Many people say they lack character. They speak of character as genetic or a chemical reaction outside their control.

What if there were a way to change our minds? It has been said what you don’t know cannot hurt you, but science studying confirmation bias doesn’t support that cliche. After coaching many clients, we have found a common strength to those getting budget traction that is missing from those who don’t get traction. That strength is clarity. While many methods approach helping with this target, a particular mix wins today and in many generations past.

In this article, we will examine how clarity achieves this pivot that helps our character, finances, and beyond. The best thing about this approach is that it gives us the most dependable way to customize our budget to your goals and dreams with impact.

Understanding the Fog

Things are foggy, blurry, and vague when we don’t have clarity. We mentioned that confirmation bias speaks to this topic. An article on The Decision Lab ( is an excellent introduction to understanding this obstacle. We need to prove our beliefs, not just find somewhere to have them validated.

Protecting familiar and favorable choices tends toward foggy thinking. If we cannot prove our familiar routines and thinking are valid, we opt for things that justify not dealing with threats to our thinking. After we make choices and act on them, we look back and see the fault in our thinking. The byproduct of these choices is guilt or apathy. In both these cases, we conclude that we lack character.

Most of us have tried to overcome these character flaws with tools that didn’t support our journey. The tools turned a quiet source of guilt into a chorus of humiliation. This is a popular reason why many people quit or have not tried budgeting. Why would you want to make the misery of others part of your life?

Partial Clarity

Finding a partial or passing point of clarity gives us more hope than before. We end up feeling frustrated by the promise of a fuller solution when the partial promise fails to deliver a complete answer. If the answer doesn’t last, neither does our hope.

Trying to budget on partial hope is like driving on the expressway with a partially filled tire. Partial hope is like bailing a leaking boat while trying to be quiet enough to catch fish. Partial hope is the source of anxiety and anger, not faith and, well, hope. Hope must be complete to be hope; partial will not do.

We understand hope doesn’t know enough to be sure, or that would not be hope. We also know that if hope is partial, the person with fragmented hope will be double-minded. The energy they commit with partial hope will be weaker.

Things that influence partial hope will have much less sway than full hope. This is where the internal character battle rages. When we believe the struggle is about character alone, we forget that character without hope is like a soldier without weapons.

Finding Clarity

Each of the items we talk about below produces partial clarity. That partial clarity may bring us the answers we need to make some progress or for a moment. Different life events and seasons will bring budgeting challenges that incomplete tools and techniques will not manage.

Look at each of these to see where they help and what they need help from other items in the mix to create a more stable win and a more agile readiness. When getting started budgeting or shifting to something less familiar, overwhelm is predictable. Don’t worry about putting this into practice here. Just look for an understanding of the mix.

  • Math
  • Budgeting
  • Tracking
  • Allocation
  • Review

Technique: Math

We have heard many times that budgeting is just math. If that is true, we only need a calculator; a spreadsheet would make it even better. 

Math alone doesn’t help us choose between different preferences. Math has been shown time and time again not to be a long-term predictor of investment returns. Math is part of budgeting, but not enough of it.

Technique: Budgeting

Yes, we put budgeting in the budgeting technique list of partial answers. In its pure definition, budgeting is planning upcoming expenses based on expected income. A budget created three months ago or three years ago is not reasonable for today. Lastly, budgets don’t control spending or answer when the budget should be adjusted.

Technique: Tracking

Tracking can be done with or without a budget. What tracking does tell us is where the money is being spent. That is very helpful in both budgeting as well as budget reviews.

Tracking overspending doesn’t tell us where the money came from or how much overspending puts us at risk. Money doesn’t just come from your account; it also captures the budget plans of other categories. Likewise, underspending doesn’t tell us what is left to reuse or retarget to another goal.

Technique: Allocation

This practice runs back to what everyone calls the envelope method. This method assigned actual income to a specific focus envelope by envelope. It is one of the original zero-based budget approaches. It did not prevent adjustments. It facilitated them. When you wanted to say yes to spending more than one envelope had available, you had to look in another envelope and say no to those focus targets. This was an incredible fog lifter to make the impact of decisions much more clear.

When that was the favored method of the day, people used to talk about robing one envelope for the goals of another. It helped with knowing what job money was assigned to, but it had no guards to protect from bad reallocations. Accounting would help bring the robber’s moments to known and not forgotten actors.

Technique: Review

There are multiple things we can review. We can review our current unbudgeted spending or how we spend in a category with budgeted caps. We can review other goals we didn’t act on because they weren’t in the budget, or we want them in a future budget.

The review takes time, and for budgets like the in-my-head budget, the review is too detached from solid information to make good decisions. 

Perspective Matters

It is not a single perspective or insight that gives us budgeting clarity. Each technique listed above, some directly and others indirectly, creates a mix that serves as a confusion blocker. When we separate them from the mix to stand alone, they weaken and are more likely to fail us. A shared perspective from the mix is essential for clarity.

Keeping our perspective current is just as important as keeping our perspective informed by the different insights each technique above provides.

Outside of different insights and different seasons, more perspective is still needed. One of my favorite quotes is, “We know more than me.” 

Practice or Forget

Nothing is a big deal until it matters. If we wait until life’s issues let us know they need attention, many of them are late or competing with other things that distract us from timely management.

The future will not take the things in this article and magically arrange them into your life to produce your favorite outcomes. My past has not aligned the outcomes without intentional engagement, and it doesn’t work for others either.

In its simplest form, budgeting would be a paper with planned expenses and income mapped out. Looking at the items above and working them in may include something as simple as envelopes or as fancy as solutions like EveryDollar or YNAB. Begin today, or set a date to begin. Regular, steady progress will amaze you, so keep up the learning and the routines.


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