Budgets and Diets: Why They Both Don’t Work (For Me)

Budgets and Diets: Why They Don't Work for Me

I added the parenthesis in the title of this post because I tend to be non-confrontational and I don’t want to agitate people in the personal finance blogger world who love to budget or people who swear by dieting.  However, for me, I’ve never been a budgeter and I’ve never been a dieter.

They don’t work for me.

They may work for a lot of other people but they don’t seem to work for me.

There are certainly a lot of parallels between budgeting and dieting.  Let me count the ways…

how budgeting and dieting are similar

With budgeting and dieting, both come from it with a scarcity lens and a scarcity point of view.  Instead of viewing money and food with abundance and gratitude, you look at money and food from a negative point of view.

Because it is human nature to respond better to positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement, budgeting and dieting create negative reinforcement and you end up binge spending and binge eating to make yourself feel better.

You think to yourself, well, I already went overboard, might as well eat the other two pieces of cake since tomorrow will be a new day and a new calorie count.  Or you think I might as well buy these two pairs of shoes since I already went over on my clothing budget and next month I start fresh again.

Another problem with budgeting is that when you give yourself a category and an ‘allowance’ to spend that certain amount in that month, you tend to (A) want to spent UP to that amount or (B) feel terrible about yourself if you go overboard in that category or (C) make up excuses about spending from one category and not spending from another.

what works instead of budgets and diets

Instead of budgeting and instead of dieting, which encourages a mentality of feeling like you’re not succeeding and hence tends to push down your self esteem and results in impulse eating or spending to comfort yourself…

I take money that I intend to save out of my chequing account FIRST and then spend what’s leftover.

So let’s say my paycheque is $4000 a month.  I want to save $1000 each paycheque so on pay day every two weeks, I take out $1000 and move it to my high interest savings account.  Out of sight out of mind.  I usually keep enough in my day to day chequing account just to have the monthly account fee waived.  This helps me feel like I am poor so that I don’t spend but makes me feel good at the same time because I know I am saving.  From there, I disperse the money from my high interest savings account to things like investing, retirement, vacation funds, etc.

Of course, I do estimate my mortgage payments and other bills that need to be paid so that I know how much I can reliably save regularly.  I don’t keep separate categories for and include the monthly amount for things like:

  • household
  • clothing
  • travel
  • beauty (like pedicures or hair cuts)

Because for me, those are not regular monthly expenditures and I don’t need to budget for them.  If I want to save for money to travel, I add it to a separate savings account (and take that money out before other expenses).

Similar to dieting, I don’t diet per se (e.g. calorie count) but I eat in moderation (well, I did have two butter tarts today for breakfast–oops!, but alongside an apple and high protein yogurt).  I am also not radical e.g. completely eliminate a certain thing out of my diet.  I do want to lose some of this postpartum belly jiggle-yness and get back to my six pack abs (haha) so I will definitely decrease the amount of junk food I am eating and will add some high intensity workouts to my exercise routine.  I add exercise to my routine instead of cutting out ice cream.

Another thing that really helps me is to track what I spend.  I have a yearly planner that I write down what I spend money on (of course outside of mortgage payments and electricity or utilities).  This mindfulness helps trick my brain into being conscious of what I am spending money on, and not from a scarcity mindset, but from a “oh, that’s how much I spent this week, that’s not bad”.  I know that sometimes I will spend more in one week and sometimes I won’t, but I won’t punish myself for spending more in one week because I know I am saving.

There’s no need to beat ourselves up.  Gratitude for what we have and what we intend to achieve can go a long way to reach our own definition of success.

How about you?  Does budgeting or dieting work for you?  

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About genymoney

GYM is a 30 something millennial interested in achieving financial freedom through disciplined saving, investing, and living a minimalist lifestyle.

36 comments on “Budgets and Diets: Why They Both Don’t Work (For Me)

  1. Right, budget and diet come together. I heard the most popular New Year resolutions are about saving money / staying within the budget, and losing weight. Both are very hard to do.

    For me, fortunately, budget is not an issue. I have been living a simple lifestyle for many years, and don’t have that big desire to spend more. For diet? That’s a different story. I love the food. That makes it hard to lose weight. I’m giving it a try this year, and will see how it goes.

    • @Helen- I love food too! I have a problem with eating a few pieces of chocolate every day. But I work out three times a week and eat healthy most of the time (except when there are chips in the home I eat a whole bag in 2 sittings). I think if you eliminate the TEMPTATION (e.g. not buying junk food- which is hard for me to do but when I don’t buy junk food I don’t have the problem of eating a whole bag of chips in one sitting) then things are much easier. So I avoid the temptation to spend by not going to malls, not watching TV, not reading fashion magazines, or not looking at perfectly fashioned Instagram influencers.

  2. Dieting has never been a thing in my life but eating healthier and making good dietary choices is! That’s my response to knowing that, while I respond equally well to positive and negative reinforcement generally, my contrary streak rears its head when I set arbitrary dieting-style (restrictive) rules. I am fine with it in money but for some reason budgeting calories annoys me!

    I look at it as a health and fitness thing instead of a diet and that works much better for me. And incidentally, shouldn’t pass on body issues to JB and any other kids we spend time with since the focus isn’t on how we look or our weight.
    Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life recently posted…Taking the 10-year perspectiveMy Profile

    • @Revanche- Yeah me too, I look at it as a health and fitness thing. I’ve never tried budgeting calories but I hear Weight Watchers is very successful (it goes by a points system I think).

  3. I agree with you that budgeting and dieting are very similar: you gotta track how you’re eating if you want to lose weight! My budgeting style is also basically the same as yours! I draw up a budget not to reduce my spending, but to figure out how much I can realistically save, then I skim the savings before it even lands in my paycheck. I think the mindfulness (like your tracking) is key to this style of budgeting. Not sure if it would work so well for those who make super low incomes and have issues with overspending. Part of the reason why it works for us is because we don’t naturally spend a lot of money, anyway.
    The Luxe Strategist recently posted…How a Non-Rich Person Started Investing, and Why You Should Start, TooMy Profile

    • @The Luxe Strategist- Yes that’s true. Of course, someone who makes $70,000 will be able to save more than someone who makes $50,000 if both spend just the basics (e.g. let’s say basic shelter, internet, food, transportation is $30,000). That’s why when people say they save 75% of their income, it’s easier to do if you make more.

  4. I suck at dieting and thank god I don’t really need to (but I do need to tone up) ! I just love chocolate too much and the longer I don’t eat it the more I want. Otherwise I eat really healthy:)
    I am much better with my budget! I follow the same type of process for my spending as you do. I calculate estimates and set the money aside (kids, house, long term savings), whatever is left in my account is for everything else. If I plan a trip or a big purchase I take some of that leftover and put it in a short term savings:) Sometimes there is no leftovers!
    Caroline recently posted…Don’t Get Sucked Into Valentine’s Day Consumerism!My Profile

    • @Caroline- I love chocolate too! Dark chocolate 70-85% I tell myself it’s supposed to be good for me, lol. Yes that’s exactly what I do. I’ve been burned a few times because I didn’t calculate correctly and then I went below my minimum balance so got charged $10 but it doesn’t happen often.

  5. Hi GYM, .There is a lot of parallels between budgeting and dieting. My budgeting style is basically the same as yours. For dieting I try to get more exercise so I can have the ice cream without guilt.

    • @Steve- Ice cream is dairy, and dairy intake is good for you. Well, good to know I am doing the same thing as someone who is retired!

  6. Lol! I laugh because I tried to budget and lose weight at the same time, this new year’s resolution didn’t stick with me for long. I budget because it’s a necessity especially when we have more monthly expenses than income. I also wanted to lose weight because when you have an office job, they like to feed you. But its so easy to go over budget with trying to buy healthy groceries. I just stick to salads since romaine lettuce is cheap at Costco. But other than that, I also want to focus on building multiple streams of income, I have to kick that ‘more expenses than income’. Ugh.

    • @Melanie- Yeah sometimes healthy stuff can be expensive, like organic groceries. More monthly expenses than income- that is stressful, that’s good that you are taking it upon yourself to build more streams of income.

  7. I like how you compared budgeting and dieting because there are a lot of similarities between them. We don’t budget either, we just spend on whatever we like but keeping in mind that we separate our needs and wants. We are definitely buying our needs and with the wants, it’s a matter if it’s really necessary to have and if not then we just drop the issue of buying that ‘want’.
    That kind of blends in with trying to eat better. There is a reason why eating at In N Out once a month is better than going there every week, too many burgers and fries will not be good for your body. We don’t really ‘want’ to go there constantly but buying a pack of salad from TJs every week feels better and is a necessary want.
    Kris recently posted…I Have An Emergency Fund But Where I Should Park It?My Profile

    • @Kris- Kris you are the king of frugality and restraint! In N Out once a month or eating out once a month is soo good. I have been craving some sushi for the past few days and tired of eating home-cooked meals for the past week (week, not a month!). THEN I got a Domino’s Coupon/Flyer in the mail! Now I am scr*wed hahaha. I should tally up how much we spent on groceries and eating out and compare it to yours one day.

    • @CashflowKat- I should consult you before I make my post titles- your title suggestion would be very click-baity. Though the Dave Ramsey followers will start hating me! I actually have never read/listened any of Dave Ramsey’s stuff but he has a cult following. A lot of people seem to be a huge fan of his stuff.

  8. @GYM: Interesting take and very similar to how I approach budgeting and dieting. For the former, I only have a yearly budget i.e. how much I need to save per year and thus how much per month to get to my annual goal. I then automate the deductions and don’t worry about the rest. For dieting, let’s just say I have a plan but never follow it, so I just try to stay active and thank genetics every now and then. 😉
    Enoch@SavvyNewCanadians recently posted…Payday Loans and the Never-Ending Cycle of IndebtednessMy Profile

  9. Diets don’t work for me. I just have to fill up on the healthy food so there is less room for junk.

    I use a budget now to plan my spending, but it’s a recent development. Previously I saved money off the top, paid bills, then spent the rest. I found that budgeting makes giving and saving more feel easier. I think about how I’m spending my money now that I use a budget. I think using one became more necessary as I made more money. However, any method of saving works because the end result is the same

    • @OMGF- That’s interesting! Thanks for sharing! So now that you are budgeting, are you saving more than before you were budgeting? That’s good that it makes saving feel easier for you.

    • @Jeannie- IT IS SO TEDIOUS. I don’t have time to track all my spending in a spreadsheet and see if I am over or under budget. I am much too lazy for that.

    • @Angela- I log my exercise too! I write down in the week what days I want to exercise and cross it off when I complete it. You must have lots of good exercise days when you jog to work! I miss jogging 🙁 Hopefully, soon I can incorporate it again into my lifestyle.

  10. Just like how you compared meditation to investing the other week, I like how you compared and contrasted budgeting to dieting! You are correct..they don’t work (for me either). Just a combination of working my ass off keeping the bad things out of site, and the right things in front of me…help me achieve my goals!

    I need to take your queue of writing things down more as well. I do, but it’s in a draft email, article or in the notepad section of my phone…places I have to physically think about to look into, not a sticky note on a mirror every day like I should be doing!
    Mrs. Defined Sight recently posted…1/31 Hump Day Heat: Bloggers Sizzling Up The Week!My Profile

    • @Mrs. Defined Sight- I have a problem with analogies and being judgmental (I am an ISFJ, “J” for judgmental!). I have that problem too. I did the sticky note on a mirror thing once and it worked out pretty good until I got my habit down after 1-2 months then I just got rid of it.

  11. I am with you here. When I was learning about taking money really seriously I tried around with budgeting. Even did the cash in envelope thing….didn’t work for me.

    Now I follow a similar plan. Set my saving goal hit it and then am free to spend the rest. It has been working great for me and allows me to enjoy life.
    Damn Millennial recently posted…5 Ways to Crush Frugal FebruaryMy Profile

  12. Omgosh…

    “I add exercise to my routine instead of cutting out ice cream.”

    that’s like me!!! I cannot cut ice cream but I’ll make up for it by exercising regularly. Especially in the summer, I go nuts and my fiancé tries to stop me. I have a really bad addiction to ice cream. Nutella, Ferraro, green tea, black sesame, dark chocolate, most flavours (even durian)! Lol!!

    I can see why you say budgeting and dieting are similar. We tried budgeting and meh… it can work and it does work but we don’t love it. We were thinking of going back to budgeting but it seems like it’s not gonna happen. We both (i think) came to the conclusion that tracking our net worth is gonna work better, and it’s going to be our bigger picture. We felt budgeting is too micro managing. But if we have time, we might consider going back to it (I doubt it though).

    Btw, I love the picture on your pin! So pretty and sugary!! 😊 😛

    PS. my fiancé usually finishes the bag of chips and leaves only a few pieces for me. But lately, it seems like I’ve been doing that to him, especially when it comes to Doritos cheesey jalapeño. Haha I know you do that to your husband, right?
    fin$avvy panda @ finsavvypanda.com recently posted…The Epic Tool You Need To Retire Early Like a King!My Profile

    • @fin$avvya panda- Mmm Nutella and ferraro and green tea and dark chocolate. So good. I love hazelnut chocolate. I try not to buy jars of Nutella because I end up scooping it up and eating it by the spoonful. It’s disgusting.

      I have a really easy ice cream recipe if you are interested but this will not help with your addiction.
      1 carton (333mL?) whip cream
      1 can condensed milk
      1-2 tbsp of green tea powder (or fruit puree in the summer!)
      1 tsp vanilla extract

      Whip the whip cream with blender and then add condensed milk and green tea powder and then vanilla extract.
      Put it in the freezer and then you have ice cream the next day! It’s a bit sweet but it’s very good!

      That’s a good explanation of why budgeting doesn’t work (that it’s like micromanaging).

      Yes! I did the Kettle chips New York Cheddar and left some for him. And then a week later he still didn’t have any so I finished the bag haha! 😉

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