Piggy bank smelling coins on a table.
Photo by Andre Taissin on Unsplash

Budgeting like a Stoic can save you a lot of money. This is a sentence that sounds powerful to me. To be honest, doing anything like a Stoic works for me. But that’s my personal view. In our modern society, money seems to have taken center stage. We spend a lot of time gathering the money we need to spend on the little free time we have. While others do their best to think of ways to get that money from us. Who better to turn to than the Stoics to find a middle ground and take control of our lives?

How can I combine philosophy and a topic like money? Shouldn’t the first be to make life beautiful and the second be discarded as the source of evil? Let’s face it, money is an important part of our lives. And since it does, we should apply philosophy to it. Our goal is to live a peaceful and content life, therefore reducing the hold money has over us is quite important. In this article, I want to look at our budget and how Stoicism can help us improve it and stick to it.

Not to be money’s slave

The link between money and Stoicism has been made in a previous post: Become Financially Independent with Stoicism. Now we will ask the Stoics how they can help us with our budget. We will look at making it more efficient try to understand what our budget might say about us. First, it is important to know what a budget is and then let the Stoics walk us through it. Our main source will be Seneca. He was one of the wealthiest people of his time through some great investing the money he made as a public figure high-up in the ranks. This often led to him being scrutinized as a hypocrite. How can a Stoic have so much money and still live virtuously? Whenever this topic arises, you can sense that he’s defending himself. But for the Stoics wealth is referred to as a preferred indifference.

As long as money doesn’t make us its slave and we can control our relationship with it, having it is not a problem. It all depends on how we get it and how high the price is we have to pay to keep it. As Seneca teaches us in On the Happy Life:

“For the wise man regards wealth as a slave, the fool as a master, the wise man accords no importance to wealth, but in your eyes wealth is everything.”

Seneca, Dialogues and Essays, On the Happy Life, 26

A budget can reduce anxiety

Having a good budget can help our relationship with money be healthier. What do we understand with a budget? It might sound straightforward and it is. In your budget, you look at the money coming in and the money going out. You want the first part to be higher than the second one. This is an easy equation to remember, but our wants and desires can mess this up.

Our budget is a mirror of who we are. Read more about this concept and how to read your mirror here: How Our Mirror Fails to Reflect. This list of incomes and expenditures can tell us a lot about ourselves. It can be the cause of great anxiety. If our lifestyle doesn’t match the money we make, then we have a problem. We’re either stuck in a job we don’t want, or we can’t make ends meet.

A good budget should help us achieve more freedom and peace. One of the four virtues, Temperance, will be our guide. But we will use all the tools we’ve been shown by the Stoics to budget as they would. Let’s rid ourselves of the control money has over us. We’ve learned how to deal with control and what we can control. Epictetus showed us our way by telling us that the only things we can control are what we do, our opinions, desires, and aversions. To sum up, our actions.

I cut my spending in half

Unfortunately, there are a lot of forces trying to take that control away from us. There are influences from the outside who try to drag us to wanting more and having certain opinions about what is proper to wear, own, or spend our time on. When looking at our budget like a Stoic, we should ask ourselves about every item how important it is to us. Can we reduce our spending on groceries if we buy non-branded goods? Can we find ways of making our next holiday more interesting, yet cheaper? Let me give you a short personal example. 

At one point I started tracking all my expenses on an app. After a month or two I showed a close friend the results. She was astonished at how much I spent on groceries. This made me realize that I was going to an expensive supermarket. I went there because those were the fancy products and others were buying them. I experimented by going to a different place and ended up cutting my spending in half without any effort.

“If you shape your life according to nature, you will never be poor; if according to people’s opinions, you will never be rich.”

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, Letter XVI

Budget like a Stoic

Blue frog sitting on a rock.
Photo by Wallace Heng on Unsplash

This showed me that we are often moved to a certain lifestyle without us knowing it. It’s like the story of boiling a frog, and don’t try this, but it illustrates it well. If you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out. But if you put it in the cold water and then gradually raise the temperature, it will stay. Our wants and desires can have similar ways of taking over our expenses. That’s why keeping track of it is important. It can show you your wants and desires and you can ask yourself whether this is who you want to be. I’m not saying you should be a minimalist, but this use of a budget is to check your priorities. Know what is important to you and make changes elsewhere to accommodate it.

Enter Temperance, one of the virtues in Stoicism. In learning how to control our wants and desires, we need to apply moderation to them. A good budget as the Stoics would have, needs this quality. There is no need to deprive yourself nor to indulge. As Seneca puts it in his letter on the Tranquillity of the Mind.

“Where money is concerned, the ideal amount is one that does not fall into poverty and yet is not far removed from poverty.”

Seneca, Dialogues and Essays, On the Tranquillity of the Mind, 8

Control desires to increase peace

Why does Seneca want us to stay away from poverty, yet not too far? Not having the money you require to live a good life can cause anxiety, but having too much can cause the same. We need to find that balance. Besides that, if we understand poverty, we can get a better appreciation for what we have. Having a lot will lead to wanting more. A life in moderation also includes our relationship with money.

Budgeting Like a Stoic: How to save more money.
Budgeting Like a Stoic. Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Setting a good budget will allow you to reflect on what is important to you and to stay within your means. Many want more money because that will bring them the happiness they so long for. Yet, we know from Stoicism that we should learn to be content with what we have right now. By being grateful for what we have, we can add more value to our life. The need to compare ourselves with others will go away. And as we control our desires, we can lower our anxiety and increase our peace.

What can we take from all of this? We’ve learned how to set a budget and approach it as a Stoic. Examine your wants and desires and see what they say about you. Do you need them or is it what others make you feel you need? The first step is to track and list your expenses, then after a month evaluate the list. if you look at this with a calm and rational view, you can see that there are ways to reduce the costs while still living a good life. Maybe even a better one, because you’ll give what you have more worth and you’ll reduce the worry about money. Therefore, learn to budget like a Stoic, and your life will be more peaceful.

“You should drop your desire; do not covet many things, and you will get what you want.”

Epictetus, The Discourses, Book Three, Chapter 9, To A Rhetorician who was going to Rome on a Lawsuit, 22
Budgeting Like a Stoic: How to save more Money
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18 thoughts on “Budgeting Like a Stoic: How to save more Money

  • 10 September 2022 at 12:51
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    I agree with you. Budget can reduce anxiety and help us be in control of the money we have.

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  • 11 September 2022 at 02:42
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    I have to admit, my spending has gotten out of hand the last couple of months. For the first time in about 20 years I’ve bought stuff because I wanted to, rather than because I needed to. I think it’s a result of wanting to have nice things for once, rather than subsisting.

    But I need to reign that in give the out of control cost of living crisis currently happening in the UK. I’ve spent most my life one missed payment away from poverty and homelessness, so I should know better. I need to build my savings up so I can have options, rather than just giving in to my short-term and mostly unnecessary wants. Good post

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    • 20 September 2022 at 22:02
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      Thanks for sharing and being so open. I agree with you that it is easy to start spending more. And I think there should definitely be room for that in a budget, as long as you can afford it and it is something that it is important to you.
      When I grew up, we didn’t have a lot of money and my parents struggled a lot, that’s where we learned to pay attention to our money. Unfortunately, I forgot those lessons during some time of my life. Now trying to get back to them.

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  • 11 September 2022 at 13:12
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    Great post, Benny. It’s nice to read about it from a stoic perspective and learn more interesting details about Seneca. I like how you brought us back to the cardinal virtues. I believe this sort of thinking can also help us rethink where we are right now in terms of society and how bringing consciousness to virtuous living can reshape our collective future. More so now, economic bubbles will eventually blast even more.

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    • 20 September 2022 at 22:05
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      Love how you put this, Vanessa. It could reshape our collective awareness and future. Not saying that my post will get that done, haha. But let’s start somewhere. The best place to start and change society is from ourselves and then set a good example. Economies will always go in cylces. As Marcus Aurelius shows us. Thanks for your comments.

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  • 12 September 2022 at 02:39
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    This is a great post. Finding the balance between your wants and needs, living within your means and being content with what you have is tricky in a society where consumerism bombards us every day. Knowing yourself and what you truly value is a great way to fight against the pull from outside sources. Tracking your expenses to see where your money is going can give you a lot of insight about yourself, and what you like, don’t like or feel compelled to buy. Budgeting is a necessary part of life to ensure we can enjoy how life without being overly anxious about money. Great post.

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    • 14 September 2022 at 02:03
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      Benny, your perspective on budget like a Stoic is very interesting and refreshing . In the US, we live in a very materialistic society. We are bombarded by Social media and ads that trick us into believing that we must satisfy the desires of our wants. Budgeting like a stoic,as you mentioned in your post, requires for us to first distinguish between our wants and needs

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      • 20 September 2022 at 22:15
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        Thank you for your comment. It does all start with knowing what are wants and needs. And as you said, social media often distords that distinction. That’s why, for me, Stoicism helps me get that back in to it’s correct corner. But it is difficult.

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    • 20 September 2022 at 22:07
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      Thank you for your kind words. I do think that budgeting is an important part of life and it can help you enjoy it more. Reduce anxiety and become more aware of what you use your money for. Loved your comment.

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  • 13 September 2022 at 12:46
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    Lovely post. Temperance, I love that. Seneca fascinated me, the old saying is that it is easy for people with money to not care about money, but the flip side of that is how many times do we see money destroy people. Actually, it’s not the money, it’s the mindset. I recently read that money is an energy, and should be treated as such. What we display is our jealousy, greed, or indeed indifference to it. If we treat it as an energy, and keep it flowing, we will have all that we need. I am so enjoying these posts and learning Stoicism, it is about resetting the mindset and discovering what it actually is that makes you happy. Eudaimonia is the key to life, happiness through nature and virtue, money is just a tool that can help, not the answer to happiness.

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    • 15 September 2022 at 04:12
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      ❤️ your thoughts on this subject😁. Agree💯

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    • 20 September 2022 at 22:09
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      Thanks, Zac. You hit the nail on the head by refering to it as an energy and using it as such. It’s a part of our lives and we need to know how we can best benefit from it and make sure we are in control, not money of us. Your views are very interesting on this topic, thank you for sharing.

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  • 15 September 2022 at 15:10
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    Great post Benny. It’s good to have a budget. The cost of everything these days is crazy! Like food – as you mentioned. I find we spend the most on food be use we like to eat Organic – but it comes with a hefty price tag. As for everything else – I guess you’ve just got to question if you need the thing – as you say. Difficult for most in the material world we live in. Thanks for sharing. Jade MumLifeAndMe

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    • 20 September 2022 at 22:18
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      Thank you, Jade, for your great insights. The costs of things have been going crazy. Food is a big expense, but also an important one, especially thinking about the health of you children and yourselves of course. But it is difficult in the society with all the presure towards a materialistic existence.

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  • 16 September 2022 at 12:26
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    Budgeting is tricky and can be emotional, but we have to look beyond the numbers too. What we get for that price. Cheaper prices can be deceitful and can end up costing us more.
    I can so relate to UnwantedLife example – not buying anything for years ends up buying more in bulk and then it feels like a spending spree followed by a guilt trip. But what we are likely to forget during that guilt trip is that we probably won’t spend on those things for the next X years – so we actually should divide to cost by these years.
    If we buy clothes for 200€ once per 5 years – it’s big spending on the current month, but spreading to 5 years – it’s 50€ per year and only ~5,5€ per month. I often feel that this aspect that is so elementary in business accounting is very overlooked and even skipped in personal budgeting. My most expensive sneakers cost 125€ at the store. They are over 10 years old now and I am pretty sure I can wear them for years still. So were they?

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    • 20 September 2022 at 22:21
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      Those are some excellent points you make here. And this also falls in the budget, buying the things that will last a long time. It is therefore better sometimes to spend a little more on something of better quality that will last a longer time. Saving in the end of not having to buy new stuff more often. But then it also depends on how well you treat your things, which requires being grateful that you were able to purchase the more expensive items. But I agree with everything you’ve added here. Thank you for sharing.

      Reply

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