I’ve always been more inclined to save money than spend it. As a kid, I would buy things here and there and occasionally splurge on something I really wanted (I still remember shelling out for Space Quest 5), but most of my money went to the bank.

Good budgeting meant saving everything. At least in my mind.

If you think like I did, that budgeting means never spending money, this post is for you. If you’re a spendthrift, skip this one :)

Photo of a chess board

Using, not losing

Have you ever played chess? When I first started playing, I protected every piece with vigor. Every captured pawn felt like I was losing and I would get discouraged if I lost a bishop, rook or knight without also capturing an equivalent. Often, attempting to defend my pieces led me into even more trouble.

Now, I’m no grand master. In fact, I blunder through most games. But after playing more, I began to see opportunities for dangling a strong piece in front of my opponent in order to gain a better position. Whereas before I would protect pieces to my detriment, now I’m learning to spend my pieces to buy a better position. Chess pieces aren’t meant to be saved, they’re meant to be used to accomplish your goal (the goal in my case is to lose as painlessly as possible).

So it is with money. All money is spent, eventually. The goal is to use it rather than feel like you lose it.

Going on a diet

As I’ve talked with people about budgeting over the years, I’ve been surprised at the amount of shame some people feel about it. I hear things like:

  • “Oh, I can never keep up with my budget.”
  • “I can’t do that right now, I’m on a budget.”
  • “I know I should really budget better, but I’m just terrible at it.”

You know what it reminds me of? Dieting. Replace “budget” with “diet” in any of the above laments and you’ve probably heard someone say it. Budgeting and dieting have a lot in common.

People often say “I’m on a diet,” and while I understand that they mean a particular diet, it’s used to mean “there are things I’m not eating right now.” I think it’s an odd way to say it. Everyone is on a diet, because a diet is what you eat. You can’t “go on a diet” but you can certainly choose your diet. My wife has been helpful in teaching me that the very best diets are those in which you focus on what you choose to eat more than dwelling on what you “can’t.” If you choose to fill up on vegetables, you’ll be less likely to fill up on doughnut holes.

Likewise with your budget, if you intentionally allocate some money for future education, you’ll be less likely to fritter it away on apple fritters.

Your diet is what you choose to eat. Your budget is what you choose to spend money on.

Now and later

Sometimes you need to spend money now. The electric company seems very keen to collect what’s due each month. So far, they haven’t been interested in deferring payment until I retire with the big bucks, so I must budget to pay for that now. I want electricity, so I choose to spend my money on that now.

Sometimes you need to spend money Later. It was this idea of Later that captivated me as a kid. I always saved my money for Later. And this is good! It’s good to put money away for a rainy day, or a college education or trade school. If you have some extra money hanging around, save it for Later. Generally, the more money you can choose to spend later, the better, in my opinion.

But there’s a balance, and I’m really glad for Buckets because it helps me achieve that balance. Once you have figured out how much you need for Later, you can dedicate other money for now. Instead of fretting about whether we’ll have enough in the future, with Buckets, if there’s money in the bucket, I can spend it!

“I really want a new light fixture for this room,” says Alice.

“Our Renovations bucket has enough in it—go ahead!” says Bob.

“I need a maple bar,” says … someone fictitious that definitely isn’t me.

“Our Doughnut bucket is running dry. Maybe next week?” responds someone who should mind their own business.

There’s a time to save and a time to spend. Buckets has been very helpful in helping me, a tightwad, enjoy more of the latter.


If you find that you’re saving all your money for later, consider if you’re using your money well or if you’re defending your chess pieces to your detriment. Choose what you want your money to do. Take the future into account or you’ll end up miserable, but also take the present into account, too.

You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to make today worth remembering.

Harold Hill, The Music Man by Meredith Willson

Happy Budgeting!

— Matt