Budgeting Isn’t Saying “No” — It’s Saying “Yes” When It Matters

Sticking to a budget can often feel like a never-ending parade of “No.” No to your favorite ice cream. No to going out with friends. No to your dream vacation.

All these “nos” can make it miserable and unrewarding to stick to a budget. But… what if you actually budget for “yes?”

One of my regretted “Noes”: a Peter Pan hat

I’d wanted one for while: a felt Peter Pan hat in The Mad Hatter shop in Disneyland. 

Photo credit: Jamie Young

On this particular Disneyland trip, we watched the nighttime fireworks- and water fountain-infused show on Rivers of America. Near the end, when the ship sailed past and Peter Pan flew around the galleon fighting Captain Hook, my eyes watered with happy nostalgia.

The next day, when we walked into The Mad Hatter, my eyes flew to the stack of green felt caps. The shop provided embroidery, so I even had the option to get my name stitched on it — a rare treat for Elyssas and other people with less common spellings.

“You should get the hat,” my husband encouraged. 

“We’re here to get something for the kids,” I said thinking of how much this birthday excursion had already cost. “I don’t need it,”

My husband stalled, trying to talk me into the purchase. I shook my head. “No, I’m good. I’ll get it next time.”

There’s always next time… until there’s not 

Me and Jamie at Disneyland, photo credit to Jamie

A couple years later, I visited Disneyland with my friend Jamie (sans kids). We trucked through the park together, stopping at whatever rides or shops we wanted.

Astop I knew I wanted to make: The Mad Hatter. I still wanted my own Pan hat, and I was determined that this was the trip to get it.

Only, when I walked in, I couldn’t see it. There were the classic mouseear caps, but no corresponding pile of green felt with a red feather next to it. 

I flagged the clerk. “I’m looking for the Peter Pan hats?”

“Sorry, we don’t sell them anymore. We stopped a few months ago.”

My heart sank. It might seem silly, but I really had wanted a Pan hat. The movie was a staple of my childhood. I’d dreamed of escaping the hectic household full of 6 other kids and two harried parents to live as a carefree Lost Boy (they’d accept me as their first Lost Girl, I was sure of it).

The Pan hat was a reminder of my youthful spirit, my independence. It would have been a physical tie to that Lost Girl, connecting us through decades.

And now, my chance to get it was gone.

Refocus budgeting on the “Hell, yeah!”

Budgeting does involve saying “no” sometimes. But when I’ve centered my budgeting efforts and mindset on the “no” — all the places to cut back and spend less — I’ve often wound up miserable. Or sad that I missed my chance to get a personalized Peter Pan hat.

The feelings of deprivation and intense FOMO set in, and then I fixated on what I constantly felt like I couldn’t have. With all this mental energy going to spending I wish I was doing, soon or later the wish would turn to an impulse buy. I’d blow my budget over something silly.

This often left me in a pattern of yo-yoing between extremes: overspending one week and then cutting to the bone the next to make up for it. And what was missing, most of all, was prioritizing what matters to me. 

I’m reminded of a quote from Derek Sivers: 

“When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than, ‘Wow, that would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!’ — then say ‘No.’”

As Sivers points out, focusing on your “Hell, yeah!” brings clarity. It frees up your resources, such as money, to concentrate it on what is most exciting, important, or valuable to you. It also eases the pain of those “noes,” as you’ll turn down those spending opportunities knowing it’s for something better.

Budgeting and spending management isn’t really about deprivation, after all, but about prioritization. Had I been more on top of my budget I might not have missed the chance to buy that “Hell, Yeah” Peter Pan hat, for example. Instead of being stuck in, “I don’t know if I can afford this” territory, I could have confidently said, “Yes, I can!”

A budget makes the “Hell yeahs” possible

Now, I view my budget less as a set of rules about what I can’t buy — and more of a system that enables me to spend on what really matters. To move my budgeting and money management from all “Noes” or even questions marks to more “Hell, yes!” 

Instead of denying myself something I want, I consider how I can make that purchase possible. I make a plan to turn any “No” into a “Hell, yeah.”

Take a minute to think about some things you’d love to do, your “Hell, yeahs!” — if only you had the money.

Some of my “Hell, yeahs,” for example:

  • Weekly subscription to a meal kit service
  • Buying books I can’t find at my library
  • Date night once a month or so
  • Savings to take a trip or make a big purchase in 2020 to celebrate my 10-year anniversary

These are things I budget for and can purchase today — but only because I’ve made a plan to do so. I can say “Yes” without hesitation because I know what’s happening with my money. 

Similarly, a budget can help you get a plan and system in place so you know you can afford that weekend trip, an upgrade to your cracked-screen smartphone, or an update to your spring and summer wardrobe.

Instead of a wall of “No,” there’s another way to look at your budget — to see healthy money management as your path to “Yes.” 

  • Yes to confident, guilt-free spending.
  • Yes to meeting all financial obligations.
  • Yes to a more secure financial future.

And “Hell yeah!” to a purple pirate hat as a consolation for the Peter Pan hat I wanted, but could not get.

Photo by Mert Guller on Unsplash

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  • Reply
    October 9, 2019 at 10:08 pm

    Yes! Many people don’t budget because it feels constraining, but the opposite can be true if they think like you.

    We’ll never have enough money to do and buy everything we want, but we can have enough money to do a few really awesome things, and that is empowering.

    • Reply
      Elyssa Kirkham
      October 11, 2019 at 4:18 pm

      Yes, thanks for the comment Aaron! I think that this change in mindset is also important because it enables one to actually use a budget. The attitude toward it matters just as much as the the budget itself.

  • Reply
    as important to proofread a paper
    October 27, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    Sometimes it is hard to believe that we can say “yes”! Nevertheless, we can just give it a try and see if a wonder could happen one day!

  • Reply
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