The Good-Enough Budget

I have a half-developed pet concept I keep turning over called the "good-enough budget." The term is a take-off on that classic Winnicott term, the good-enough mother. Without getting into a whole history of Object Relations, the basic idea of the good-enough mother is a departure from the Freudian and Kleinian "good mother/bad mother" dichotomy. The good-enough mother is less of an abstract, but is seen as a real person dealing with the real world, doing the best she can to respond to the developing needs of her infant, and for her efforts and responses to be sufficient to the child's needs. (The history of modern psychotherapy is basically written on the backs of "bad mothers," so the idea that something short of perfect parenting is still considered "good enough" should be met with cheers.)

The good-enough mother does a few crucial things consistently well:
- She sees her child for who he is and doesn't project her own fantasy;
- She accepts and responds to her child's needs without shaming or rejecting;
- She provides a "holding environment" with her attention, love, and physical care that supports her child's development from a dependent infant to a mature, authentic adult.

So how does this relate to money? How can a budget be good-enough?

First of all, the good-enough budget is concerned with boots-on-the-ground financial management (meeting your real life, day-to-day financial needs) and not an abstract concept of financial perfection. Do you account for every penny? Do you religiously reconcile your accounts every month? Probably not. And the good-enough budget doesn't require you to. As long as you have a basic framework for what you earn and spend, you're still in better shape than "failing" at the ideal.

The good-enough budget reflects who you really are. Do you eat take-out for every single meal? Then your good-enough budget shows a higher number in Take Out than in Groceries. Same thing for all of those other "naughty" financial behaviors that people consistently omit or under-report in their budgets: buying clothes, liquor, taking taxis, etc.

Not quite ready to accurately account for those expenditures? The good-enough budget doesn't judge. Figure out all of those committed expenses -- things like housing payment, car payment, student loan, cell phone, internet, insurance -- and everything else can be "discretionary" for now. Practice simply staying within your means (so that "committed" plus "discretionary" is still less than "income) and the good-enough budget will accept that for now.

The good-enough budget gives you room to work on your financial awareness and behavior without requiring perfection. It is a low-pressure but consistent connection with your money where you give yourself structure, but still enough wiggle room for this to be a work in progress.

Because you, my darling, are a beautiful snowflake and you deserve to have your money be a source of happiness instead of shame. Mama loves you.

Amanda Clayman