Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Marie Kondo, the famed organizing superstar who has taken the world by storm with her trademarked “KonMari Method”.
Using six unique steps, Kondo has completely revolutionized the art of tidying and decluttering. And, in her wake, she has created a movement of people trying to better organize and simplify their homes, one sweater or book at a time.
Her philosophy is simple: hold on to things that are dear to your heart while getting rid of those that no longer spark any joy.
Essentially, the KonMari method is a lesson in mindfulness and introspection – areas that are too often neglected when it comes to our personal finances as well.
Which got me thinking: what would Marie Kondo’s budget look like if she applied her revolutionary principles to her personal finances?
Well, I think it might go a little something like this…
Rule 1: Commit To Tidying Your Budget
In her first rule, Kondo highlights the importance of answering the question: why do I want to do this in the first place? What is the underlying emotional reason for wanting to have a more organized home (or, in this case, a more organized budget)? If you don’t know your why, you’ll likely never start or you’ll simply quit before you’ve seen any meaningful results.
Do you want to pay more attention to your budget because you’re drowning in debt and don’t see a way out? Or maybe it’s because you’ve watched your parents struggle through retirement, realizing you don’t want to put your children through the same ordeal when you’re older? On the other hand, maybe you simply have a desire to retire early and travel to your favorite parts of the world with your significant other?
It could be anything. You fill in the blank. But once you’ve identified the reason, that’s when you commit yourself to tidying, decluttering and reorganizing your budget to help you get there.
Bear in mind, when you commit to something, whether it’s to your partner, your home, or your budget, things will not always be sunshine and roses. There will be times that will test and challenge you. And it’s during those times that your “why” becomes so important in reminding you of the reasons you made the commitment from the start.
Rule 2: Imagine Your Ideal Retirement
In her second rule, Kondo espouses that to get to where you want, you need a pretty clear vision of what the finish line looks like.
In her words: Imagine your ideal lifestyle.
Financially speaking, this would mean asking yourself the following questions: where do I want my budget to take me? And what do I hope retirement will look like when I get there?
Maybe it means leaving your soul-crushing job? Or maybe it’s to provide a more rewarding life for your children, who are at the center of your universe? Maybe it’s to finally feel peace of mind and to not constantly stress about money?
Whatever the destination, you simply need to decide on one. And then you need to imagine (or dream) about that future. Psychologists call it visualization and its effects are profound and scientific.
A study performed by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio found that when study participants performed “virtual workouts” in their heads (without setting a foot in the gym), they were able to increase their muscle strength by 13.5%. Purely by imagining it. This was almost half the value recorded in participants who actually visited the gym on a regular basis.
Imagine that (pun intended). Is this the magic bullet we’ve all been looking for?
The point is this: there is power in imagining and thinking about your future. Not only does it provide you motivation and boost your confidence, but (neurologically speaking) your brain struggles to differentiate between what’s real and what isn’t.
Maybe it’s time we took advantage of this and finally let ourselves dream about the retirement that we truly want – without judgment or self-limiting beliefs.
Rule 3: Call Out The Clutter
Once you’re committed and you know your destination, the next step is to be aware of any immediate financial obstacles in your way.
Due to the nature of spending in this day and age, we are less connected to our money. It isn’t physical or tangible anymore. We simply swipe and walk away, not realizing where or how much of our money is leaving our account.
But sometimes it pays (quite literally) to take a moment and figure out where we might be going wrong.
How do you do this?
Print out your bank statements and lay them all out on your living room floor. Then grab a pen and circle all the expenses that aren’t absolutely necessary for your day-to-day survival.
Maybe it’s the routine morning coffee at Starbucks. Or a subscription to a magazine that is gathering dust on your coffee table. Maybe it’s the indulgent glasses of wine or pints of beer when you’re dining out.
By taking the time to study your statements, you’ll realize where your budget may be leaking money. And it’s only in becoming aware of these cracks that you can apply the necessary financial first aid.
Place each of these expenses into specific budget categories. Then rank them from highest to lowest. This will give you an overall view of the holes (both minor and major) that are potentially sinking your savings.
And when you’re done, commit to removing that clutter, one category at a time.
Rule 4: Tackle One Budgeting Category At A Time
One way to ensure you get budget burnout is to try get rid of all your financial clutter in one fell swoop.
This is often what we are prescribed by our “financial doctors” – to remove anything and everything that doesn’t serve us financially. But it’s like taking antibiotics for a viral infection. Pointless and potentially harmful.
When you make the decision to declutter your budget, do it slowly: one budgeting category at a time.
Maybe this week (or month) you’re going to tackle reducing your “dining out” or “entertainment” bill? Next week you’ve bookmarked “online subscriptions” for a complete overhaul. And, maybe the next week, you’ve diarized your “grocery bill” for a face-lift.
By tackling one category at a time, you prevent budget overwhelm. If things aren’t working out, it’s back to the drawing board and you make a second attempt. Even a third, if you need.
I like to call this the budget feedback loop. By addressing a single budget category at a time, you allow yourself the necessary time to see if your new budgeting strategies are actually working or simply causing you total misery.
If one works, pat yourself on the back and move on to the next. If they’re causing you misery, then maybe you’ve discovered a category that you’re (currently) unwilling to compromise on. In this case, don’t beat yourself up – simply move on and revisit it at a later stage. There will always be other fish to fry.
Rule 5: Tackle The Easiest Budget Category First
This is simply human psychology. We’d rather climb Everest (because of the prestige and bragging rights) than first try and conquer the staircase at work. Inevitably, our ambitious egos set us up to fail.
While it’s impressive (and maybe desirable) to do a complete and total budget overhaul in a single sitting, you’re likely climbing Everest instead of focusing on that staircase. And, for that reason, there’s a high chance you might not succeed.
Much like Dave Ramsey suggests tackling your smallest debt first in The Debt Snowball method, I believe Marie Kondo would be gracious with herself when first setting up her budget.
She might say: “Okay, a complete budget overhaul is the mountain summit. But what should I tackle first to inch my way forward in getting there? The logical step is to take the easiest one. Not only will I feel a sense of accomplishment, but I would have literally moved one step closer to my goal. It might not be a big step, but it’s a step in the right direction. And that, my friends, counts as a success. And success breeds more success.”
Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and is famously quoted as saying: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” On Earth, that step might have been quite average in all respects. But, in the bigger picture, it was huge. Don’t judge an action based on its perceived size. Judge it on the ripple effect it is bound to have.
Start tackling those budget categories that are easy for you – the ones with the least psychological resistance. Once you’ve gained enough momentum and confidence, you might actually find it easier to tackle those categories you thought you’d struggle with the most.
Maybe we should call this the Budget Snowball method?
Rule 6: Always Question Your Purchases
In her final, and probably most important rule, Kondo suggests we regularly ask ourselves: does it spark any joy?
This is a fundamental mindset shift. Instead of placing importance on material things that you can afford, you instead ask yourself whether a purchase aligns with your values, goals and priorities. Instead of ruminating on the excitement you feel in the moment, you’re also asking how this purchase will make you feel in a few months or years’ time.
Will buying the latest iPhone spark the same amount of joy next year when the newer model hits the shelves? Probably not. Honestly, your money is better invested in things that will bring you long-term happiness.
Is that gym membership still sparking joy or is it simply making you feel worse about yourself? If it’s the latter, then maybe it’s time to put that money into something that sparks more positive emotions – like the peace of mind you’d feel when paying off your debt or saving for a much-needed vacation.
The ultimate goal of using the KonMari method on your finances is to eventually reach a space where your budget only contains things that spark long-lasting joy – both today and long into the future. All the clutter is removed. All the unnecessary fray is pruned away.
And you’re left with a budget that you actually don’t mind opening.
What Would Marie Kondo Do (WWMKD)?
The next time you find yourself wanting to give your budget some tender loving care, sit back and ask yourself: what would Marie Kondo do?
Her strategy is so wildly successful that it landed her a Netflix special. What makes you think you can’t have the same success with your budget?
Dr. Kyle L. O’Hagan is the founder of The Saving Scientist.
Feature Image: Courtesy of KonMari
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