Budgeting for the Rest of Our Lives

How dreary that title sounds. Does it bring to mind a Scrooge-like character, hunched over his shabby notebooks, worrying over each entry? Who wants to be tracking every expense and earnestly being careful? This is the opposite of what our culture teaches–especially on Black Friday! Spend, Spend, Spend! An incredible discount is still not a good idea if we are in debt and don’t have the money. I wrote earlier what P. T. Barnum said– “Money can be a terrible master but an excellent servant.” 

We started in our 40’s learning how to make our money be an excellent servant. Before that, it had been a terrible master. One of the ways to have money be an excellent servant is to be in charge, to tell it where to go. It’s an offensive move instead of a defensive one. People think budgeting means no fun ever. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

In the book The Psychology of Money, by Morgan Housel, he tells story after story of fabulously wealthy people carelessly burning through their money. One of his 20 financial principles is “Getting money vs. keeping money”:

“Getting money requires taking risks, being optimistic, and putting yourself out there. But keeping money requires the opposite of taking risk. It requires humility, and fear that what you’ve made can be taken away from you just as fast. It requires frugality and an acceptance that at least some of what you’ve made is attributable to luck, so past success can’t be relied upon to repeat indefinitely.

It’s one thing to get money–it’s another diligent, intentional skill to keep it.

I started initially with envelopes with cash in them. I graduated from that to a spreadsheet that  my husband and I would go over. I have tried 3 or 4 different budgeting software programs but my favorite has been Dave Ramsey’s Everydollar.  Paying for budgeting software is the best money I have spent. It will download transactions automatically from my bank  and all I have to do is transfer the transaction to my budget category.  If there is no structure or plan then it is hard to have your money balance every month. We were out of debt, but we still needed to have a plan unless I wanted to have a rollercoaster of emotions with our finances again. 

Before we had a budget, I would resist spending money because I was in the old mindset of paying off debt.   My husband kept working with me to help me understand  it was worth sacrificing severely in the short term, so we enjoy ourselves, long term. That was the point of going through all of that sacrifice, he tried to point out to me.  Craig has helped me to trust the budget so I can enjoy spending  money again. I started with  a spending extreme in our earlier married life where I had no accountability or knowledge of how careless I was being. From there, I went  to the other end of the spectrum of being thrifty in order to  become debt free and not wanting to spend any money ever again.  My husband  has brought me into the space of being deliberate with our budget, and enjoying the different budget categories we have made, like a skiing fund and a restaurant fund. A budget helped me relax but also know we were keeping track and being wise with our money.

If budgeting seems overwhelming to you, try this tip. In the financial series, Til Debt Do Us Part, over and over, the host, Gail Vaz-Oxade, teaches people desperately in debt to use cash in jars. It’s a strong visual of how much money we have to spend. People who have been overspending by thousands of dollars each month can see exactly how much they have for food, transportation, clothing, gifts, and entertainment. These jars  are  a very strong visual. All of their credit  cards were taken away by Gail, because the cards weren’t helping their owners  be responsible. Many people who were carelessly overspending on the show, actually have money left at the end of the week because they can see the money in the jars. It is fascinating to see the shift on the show, over and over again, as people start learning to become the masters of their money for the first time in their lives. The best thing is our children will learn as we learn.

 Assign a category to each jar and then the amount of how much money there is  to spend is put in each jar. Every expense is written in a budget book under the correct category. When we spend money at the grocery store, we take the money out of the jar and record where we spent the money in the budget book or spreadsheet.  For the first time, people get it– they only have this much money  to spend–so money stops being something that they will worry about later. They stretch the extra  food in the pantry, find things to do for free, and  make the budget work! This is where creativity helps me feel not feel deprived. I start thinking outside the box and it becomes a game to see how creative I can be and how much I can save.

We need to tell our money where to go each month. When we are playing offensive like this, money starts feeling abundant, instead of scarce. The feeling of being the master of our money, is priceless. Constantly worrying or thinking about money is gone for me. I can now relax and know we have a system that actually helps me to think less about it. Instead of feeling despair going over my shabby notebooks, I can take a deep breath and get out in the sun.

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