Ahhhhhh, the dreaded word: b u d g e t. I’ve been waiting to share with you the things I’ve learned about managing money over the past several years. I’ve been waiting, knowing it’s not a ‘fun’ topic. But, to pull from yesterday’s post, Glorious Horse Stink (no, it’s not about what you think) I figured the segue was perfect…and you never know…you might enjoy the challenge!
I’ve lived on an extremely tight budget for the past five years-since Maycee’s dad and I divorced. I fought it for about the first, ohhhhh, let’s be honest….three years. But, then I got serious-well, I actually got tired of complaining, so then I got serious about figuring out what I could do to get a handle on living more frugally. Here’s how I tackle finances today:
I use a simple Excel spreadsheet. Yep. That’s it. Not Quicken, not Quickbooks, not some sophisticated software (I don’t live sophisticatedly enough-I’m one step above storing money in a coffee can.) If Excel even sounds scary, then buying a notebook and using old-fashioned pen, paper, and a calculator is just as useful. It’s a matter of keeping track of how much I earn, writing it down, how much I spend for bills, and writing it down. I subtract what goes out from what comes in, and as long as I have a positive balance at the end…I’m in good shape…at least in theory (wink).
When I sat down and did this about two years ago, I quickly saw that I was living beyond my means. Yah, I was, even though I wasn’t splurging on buying clothes, eating out, getting my nails done, or paying for massages. It was little bits here and there that added up: Starbucks once in awhile, a discounted T-shirt at Walmart, Taco Bell instead of Taco’s by Kasey. And a couple of bigger items I immediately knocked out: cable TV and my cell phone plan. I also broke down the annual bills that come such as DMV renewal, property taxes, and insurance premiums into monthly amounts so I could set aside enough money to cover these expenses when they arrive instead of shouting, “YIKES! HOW AM I GOING TO PAY FOR THIS?!”
On paper I was able to manipulate everything to make more sense and to see where I needed to cut back to stop overspending. I had to be honest, and I had to be willing to let go of the “extras” until I was in better shape.
Along with getting serious about a budget, I stopped making excuses and blaming others for my financial strife. With a chunk of debt I incurred from moving and having to start over from the ground up I kept current on the minimum payments, kept my credit in tact, and ultimately found a personal loan I qualified for at a much lower interest rate with set payments and a fixed amount of years to pay the debt down. Sure, I checked with debt consolidators and debt settlement counselors (hearing grand stories of people walking away from their debt unscathed), but each one said in order to have these types of services I would have to default on payments and trash my credit score. Not an option. I took responsibility for my problem, owned it, and now I’m paying it back with a light at the end of the tunnel, and I feel better inside.
I don’t look forward to budgeting, but I do it regardless, every pay period (twice a month). I now know the insides and outsides of what I can afford and where my weaknesses thrive. I see the potential for “uh-oh’s” and keep a healthy fear of falling behind. I don’t charge items to credit cards unless I absolutely have to (which there are times this is the case), but then I work at getting it paid off quickly. I use every possible discount option I can find including Dollar Stores, coupons, and programs offered by the county to help with energy saving on electrical and gas for lower income earners. It’s give and take, work and re-work, but for this SWM, it’s necessary!
If you’d like a template of my spreadsheet, or if you have any questions, put a request in the comments section, and I’ll email you personally. Do you have any budgeting tips to share? Let’s here ’em, and have a terrific Tuesday!