Monday, January 25, 2010
In part of my 2010 theme of Simplify, I chose to tackle our finances.
I made up a budget for January and committed to stick to it.
And then...January happened - which means life happened. It's funny how that works.
I think we blew our budget in just about every way possible, HA!
Some of it was our own fault, but some of it was just unexpected bills. For instance, my budget plan forgot about the 12-month no interest purchase we made on our Lowe's card last year when remodeling the kitchen - and those 12 months were up!
Okay, not a problem, but then...Hayden's numerous bills from his November hospital stay started coming in...oh yeah, right, forgot about those...and the big one is still out there - we are disputing some of the ridiculous charges (like thousands of dollars of breathing treatment therapy that was done by me, not the staff).
And then, there was my CT scan bill - ouch, honestly what DO I have insurance for? Add in Mark's birthday and a last minute party and that ups the total.
Then, I replaced some clothing that was in dire straits - my one and only pair of yoga pants have been sagging for months with shot elastic, and let's face it, that is the uniform of the stay at home mom. Mark's been commenting on my saggy butt pants, so it was time for some new ones.
But, of course, I also just plain overspent. "Wants" became "needs". Poor planning and exhaustion became eating out and extra trips to the grocery store. All in all, we didn't exceed our income, but we didn't save as much as I'd hoped either.
Yet, after all the mishaps and extra spending - I'm not discouraged at all! Building a budget is not a one time event, but a monthly - maybe even weekly - method of fine-tuning. I make the budget, the budget doesn't make me. I love the end of the month because I can go back and look at why we overspent and how to prevent that in the future.
For me, it's not as easy as just telling myself - don't do that. I have to have real solutions and replacements for my problems. Otherwise, I'll just find myself right back where I started.
So, here are a couple of real world examples of evaluating the previous month's spending and making changes that will improve the budget outcome for next month:
Don't be unrealistic
That's my first downfall. In January, I said we would have no eating out. Uh, huh. First off, I'm a mother of two very small children. I prepare 3 meals a day without exception - very often more than that if you count snacks. Kids get sick, it's cedar season, and I'm not the energizer bunny. That means I'm not always going to have the energy or desire to cook.
Now, how do I translate that into an affordable budget plan?
1. Mark and I discussed the situation, and came up with doing lunch on Sunday's at Wendy's. It's affordable - usually under $10 to feed us all, and it's an enjoyable and relaxing thing to do after a long Sunday morning at church.
2. Planning some "easy" meals that don't require an hour in the kitchen to prepare. This means my grocery bill might be a bit higher, but is nothing compared to the almost $100 we spent this month in eating out.
Take the "impulse" out of my buying
I'm a big lover of buying online. I can do it in my jammies, I have my credit card number memorized (don't worry, we pay it off every month), and I have the world at my finger tips, without even getting in my car!
I love books - and I get suggestions for such good ones from numerous blogs I read. I have a favorite online clothing company that sells such great clothes and their sales are awesome - seriously, like $50 sweaters for $6 if you catch it right. There is just too much good stuff out there! I'm pretty disciplined about my buying, but there is always room for improvement:
1. I started making a list of all these "wants" or even "needs". Even things for the house that Mark and I would like to purchase. My idea is to write them down whenever I get the urge to run out and buy them, and then...wait. Wait 30 days, and then see how "urgent" these needs really are. Very often, I no longer want or need the item I thought I couldn't live without.
2. I'm also making use of "lists" already available to me, like Amazon's Wish List. If I get a recommendation for a new book - I just add it to my Wish List, to be reviewed next month! If I still want it, and I have the money budgeted for it - I'll buy it.
Both of these items, if done well, should save us a couple hundred dollars in excess spending! What I love is that they are simple, yet still effective in keeping us on budget. Next month, I can re-evaluate these changes and see if they helped. If not, I can find out why, and then try another solution. If they DID work, I can move on to another area in our budget that could use some work!
How about you? Do you use a budget? How often do you stay on budget? What are your biggest pitfalls? Where have you found success?