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.
- 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.
- Add every purchase up, and let the final amount sink in.
- 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!!
- 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.