Every two weeks, on payday, I write out my budget. (Yes, I realize I am totally old school by writing it out, but that’s just how I roll.) I start out with the amount of money in my bank account and subtract each payment, expense, etc. for the next two weeks. It’s sad to see your account slowly dwindle as I write out the utilities to pay, student loan money to reluctantly give back, and groceries to purchase. However, it needs to be done so I am able to handle my money and not go overboard in any area.
After all of my expenses are subtracted, I am left with an amount of money to live on and use for “other things” (entertainment, dining out, clothes, etc.). And, while I am left with presumably enough money to last me until my next paycheck, there are some weeks when I am just barely making it to payday or only making it because I dipped into my savings or used a credit card. *Side note: my husband pays bills as well and pays for fun things too. I am strictly talking my expenses and my pride in not asking my husband to be my sugar daddy.
Anyway, I decided to track those “other” expenses to see where exactly this money was going and what was killing my budget. I looked at my bank account every day (which is something you should do anyway) and wrote out any expense that was not in my budget. I also started using mint.com to track my spending. It separates every purchase into various categories and even includes graphs. I love graphs. I am a very visual person, so seeing this all divvied out on the screen is really helpful. Through all of this, I found five main culprits – guilty of killing my budget.
I never set money aside in my budget for gifts, but this past month killed me. Between baby birthdays, weddings, father’s day, and my husband’s birthday, I was spending money left and right. I don’t even know where I pulled some of that money from for some of those gifts. Moral of the story – always set money aside for gifts. On months you won’t have any gifts to buy, save a little less for gifts, but always save a little something. You can put that money you don’t spend into a Christmas fund so you aren’t hit too hard during the holidays. If your young-ish like me, there is always a wedding around the corner, a baby shower, housewarming party, etc. Be prepared from them.
When it comes to dining out, my husband and I are pros. How bad are we? Well, we’ve basically tried every restaurant in a 5-mile radius of us – and there are a ton of restaurants in that area. Dining at restaurants and fast food joints is not just bad for your health; it is bad for your budget. For the two of us to eat even at a fast food place, it is at least $20. For $20, I could probably make us 2-3 meals. Let’s not even talk about dining at an actual restaurant. Let’s just say, sometimes we’ll look at the bill and think “Oh, $40. That’s not bad” Yes, it is, people. Yes, it is.
I understand the busy folk’s reason for eating out. Between work, working out, cleaning, working when I get home, etc. some days I have no desire to cook dinner too. My husband works late, so by the time he gets home, the thought of just grabbing something is so much more pleasant sounding than cooking and cleaning up after. So, we started meal planning and making all of our meals on Sunday. That way, we can just come home and heat up a home cooked meal within a few minutes. It’s really helped us stay away from restaurants. Now, we just spoil ourselves with one or two meals out on the weekend.
Last month, I am pretty sure my team and I went to Starbucks four out of five days of the week. It’s so hard to say no to coffee when the 2 p.m. crash hits and you could use a little fresh air on top of a caffeine boost. Even when I buy the cheaper drinks, it still adds up fast. $3 doesn’t seem like that much when I am spending it, but multiply that by 20 or so days and that is a pretty big monthly expense. Now, I just make my own coffee in the company kitchen and carry it with me if I do decide to at least enjoy the fresh air with my coworkers.
I’ve been learning to hit “unsubscribe” more and more. I also stop looking at subject lines from promotional emails. I am a sucker for a good subject line – I guess curiosity kills your bank account along with the cat. I am also a sucker for sales. If I see that something is on sale, I will click the necessary links to purchase it without even batting an eye. It’s too easy to shop online. Soon enough, I’ve spent my “fun money” on three of the same dresses because it was buy two get one free. Do not fall into the promotional email trap! Unsubscribe.
There is rarely a time I say no to a friend who calls me up for dinner or drinks out of the blue. Obviously, when this happens, I don’t have it planned out in my budget and sometimes one drink turns into a few. So, now I set aside $20 for just in case I make last minute plans. I figure I can have one dinner and a drink – or no dinner and a few drinks for $20. If I don’t spend it, I add it to either my savings or towards paying off my debt.
I once read a quote from Dave Ramsay that said, “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” Finding the holes in your budget is one of the first steps in finding out where it went. Once you do that, your budget will be stronger than ever.