Monday, May 2, 2011

The Beast That is the Budget

 
As I've stated here before, we are trying to pay off our student loans.  Boy, what a beast it has been.

We are so very lucky that our college expenses were reasonable.  However, with both of us attending, then having a baby, we found that for our last year of school we had to take out quite a bit in loans.  Now, here we are after 2 1/2 years, and there's only $2000 left to go!  Just gotta keep our expenses low so we can finish those off.

I'm trying to stick to our budget, but every month it feels like something goes wrong.

For example, in April we spent $100 because I took Ben to the emergency room.  Is there an alternative?  For us, I think there might be.  First, I think I need to step back and really evaluate how my child is doing.  Is this an emergency?  Or can I take my child to the urgent care instead?  It's only a $10 copay.  That's a $90 difference.

Then, there's Costco.  We signed up for the American Express Costco card, and it's been pretty nice so far.  We get cash back, and last year we earned $80 just by using the card.  Nice.   However, I've always thought credit cards feel like magic money; you can whip it out anytime and it'll work.  It's bad, bad, bad.  Dangerous.  I think the key to overcoming this is to keep track of all my expenses, whether it's maintaining a checkbook ledger or collecting receipts.

I've decided to collect receipts and evaluate our expenses weekly, probably on Tuesdays when I make my grocery list for the week.  I've also decided to freeze some of our leftovers so there are quick-fix meals available.  Then maybe (just maybe) we'll be less likely to eat out. 

Another challenge I've noticed is that it's hard to ignore that we have money.  Not a ton of money, but we are never strapped for cash.  Maintaining a frugal lifestyle isn't necessary, but it's the way we've chosen to live.  I know that by saving money now, we are saving for the future, whether it's a future home, dishwasher, car, or child . . . the list goes on and on. 

Self-motivation is difficult, but as I've gotten older I've realized it's just something you have to do.  How do we stay motivated? I'm honestly not sure.  I think it's a combination of things.  Personality and established money habits have a lot to do with it, though I've noticed that I have grown much more thrifty over the years.  See? Change is possible.

How about you? How have your money habits changed?  How do you stay motivated toward your financial goals?

4 comments:

  1. Something that works well for us is to not increase our budget numbers just because we get an increase in pay. Obviously the numbers need to change sometimes (5 people eating costs more per month than 3 people eating) but when Spencer gets his raise every year we keep everything the same (unless necessary) and put all that extra into savings. It seems obvious but I've recently learned how UNobvious this is to so many people.

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  2. That is great advice. We've always felt the temptation to do that, so we usually do an alternative: celebrate a little by getting something we need. This last time it was office chairs, as one of our old ones was missing a back rest.

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  3. I have found that using mint.com has been SO NICE. It uses all of your accounts and you can see everything in one place without having to save all of your receipts. The only time I don't like looking at it is when I'm tired of my budget and have overspent ... yeah. And then I'm grounded from Target for the next month. :)

    And for serious - it is SO hard to see that you have the money to spend more, but then choose not to because you have a budget that you ought to stick to. Boo.

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  4. Matt and I listened to Dave Ramsey too and changed our financia lives. Along with following Dave Ramsey, I also keep all of our receipts. I made a piece of paper with the categories of Dave Ramsey's plan. Periodically throughout the month I go through the receipts and write down what we've spent in Dave Ramsey's different categories. I also go online to our bank account and do this at least once a week. It helps me keep track of what I'm spending on our credit card. It's a little more work, but I'm able to keep track of what we're spending and where we're spending it weekly instead of being surprised by no money in the envelope after the second week.

    Matt and I aren't done with school yet, but we paid off our van. It made our budget really tight...but we did it and it's a great feeing.

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