The Menu Theory: How Budgeting is Like Ordering Your Favorite Dessert

By Jackie Beck   Updated 05/10/2021 at 7:19 am

Have you ever gone to a restaurant and ordered everything on the menu? Of course not.

You can’t eat all that food in a single meal, and you know it. Plus, you may not even like everything on the menu. So you don’t waste the time, money, or food. It wouldn’t even occur to you.

Instead, you choose the food that you’re in the mood for, or that you think would take taste the best, or that you’d like to give a try. You choose what you want most.

That’s how budgeting works. Except you create the menu.

You can have the things you want

While you can’t have everything at once, you usually can have the things you want most — especially if you’re willing to sacrifice to get them.

Plan ahead, taking your own personal wants, needs, and means into account, and then buy and do the things that are important to you. That could mean quitting your job to travel, going thrift shopping, or sending your kid to college. Or whatever you like.

It’s your menu

Remember that it’s your menu (heck, it’s your restaurant) so you get to choose the things you most want to taste and experience. You do that by thinking about what those things ARE, ahead of time, so that you don’t get to the end of your paycheck without having anything to show for it.

If you can’t remember what you’ve bought, and aren’t putting anything aside regularly for your “big” dreams, what ARE you doing with your money? That’s like mindless eating when you could be getting your favorite dessert instead.

And it’s your money

According to this article, a “report titled ‘The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings’ reveals that over an adult’s working life, high school graduates can expect, on average, to earn $1.2 million; those with a bachelor’s degree, $2.1 million; and people with a master’s degree, $2.5 million. Persons with doctoral degrees earn an average of $3.4 million during their working life, while those with professional degrees do best at $4.4 million.”

So you’re probably going to earn at least $1.2 million — and maybe a lot more than that.

Unless your fervent dream happens to be the Pagani Huayra (a 1.2 million dollar Italian car) you can probably get the things you want most if you use your money wisely. I wouldn’t rule out the car, either, if it’s truly important to you.

Get what you want most

That’s what budgeting is really all about: helping you select the things you want most from the menu of life.

So give it some thought. Then create your plan, check your progress regularly by tracking your spending, and adjust as needed (because budgets are based in reality, and we all know life changes from time to time.)

Focus on the thing you want most, while ensuring that the basics (food & shelter) are met.

Remember, make no little plans. And make your plans happen.

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How budgeting is like choosing what you want from a menu -- how to budget to get the things you want and need, plus a free budget template.

5 thoughts on “The Menu Theory: How Budgeting is Like Ordering Your Favorite Dessert

  1. I love the menu analogy! People who don’t want to try budgeting seem to fear that it will control them, but in reality, it’s taking control. No one feels good after binge eating a bunch of junk or buying a bunch of unnecessary stuff. Spending on your priorities lets you live the life you really want.

  2. Today at 9:12 am I paid off my Parent FedLoan. 18k in 6 months by putting all of my paycheck to it…felt like it would NEVER END. But now POOF!!!!…one debt down, six to go!

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