Why We Keep Failing at Budgeting (and what I’m doing differently this month)

I used to be good at saving money.

In high school, I worked jobs simply because I enjoyed getting to know people, and I socked away every penny I earned. My parents provided for me, I wasn’t really into any hobbies that required much money, and so I just saved incessantly. I was good at saving. I was awesome with money! I even graduated from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University with my parents. I had this money thing down! As a college sophomore, I felt pretty happy because I had a cool $17,000 in my bank account.

In Which I Learned I was not so good with money after all…

Then I entered the adult world. I began paying for my college. I took a trip to Maui to meet my boyfriend’s family. And bit by bit my saving’s account dwindled. Eventually, I got married, moved into an apartment with my hubby, and began wanting to buy many things. My wishlist grew as I began decorating my home, eating out with hubby, and dreaming about vacationing.

Despite my lengthening list of items I wanted to buy, I still knew that budgeting was important. We promised each other that once we got back from the honeymoon we would budget.  We have tried over half a dozen times in our first nine months of marriage. I have made budgets on paper, on the YNAB app, through Every Dollar, and every month we would stick to the carefully detailed plan for the first week or two but somewhere in the middle of the month something would happen to derail our budget and we would fall off the wagon.

They say the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results, and yet I was sure that at some point I would get a handle of this budgeting thing and we would hit our sweet spot so we just kept trying.

One Last Try…

Last month I declared with abandonment that THIS TIME we would achieve success! I wrote budgeting down in my monthly goals, I tweeted about it, and I was sure that if I had all my readers as accountability partners I would make it this time around.

Good intentions, accountability, and even my sweet readers did not keep me from breaking my budget.

The strange thing was that we are incredibly frugal in almost every area of our budget. We only buy clothes from Goodwill on dollar days. I price match, shop sales, and cook frugal meals. I buy the cheaper cut of meat and cook it all day to achieve tenderness. When I do buy things for the house I use a discount site where I can get large discounts for writing a review. We check books out from the library instead of buying them. We don’t have cable, and use my parent’s Netflix account for any movie/tv show watching. We cut our electric bill way down, and have a relatively low rent bill. We spend hardly any money on ourselves whatsoever, and yet our account always dipped dangerously low towards the end of the month. How was this happening?

The Reason We Kept Failing at Budgeting

On April 28th, after failing yet another time at budgeting. I sat down and printed off my monthly statement from the bank intent on doing some hard thinking, and determining if we would try again or if I should just accept the fact that we would never have full control of our money.

April was a tough month for us with me working a lot of unexpected eleven hour days, and hubs churning out homework and finals like crazy. And as I began looking through our bank statement something became obvious. So obvious, in fact, that I began blushing, and I knew what we had to do.

Even though we were frugal in every other area of life our eating-out habit had gotten out of hand. We would run through the drive thru on busy days. I would grab a latte now and then when I was exhausted. We would order pizza when neither of us wanted to cook. We would go out to eat just one last time. We would promise not to eat out the next week. And then we would promise to not eat out the rest of the month.

I went through our bank statement, and added up every latte, pizza, and taco. The amount of money we had spent on eating out was frightening, embarrassing, and almost knocked me over.

Picture how much you budget each month for restaurants, then double it, then quadruple it and you have the amount we spent on eating out.

Never in a million years would we have budgeted for half that amount to eat out every month, and yet just like the dieter who refuses to count calories and yet her body is counting them whether she does or not, our pocketbook was quietly adding up every drive thru run.

I showed my husband the number and we both sat in stunned silence. 

This month has been different. I know that I don’t have to write out a super complicated budget. I just have to watch our eating out budget. Every time I think about eating out that number remains burned into my memory, and I pull out a pound of meat or some pasta instead.

The truth of the matter is that I would far rather buy an airline ticket than go through the drive thru. And so we press on.

Five Minute Exercise to Start Gaining Control of Your Money

If you, too, have failed with budgeting over and over again I encourage you to sit down right now, and complete this exercise.

  1. Print off your bank statement, and pinpoint the one area that you spent the most in. It might be eating out (like us) or something else like clothing, entertainment or even decorating.
  2. Add every purchase up, and let the final amount sink in.
  3. Then, for the next month, decide to monitor that one area. Just focus on that category for a month to get it under control. You can do it!!
  4. Celebrate a successful month by going out to eat. Unless you are us. In which case, celebrate by cooking a nice dinner at home. We are recovering drive-thru junkies, after all.

Do you struggle spending too much money on eating out? How do you cull your spending?

Comments

  1. Food is honestly my favorite way to save money–I don’t mind cooking, and I don’t like most takeout anyways, so it’s not a big temptation for me. Plus there are so many awesome ways to stretch food and make food that takes really, really good but lasts for a long time–I made veggie soup this week that was basically just a ton of vegetables, a pound of chicken, and black pepper, and we ate it for four days. Delicious. Granted, I’m pretty much obsessed with cabbage. The funny thing is that food, especially restaurant food or snacks, is Angel’s favorite thing to splurge on–basically his only complaint about me in 5 years of marriage is, “She never, ever, EVER calls me on the way home from work and asks me to pick up a pizza. She ALWAYS has dinner already made.” And he’s serious about that complaint. He cracks me up. But I do leave a little leeway so that when we’re on a date we can stop and get a smoothie at the mall or even get Angel a McD’s hamburger, because I know how happy he is about those…even though he loves my cooking, it’ll never replace the holy grail of fast food…. hahaha!
    Rachel G recently posted…After Too Long–She’s Home!My Profile

  2. I still remember when you had saved enough money to buy your horse . . . and I had foolishly (sort of) agreed to help pay for everything else! Next time, I buy the horse! Education is oft times expensive.

  3. This is why I love using Mint for our budgets — I can break down categories easily. Budgeting is difficult and even though I’ve been married for 8 years we’re still learning new tricks and tips. Good luck!
    Catherine Short recently posted…Currently / / MayMy Profile

  4. This month I’m writing down all my bills & receipts on things I spend money on. I most definitely spend money on eating out a lot. I know this, my boyfriend knows this. We’ve strategized with ways we are going to hang out with friends instead of going out to eat with them; having them over, going on walks, etc. I say that as I get ready to go to lunch with my boss. . . Food is expensive if you eat out all the time. You know what is also expensive? Weddings. Going to weddings upon weddings. #help This is a great exercise, though!! Definitely am going to have to budget an “eating out” budget & watch how we spend it. 🙂

  5. This is a brilliant idea, Bethie, to not obsess over every budget element, but the one(s) that tempt you constantly to overspend! And don’t forget, my dear, how much easier it is to not go out to eat if you make even the simplest menu plan, perhaps on the weekend for the week to come. It doesn’t have to be fancy; just think about it and look at each menu the night before to see if you need to pull a pound of hamburger out of the freezer or whatever. I think it’s kind of fun, actually, and when I go to the trouble to make a menu plan, I enjoy cooking more, too. 🙂 Great post!
    Amy recently posted…Something I’ll never get used to; and a few other things besidesMy Profile

  6. As a Dave Ramsey graduate, you know cash is king. Get those envelopes out! We did that faithfully after the course. So much more satisfying to go out to eat, probably at the end of the month, when there was CASH in the restaurant envelope. Eating out was a HUGE road block for us for awhile. You are both good cooks…gets easier to say no to eating out when you realize food prepared at home is better than eating out.

    I’m so proud that such a newly married couple as the two of you are working on this. You will learn to control where your money goes. Be diligent in your decisions.

    Love you both!

  7. How crazy it is that eating out adds up so quickly! I come from a family that eats out for literally every meal!! Over the last few years in college I’ve been learning how to cook and make a hopefully healthier and cheaper change for myself! It’s definitely hard though!

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