month or more. We can eat 1 or 2 and stop. Or we can eat more if we feel like it. But they last an entire month and we don’t sit around dreaming about chocolate anymore.
In fact, I just finished reading a mystery called The Chocolate Frog Frame-Up (Chocoholic Mysteries) by JoAnna Carl which was obviously written to drive chocoholics mad with envy and chocolate cravings, but I was able to meet all its obvious attempts with amusement and indifference. I didn’t even feel the need to reach for that bag of chocolates in the kitchen drawer while reading this book because knowing I could have a chocolate anytime I wanted one makes it somehow less of a big deal than it used to seem when I wasn’t allowed to have any.