Working wealthy – goals over budgets

Does the term “budget” make your skin crawl? Or perhaps even worse—does it make you shut down?

Having been a financial planner for a good part of my adult life, I’ve never really thought of the word “budget” as being a bad word. But in the context of comprehensive financial planning, it can actually derail making progress on your financial goals.

That’s right, I said it. I am a financial planner that realizes the concept of setting and sticking to a budget is not pleasant—and perhaps even counterproductive.

For the most part, when someone hears that they need to set a budget, it typically means they have a set dollar amount they can spend per week, month or year. In a perfect world, that dollar amount stays consistent and the spending is level over time.

But we hardly live in a perfect world, and the practical application of a “perfect” budget quickly wilts in the glaring heat of everyday life and expenses.

So, if you’re not using a budget, how do you make sound financial decisions about cash flow? One answer is to take a goals-based approach.

Budgets Can Limit, Goals Can Set You Free

Consider the following two phrases:

  1. Your budget this month is $10,000. Do not spend more or you’ll be over your budget.
  2. If you set aside $35,000 this year for savings, you can spend whatever is left.


The first statement limits your spending, while the second gives you a goal and freedom. And this is where you might accuse me of simply playing a game of semantics.

You’d be right, but I’d also point out that, in my experience, the client shooting for and achieving a savings goal feels a whole lot freer spending knowing that they’ve saved what they set out to save. In contrast, the budgeter feels shackled to $10,000 per month.

Goals Look Forward, Budgets Look Backward

Often, when a client mentions creating a budget, they talk about how they’ll go back through and check their receipts for how they’re spending their money. It’s a nice idea, but I’m afraid it’s based on the flawed premise that what has happened in the past will happen again in the future. 

Spending is dynamic, timely, and event-driven. Payments for orthodontia one month get replaced by a surprise car purchase the next month.

Looking back at your spending history can certainly help you understand patterns and where money is going. But focusing more setting a future savings goal might give you more room to adjust and make decisions based on real life.

Your Full Life

To some, a full life means being able to live in the moment and enjoy their hard work along the way. It may be that budgeting is not the best way to experience this sort of life. For many, it may be more effective to create goals that foster a sense of freedom and contentedness - that allow you to celebrate the journey, and not just the destination. Please keep in mind that this is just one point of view. It may not be one you share or that works for how you manage your finances and cash flow. In the end, I hope that you find the method that best helps you achieve your goals.


Nick Cosky, CFP

Nick Cosky, CFP

Partner, Wealth Advisor

In his role as Wealth Manager, Nick is primarily responsible for introducing prospective clients to BDF. Nick has served as the head of BDF’s Financial Planning Committee and has participated on the Business Owner Team. He is passionate about the goals-based planning that BDF does for its clients and enjoys focusing on the behavioral aspects of decision making. Nick is a CFP® professional.


This information is for educational purposes and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, accounting, legal, tax, insurance, or investment advice. This does not constitute an offer to provide any services, nor a solicitation to purchase securities. The contents are not intended to be advice tailored to any particular person or situation. We believe the information provided is accurate and reliable, but do not warrant it as to completeness or accuracy. This information may include opinions or forecasts, including investment strategies and economic and market conditions; however, there is no guarantee that such opinions or forecasts will prove to be correct, and they also may change without notice. We encourage you to speak with a qualified professional regarding your scenario and the then-current applicable laws and rules.

Different types of investments involve degrees of risk. Future performance of any investment or wealth management strategy, including those recommended by us, may not be profitable, suitable, or prove successful. Past performance is not indicative of future results. One cannot invest directly in an index or benchmark, and those do not reflect the deduction of various fees which would diminish results. Any index or benchmark performance figures are for comparison purposes only, and client account holdings will not directly correspond to any such data.

Advisory services are offered through CI Private Wealth and its affiliates, each being a registered investment adviser (“RIA”) regulated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). The advisory services are only offered in jurisdictions where the RIA is appropriately registered. The use of the term “registered” does not imply any particular level of skill or training and does not imply any approval by the SEC. For a complete discussion of the scope of advisory services offered, fees, and other disclosures, please review the RIA’s Disclosure Brochure (Form ADV Part 2A) and Form CRS, available upon request to the RIA and online at We also encourage you to review the RIA’s Privacy Policy and Code of Ethics, which are available upon request.

Our clients must, in writing, advise us of personal, financial, or investment objective changes and any restrictions desired on our services so that we may re-evaluate any previous recommendations and adjust our advisory services as needed. For current clients, please advise us immediately if you are not receiving monthly account statements from your custodian. We encourage you to compare your custodial statements to any information we provide to you.