While it may be a worthwhile goal to decrease the number of dinners eaten at restaurants, if you start feeling deprived, the whole budgeting endeavor could collapse. It's not a moral compass or any kind of judgment on how you should spend your money. A budget is simply a plan for keeping track of spending and it should realistically reflect your lifestyle.
Why don't we budget?
Logically, budgeting should be a piece of cake. But money issues tend to be fraught with emotion.
Just as some Americans tend to be in deep denial about weight, they can be equally as repressed about money and spending.
"They don't want to know the reality of it. It's the definition of denial," says Eddie Reece, an Atlanta-based psychotherapist who works with clients on financial issues.
"If you want to make a significant change, all you have to do is get an honest accounting. Track every penny for three to six months," he says.
After expenses are labeled, categorized and subcategorized, be warned you may feel even worse about your financial situation.
"Feeling bad becomes the motivation for change; you have to hurt enough to change. The key to everything is raising your level of awareness," Reece says.
Every time you spend money, it should be a conscious choice. "Then, all of a sudden you're feeling empowered, and then your choice is $7 at Starbucks or $7 toward debt," says Reece.
Easing budget anxiety
As with any good habit, it can take some time to adjust to the new way of life. But there is an easy way to be thrust into the budgeting mindset: Have a child. In the survey, parents were much more likely than nonparents to say they do track their spending against a budget — 70 percent versus 57 percent.
Sticking close to a budget will actually get easier over time as well. Every penny may not need to be accounted for every month, as budgeters acclimate to guidelines and being mindful of spending.
For instance, one habit maintained by many financially successful people is always tracking every purchase over a certain dollar amount.
"(Millionaires) are not writing down $4 for every cup of coffee, but they keep a log of everything they spend over a certain amount," says Steve Siebold, author of the book "How Rich People Think."
Another financial trait common among the rich is the ability to separate money and emotions, says Siebold.
"The rich think about money logically. Their self-worth is not wrapped up in their net worth," he says.
If fear, shame and anxiety keep you from budgeting, imagine the sense of calm that would come from knowing your finances are under control.
Start down that path by tracking your spending. It could totally change your relationship with money.