Everybody Needs a Budget
My wife and I have had a budget for about five years. The longest we’ve ever adhered to it is about five days. We used to use this helpful app called GoodBudget. It’s a great tool, but somehow it never worked for us. The app allows one to list custom categories then fill out monthly monetary limits accordingly.
You spend money then you record it in the app, and hopefully at the end of the month, your spending amount in each category hasn’t reached zero.
Our list only included controllable items:
There were two main disciplines involved while using the app:
- Recording every dollar spent.
- Recording every dollar spent in the correct category.
These disciplines translated into part one and two of our budgeting turned martial dilemma.
My wife was good at spending but struggled with recording it. This task of the budget came easily to my slightly OCD type personality: I quickly got into the habit of punching various amounts into the app after swiping my credit card.
Although I was near perfect in recording, I wasn’t as honorable in the application of my spending. Enter part two of our GoodBudget dilemma.
If I saw we were doing well in say the Miscellaneous category and we were going to make our number for that month, I’d allow the overall budget to sort of flow into the subtexts like two rivers from opposite ends meeting in the sea. It made total sense to me. It still does. If our Entertainment section was empty and I needed to make a sure bet on the Vikings that Sunday, I’d borrow from our Miscellaneous account. If I lost, no big deal, that’s what Miscellaneous was there for, random bets on NFL teams. The logic found a perfect home in my head but ended in budget fail turned marriage argument number two.
GoodBudget stayed on our phones like the weather app: We would open it once in a while, then forget about it if skies were clear or more often if storms had already settled upon us. Costco became our divine light, but when we would hiccup and stumble we’d barrel into a condemnation stupor that found us eating out with appetizers in a subconscious attempt to say:
“Forget you, GoodBudget!”
We always knew we couldn’t just give up. We couldn’t allow American consumerism to eat us alive or have our money run like a wild stallion, in and out of our barn at will.
“I think we should do the envelope method.”
My wife is a big Dave Ramsey fan. He’s got some excellent points, I think. But if you already know you shouldn’t be buying a tv or car that will take you twenty years to pay off, then I find a lot of his stuff very limiting with what you can do with the money you have. But if you like to eat out every day, wear gold dentures, and have a 30-year loan for your home entertainment system, then you probably need to listen to Dave Ramsey.
His envelope system is sound. I’d say it’s Dave’s crown jewel. It works the same as GoodBudget except instead of allocating amounts to virtual categories you insert hard cash into designated envelopes. When they’re empty, you’re out of luck until the next month when you get to refill.
“I guess we could try the envelope system. It seems such a hassle to draw money every month and keep 7–8 envelopes afloat though. Plus, I’d probably fall into the same trap again by borrowing money from within the envelopes.”
We wrestled with our options for a few days and found some interesting insights regarding our spending habits.
The pen-ultimate killers from our GoodBudget attempt were Eating Out and Groceries. Those categories put us on our backs then dragged us into the river. Regrettably, our grocery shopping habit was like a metaphor for the American consumerist trap: a slippery credit card with zero thought or planning before swipes. Inevitably we’d run out of waffles or yogurt for our girls’ breakfast. Then so not to wake up the neighbors with screams of, “why am I eating eggs for breakfast!”, one of us would run up the street to the overpriced storefront and buy yogurt or waffles that cost as though laced with diamonds. I know, a budgeting and parenting technique that spells one thing: bricks for brains.
“Why don’t we set a limit on our Grocery and Eating Out accounts each month and just stick to those?”
We figured we were going to fill our cars with gas no matter what and I was going to dabble in sports betting even if the earth stopped spinning.
“Let’s try it.”
We picked a dollar amount that seemed challenging and doable, and I am proud to say we have kept track for a record 30 days. We are currently sitting on seventy-five cents left to use for September. We have a bag of potatoes, some cheese, eggs, and cereal to get us through the end of the month. I believe we’re going to make it.
By merely targeting two areas where we were particularly loose with our money, we have managed to successfully comply with our budget goals for the very first time in our lives. And I’m pleasantly surprised that saving money feels better than spending it. It would be grand to say we’re expanding our budget for October to add another category, but I think slow and steady wins this race. We’re excited to see what kind of return a simple cut back in two areas might achieve for us over a year.
Who knows, I may finally have enough money to buy those gold dentures or put silver spinners on my Toyota Yaris.