How Budgeting is Like Potty Training


Anyone’s who’s had the fun of potty training a child knows that it can be an experience like no other. The child might cry at the sight of a restroom, they might (i.e. will) have many accidents and it takes time to have success. My wife and I are ready to start the fun journey with another child, our near three year old son Perry. The other night while my wife and I were discussing the start of his journey it dawned on me that potty training is very much like budgeting. Once you know how to budget you feel great and confident in your budgeting skills, but the journey of learning how to budget can be fraught with bumps along the road.

Budgeting Can Be Messy

I don’t need to draw a mental picture as to how potty training can be messy, you get the idea. Budgeting can be just as messy. I am sure that I looked like a complete mess as I was just basically flailing about as this idea of budgeting was so foreign to me. I remember sitting down to compose my first budget and look back now at how many mistakes I made. I knew nothing about saving money, putting money away for retirement or spending less than I earned. The fortunate thing for me was that as I was learning how to budget I was educating myself to the ins and outs of budgeting so I could improve my attempts.

This is just like potty training, in which the messiness subsides over time and the child gets better at learning how to control their bladders.

Learning How to Budget Can Be Difficult

For me, and usually many, learning how to budget is filled with challenges. It really was a complete paradigm shift as I learned the importance of living within my means. Budgeting can be quite difficult for those who have never attempted to be disciplined with their finances. Much like a child who has to wrap their minds around using a toilet as opposed to using a diaper, budgeting can be scary for those who have always just thrown money around.

I think of my son, who right now acts as if the toilet has teeth, and it is a challenge for him to know that it will not always be difficult. This is the case with learning how to budget, we think it will always be difficult; the thing is though that it doesn’t have to be and with a little practice it becomes easier.

Budgeting Takes Motivation

The motivation that worked for me in the budgeting process was knowing that I could pay off debt and act more freely with my money. I loved being able to set goals and knowing that if I reached them I would have no guilt spending the money. Just because that was and is a motivator for me, does not mean it will be the same for you. There are a variety of things that could act as motivators; the challenge is finding what gets you going.

Potty training is very similar in that each child will be motivated by different things. Some will be motivated to be clean, some by being applauded by their parents. Others, like my son, require more “compensation” and is motivated by getting a donut hole if he goes to the potty. If that’s what it takes to get him to learn, then it’s worth it in my opinion. Treat budgeting much in the same light. Find what motivates you and go after it – that is if seeing your bank account grow over time isn’t motivation enough. ;-)

In the End, Learning How to Budget Can Be Rewarding

When I started learning how to budget I had no idea how rewarding it could be. I thought it was just some exercise I had to go through to stay out of debt. That was missing the forest for the trees as I soon learned that if I budgeted for something and reached it I felt awesome. If I wanted to go on a vacation and was able to accomplish that through budgeting I felt on top of the world. All it took was a few times of seeing this that I was converted to budgeting and still love it to this day.

Before You Start a Budget, Do Your Homework

There are a wide variety of budgets out there, find what works for you and try it out. Likely, you’ll try numerous ones before you settle on one that works for you. Potty training is the same way; rarely will just starting actually work. I remember with our oldest, she announced the day after we brought her brother from the hospital that she was “going to the potty”. My first thought was WTH?!? Is she trying to just make us pull our hair out?

The point is, we had done no research and just jumped in and gave it a go and it was more difficult as a result. Had we prepared her and ourselves I believe we would’ve seen better results. Budgeting is much the same, prepare yourself, find what’s available and then go for it in order to ensure success.

Budgeting can be messy and difficult, but in the end can be very rewarding. What are some of your budgeting success stories?


Photo courtesy of: Nicole Schmoll

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About the author:

I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. You can connect via Twitter / Facebook.

39 comments on “How Budgeting is Like Potty Training

  1. Nice comparison! I am not fully budget trained, still in the “messy” part of it!
    I made a super nice financial plan and budget to go traveling for a year back in 2003, with lots of figures, cost per country, estimated length of stay… then got bored and just thought “I need as much money as I can”. Ended up coming back with a nice sum at the end of the trip so I guess it counts as a success story :)
    Pauline recently posted..Are you a good tenant? Lower your rent!My Profile

  2. Haha!
    I was wondering where this post was going with the heading Budgeting is Messy!

    Mrs Scot and I have had some great success in food budgeting – we set a limit of £80 a week for food (including eating out) and frequently enjoy smashing it! Although most weeks we can come in around the £60 mark, we always treat ourselves with the £20 on something else!
    Savvy Scot recently posted..Can you trust a sole trader without professional indemnity insurance?My Profile

  3. One thing that I love about budgeting, is being able to budget for trips, presents, or big purchases. If I budget those expenses in, then the money is there and waiting for me when it comes time to use it, instead of me having to scramble and find the cash or worse, charge it and feel guilty about it. When it came time to adopt our dog Molly from the SPCA, we had the cash in the bank, and buying her and getting all of her doggie stuff without having to worry about the money felt absolutely great!
    Jordann @ My Alternate Life recently posted..Congratulations It’s a Dud!My Profile

    • I am right there with you Jordann. I love being able to go on vacation, buy something nice, etc because we’ve budgted for it and can do so with no guilt.

  4. This is a very cute comparison. I completely identify with the motivation and reward. I remember we had a sticker chart setup for our kids to help motivate them to use the potty. Our finances have been very similar. Not having to dip into the emergency fund and to able to project a positive account balance for the end of the year have been very helpful in keeping our finances on track.
    My Money Design recently posted..Maxing Out Your 401k Matching – Don’t You Dare Leave Money on the Table!My Profile

    • Motivation is huge when it comes to finances. Once I figured out that I could do what I wanted when I reached whatever the particular goal was I was sold.

    • Completely agree Sean. If budgeting has not been a part of your lifestyle, then going cold turkey will just end up not working in the end. It takes time and usually multiple attempts.

    • Thanks Miss T. I think a lot of it comes down to finding what works for you and sticking with it. Once you do that, it will make you much happier and effective with your budget.

  5. Thanks Rebecca. I am quickly learning that each child is different. Our daughter dove in head first and our son acts like the toilet is going to bite him.

  6. This is only the beginning Jon. There are so many things that kids do that you can relate to personal finances. Although, this one is probably the funniest.

  7. I’ve often heard budgeting being compared to your health and exercise, but this is something different. :) I think the success in budgeting is simply being able to stay within your budget, or even better yet below. If you don’t set one, then sometimes all hell can break loose. It’s almost like you need to put a little pressure you put on yourself. Like with a deadline with a project at work or school.
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