A Sweeter Way to Cook Your Budget

I like to bake cookies, and I like to budget. If you’ve ever wanted to find a way to make either activity enjoyable, I’ll share my secrets.

I’m ashamed to say it, but there was a period in my life where I stopped baking cookies. It’s not that I lost my taste for the sweet, chewy goodies. It’s not because I’m too manly to bake. It’s because I hated the Toll House recipe.

If you’ve ever eaten homemade cookies before, you’ve probably tasted the Toll House recipe. I’d estimate that it’s the recipe 80% of Americans use, because it’s the one on the back of the Toll House chocolate chip bag. It cooks up a flat, crunchy cookie, provided you follow the baking times. In other words, the recipe makes the exact opposite of what I truly want: a nice, thick and moist cookie.

Yet for a few years I made the Toll House recipe, because that’s what everyone I talked to was using for a recipe. Even if the instructions resulted in a flattened and dehydrated hockey puck, a cookie was still a cookie. At least, that’s how I felt at first. However, it didn’t take long before I got tired of putting all the effort to get results that I didn’t much care for. From that moment on, cookies were off my menu.

Start With What You Want

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I established a baking process that nearly guaranteed failure. Can you see how?

I didn’t start the process with my true desire in mind. What I wanted was a glorious, masterpiece cookie to shame all others. However, my baking process was designed to produce a cookie that I didn’t truly desire. I treated the baking process like it was an end in itself and not a tool to get what I wanted.

I’ve failed at many budgets this way. If you Google how to make a budget, you’ll find the same boilerplate list of steps on thousands of sites. It goes a little like this:

“First you start by listing all your sources of income and then all your expenses.”

This is what I like to call the Toll House budget. It’s a list of steps that brings about a generic budget completely void of any hopes, dreams and personal aspirations. It’ll balance your income and expenses like a check book, but that is all. You can’t get what you want out of your personal finances on the Toll House budget.

I Started Baking Cookies Again

It was my wife who got me back into baking cookies. She’d found an excellent blog post from Baker Bettie that explained the science behind baking chocolate chip cookie recipes. What are the ingredients? What do they do? How does altering the ingredients change how the cookie turns out? It gave me the knowledge I needed to finally bake with purpose.

I wasn’t making Toll House cookies any more. Now, I started the baking process with my desired cookie in mind. Once I had the particular vision of the cookie I wanted, I’d go through the process of putting the ingredients together to execute a flawless recipe.

The best part was I enjoyed making cookies once baking became a process of getting what I wanted versus making some Toll House dictated cookie. Baking wasn’t just a routine; it had meaning and purpose.

How to Start a Budget with a Purpose

Just like my experience making cookies, we have the ability to put our finances into a budget so that we can get what we want with the money we earn. How you start your budgeting process is an important ingredient to giving purpose to your budget.

Whatever you do, don’t start by listing income and expenses like all the professional writers say. Start with what you want to achieve or attain.

Do you want to retire? Do you want to be debt free? Do you want to help your kids with college? Do you want to take a two week trip to Venice? Do you want to be able to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks every morning? Once you’ve made some financial goals that motivate and inspire you, try and put dollar amounts around them. Once your financial goals and costs are set, now you add in your income and expenses.

For most of us, we’ll have to do some rethinking. Sometimes our dreams are just far bigger than our wallets will ever be. That’s no reason to write them off, though. The point is to start off visualizing where you want to be and design a budget around it. If you set goals that are important to you, you’ll find it much easier to make cuts to your expenses or motivate you to find new ways to earn more money.

I’ve found that ever since I started budgeting the way I make cookies, I’ve found working on our finances much sweeter.

So, how do you manage your finances?


A Sweeter Way to Cook Your Budget — 15 Comments

  1. Okay, now I’m just hungry and want chocolate chip cookies. 🙂 Nice analogy though. I tend to handle my finances simply – make sure there’s enough for bills, and automatic savings, and anything else left over is mine! 🙂

  2. John,
    Although I was salivating through this whole post, it’s a logical analogy. The way I approach my finances is on a more micro level while keeping the macro in focus.

    When I get paid I think of what goals I’d like to accomplish with my money in the short and long term. Then I allocate appropriately: X to savings, Y toward a purchase, Z for mandatory expenses or something like that. So far so good!

    -Christian L.

    • Yes. I can see how this will help make a thick, moist cookie. However, this method would also need to get past the “eat all the cookie dough before it is baked” constraints that my household places on the cookie making process.

  3. Well, that was an unexpected analogy! Another way the two are analogous: Just as the kinds and variations of cookie are determined by the ingredients available to you, so also the kinds and variations of budget goals will be determined by your income stream and staple expenses. There’s likely to be lot of flexibility, but the reality is that you can’t have whatever you imagine.

    • It is true that you can’t have everything you want in life. Your goals should be reasonable and achievable. However, I personally prefer goals that do stretch me beyond my comfort level. Thus if my income is a little too low, I’ve sought ways to increase it a little. If expenses are a little too high, I’ve sought ways to cut them a little bit.

      A $5 million mansion is not a feasible goal for most of us, but a reasonably priced home might be the perfect motivation.

  4. Great analogy. I love chocolate cookies too, possibly the only chocolate I like. Customizing a budget to suit your needs is probably more practical than following a “cookie-cutter” example, no? 🙂

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