Be Real Budget Buster!

The first few months of creating budgets is tough. When a budget is made, BE REAL. Things are going to happen. The budget is going to get screwed up. Humans are not perfect, and to expect perfection the first go round of a budget is madness. Defeat is certain at first, especially when financial behavior is equivalent to that of a hormonal teenage drama queen, which can apply to males or females. Got kids, spouse or dogs? Junk food, flowers or dog toy is bound to bust the budget!

What do I mean by being real? Should one account for “extra” money in their budget in case of screw ups. That’s not exactly what I mean. My family prefers to do an every dollar budget. We allocate EVERY dollar of our budget until there is no money left to allocate. We picked this type of budget up through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. Every dollar of our income is budgeted in a certain way, so there’s nothing left over for “screw ups.” Which means whenever we bust a budget in one area (overspend more than we’ve budgeted) then another budgeted area automatically has less to spend; this equates to two whammies for the price of one. Big sarcastic YAY!

double-whammy

So being real? It means expect a little failure…at first. Strive for perfection, but don’t get disappointed when failure comes. It WILL. For an analytical guy like me, it makes me want to curl up into a tiny ball in a dark corner with my beans and start counting to see what went wrong. The very best thing one can do is shake it off, and try to do better, but don’t quit! Persevere with that budget! A few months of this kind of perseverance and there will be success.

FYI, any mentions I have of Dave Ramsey or any affiliates like Every Dollar, I don’t get a cent, and neither do they, I just really love the products.

 

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Paper or Plastic? Or…Boxes?

“Please stop throwing away the bags.” Karen asked for the second day in a row as the bag hit the bottom of the trash can. I normally store my lunch in what has come to be known as “Wal-Mart” bags and toss it after emptying the contents of plastic containers that held whatever leftovers we had from the night before.

minion-plastic

“Why?” I thought with confusion in the five seconds it took her to answer the question right after I had thought it.

“We don’t go to Wal-Mart any more.”

This is not a post railing against Wal-Mart or any other big chain retail or grocery store. They have their place in our life, but they don’t have it as often as they used to. I remember one Saturday complaining to my wife that it seemed like we had just been to the same store the day before. Shortly after we realized we had actually been to that same store for something nearly every day that week!

After my family woke up and realized the way we spent money, groceries were automatically an area we began looking at closer. I have to give credit to my frugal wife, she is the one who took charge of this area of our lives and is doing an excellent job. These are a few observations I’ve noticed since we started to live differently:

Budget for groceries

Make an amount that should be spent on groceries, now according to Dave Ramsey, double it. We spend way more than we think we do. Once that’s set, start planning.

Plan a trip once a week

Don’t underestimate this point. Gas isn’t cheap. Whenever we are making a single trip to the store, we are hit with a double whammy. The money we are going to give some merchant for whatever item we happen to make the trip for, and the gas we are spending to get to and from the store. If we go more than once, it’s multiplied. Right now gas is about $1.85 a gallon on average here in OK. My wife and I live 6 miles away from our local Wal-Mart, her car gets roughly 24 miles to the gallon. Say we make two trips a week to buy groceries and what not; that is 12 miles each trip, so if we go 2 trips, we are spending 1 gallon of gas, minimum. Multiply that by 52 weeks in a year and we’ve spent the same amount we would in the store alone on one trip, $96.20. Doesn’t sound like much huh? Remember, this is JUST to go to the store, not to a ball game, not to drive to work, or any other fun family function. It’s even better if it can be planned on the way home from work.

Make a grocery list BEFORE going to the store

One would think this goes without saying, but we won’t. Think before leaving. Write down the days of the week, think about eating for each meal, each day. Put together a menu. Once the menu is built, buy the ingredients needed for it.

Combine ingredients across different meals to save extra.

For instance: This week, I’m eating oatmeal for breakfast. I am forcing myself, because high cholesterol dictates this. I will also be eating chicken of some sort at least twice this week, so I buy a big flat of it, to make sure that there is enough for myself, Karen, and left over for our lunches. Sandwiches are a good cheap meal: bread, lunch meat, cheese, mustard, veggies to go on sandwich. How about some beans? Good fiber! Yes, write it down. Need stuff for kids? Pizza, cookies, fruit, or how about they just eat what we eat? Got it all wrote down? Let’s go!

Try some place different

Do some research about discount grocery stores, there may be one near that will help save a bundle. According to Money & Career Cheat Sheet, here are a few of the more affordable stores across the nation. Incidentally, we love Aldi’s. It’s in the next town over, but it’s well worth the gas spent (or saved because we planned accordingly). I just had a friend exclaim how she’s going to Aldi’s today, she’s heard too much good about it. Sure, patrons have to bag (or box) their own groceries, but it makes grocery shopping affordable. It’s good for the environment too. We use Aldi’s own boxes to put our groceries in, rather than them crushing them and sending to a recycler. No plastic bags for me to throw into the bottom of the trash can and then go to a landfill because I’m not thinking when I come from home from work.

'That's Jeb Lambert. He was actually the first one to say 'paper or plastic'. Before that everyone said 'plastic or paper'... I mean, can you imagine?'

 

Eat what is bought

Again, this should go without saying; but I can’t count how many times we have bought good, wholesome groceries and they rotted in the fruit or vegetable crisper while we went on a fast food bonanza. Lately our refrigerator looks naked just before a trip to the store. One would think we aren’t making it, but we are, we are just controlling ourselves. Babies aren’t starving, the boys are fine, and K and I might be losing weight because we are making wiser decisions without going to the local Sling-A-Bean Burrito Shack.

Take advantage of discount coupons

Okay, I was going to try to go without mentioning coupon clipping, but I would be lying to say we haven’t had a cheeseburger or pizza every now and again. The only time we buy them, though, is when Karen gets a fancy coupon the store can redeem on her smart phone through email. It comes in handy in a pinch, but a pinch only comes once a week, and it’s BUDGETED.

Finally, give this a TRY. If it gets screwed up, so what? Try again. Savings will come but don’t give up! It’s food, we have to eat, but we don’t have to eat from stores that think they are monopolies. Save gas and coupons, save money by not bingeing because a grocery list was made, and relax. Everything’s going to be fine. Me and mine are out to prove it.

Staying Sane Through Saving

One of the problems in life is the perpetuity of it. We all have routines. Those who brush their teeth twice a day will continue to do so twice a day. If you chew with your mouth open when you eat, chances are it will take an act of God to keep you from noshing with annoying noises. Non-morning people have a hard time getting happy before 9 am, while morning people can’t stop annoying non-morning people. The circle of life seems to spin at a dizzying rate, while we continue to do the same things we’ve always done day in and day out. It takes conscious effort to change.

Karen and I woke up to this fact. It took emergencies to kick us in the butt and realize that one more and we were down to zero. So we changed our mind about the way we spend money on not only non-essentials, but also the essentials. It was time to trim any fat hanging out, and there seems to be plenty. An emergency won’t look so forlorn while trying to do something different. Doing the same things over and over got us into this mess, so we started looking at bills that didn’t have to be the same over and over.

Gas: it’s been the bane of anyone who has a forty-five minute to an hour commute or longer every day since 9/11. There just doesn’t seem to be any getting out of spending the same amount of money on gas week after week if you commute quite a distance between home and work. Or is there? Better gas mileage is what I need!

Many of us start thinking more efficient gas mileage means getting an oil change, or maybe a new car! It’s crazy how we can justify it, but we do. For some reason people think getting a new fuel-efficient car justifies the car payment; as if the $60 savings in gas every month will eventually pay the $230 car payment every month, but it doesn’t..the math doesn’t work. That’s probably an entry for another day.


Why not cut the gas mileage in half on a car I already own by car pooling with someone in my neighborhood? I’m not sure why I’ve never taken the idea seriously before, but I haven’t. “I don’t want to bug anyone.” I think to myself. FYI, if any readers out there want to bug me by telling me they can help me save $720 a year, feel free. By the way, that’s a calculation I figure I will be saving carpooling between me and my sister-in-law, who works across the parking lot from my office. I literally can throw a rock and hit her office window from the parking lot. We both need extra money, she gets off the same time I do almost every day and it helps take a whole extra car off the road (for all you environmentalists out there). I had to think really hard to find a reason NOT to car pool. I have to get up a little earlier, but I probably should be anyway. I’m one of those non-morning people.

Next up, phone prices. Yeah, if you have AT&T or Vorizon, you know what I’m talking about. They have good service, but they’re proud of it, and you’re paying for it. When my phone bill is higher than some car payments I’ve had in my life, there’s a problem. So my wife and I looked at some of that precious data and decided that we would be able to get by on 2 GB less. Shared data of 3 GB for us will save about 20 bucks. Since AT&T have put out a new promotion for no more overage charges, we are happy to let them help! So, multiply that by 12 months and we’ll have saved about $240.

Between the two, I’m looking to save almost $1000. This will meet the first of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps for us. Have a thousand dollars for emergencies. It will mean scraping up and NOT SPENDING the amount that we save, but it will be there. I’m starting to get used to the idea that it will take a while, but I also know that it will be here before I expect it, because good behaviors like this will compound and have ripple effects. It won’t just be all the money we save, but the integrity we receive by continuing the fight this fight. To some, $1000 isn’t much, but for those who feel we are sacrificing our privacy on a ride after a long day, or a few pictures or videos of our favorite media, for normal people – like my wife and I, it will be well worth the saving.

Staying Constipated…I mean, Consistent!

Certainly constipation is what I would call my cash flow right now. It’s not going up, but most importantly, not going down. Part of what I’m learning through this fairly new process is that it’s going to be slow going. VERY. SLOW. GOING.

My problem is I’m too impatient. I mentioned in a previous post that my wife and I have been through Financial Peace University. Props to Dave Ramsey I give of course, his program was an answer to a prayer I had years ago. Again, I’m too impatient. K (my wife) and I were talking the other day, and I found that a big part of my problem is I want this hard, painful, not knowing what to do next part to be over. It feels like we’re starting all over again and we should be so much further than where we are right now. I’m finding the only thing I can do now is sit and wait on the next paycheck to come in so I can pay more bills, and try to maintain what I consider the meager balance that is in the account. Sitting around does little for one’s patience.

I have found that I am a highly analytical person, I find it difficult to move on to one task when another is left unfinished. A task unfinished, for instance, is not having enough saved in my checking account to cover an emergency if needed. I get stuck, and I pour over it and worry over it until it drives me crazy. So occasionally, I have to step back, sometimes I have to break down, or work out, or go running, or just have a good blubber on my wife’s shoulder. Stress relief I’m finding is a must these days, so I decided to write a blog about it.  It helps me analyze the situation and sets in concrete accountability to whoever may be reading this. It sounds like an analytical solution to me.

We do of course, in the midst of discouragement, have to move on. One cannot sit in the dark and pout, or drink, or take pills, or eat, or do whatever escape one craves. Life must be lived, money or not. So I have tried to start developing some habits that people who do have money have developed. Besides writing about it, another habit is to read or listen to some kind of instructional wisdom or advice, at least 30 minutes, or 10 pages, every day. It’s a habit developed by wiser men than I. A presidential hero of mine, Teddy Roosevelt, was hardly seen without a book during his administration. Dave Ramsey talks about reading nonfiction books consistently on his radio program. Even Mark Zuckerberg has set a goal of reading a book every two weeks according to Business Insider. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. The most recent book I have found is an audio book I listen to by Darren Hardy. It’s called “The Compound Effect.”

img_1821The premise of the book is that small, minute, almost minuscule good habits done consistently enough times over the course of time will lead to a person’s ultimate goal. Small steps like avoiding vending machines, not buying the kids McDonald’s for the fifteen hundredth time, and spending less than you make will eventually lead to a trimmer waistline and wealth. While if you did those same repeated habits negatively over the course of a lifetime, it could leave you fat…and broke. I’m closer to the fat, broke guy right now with my habits.

The catch for me: It takes a long time. It takes work that no one sees until it’s suddenly just there, but it takes a long time for that to happen! I’m impatient, remember?

This whole situation feels constipated, like nothing’s moving, “icky” as four year old daughter might say. Consistency, that’s key. I’m willing to take another rich guy’s word for it. My bad habits have gotten me where I am today. If I want out of the situation of living paycheck to paycheck, I have to do things differently. I have to start making better decisions and forming better habits to start building some kind of wealth for my family’s security and our dream of not only living well, but giving well. I have to do a mental flush if this constipated time of life is ever going to end.  Until then, I’ll just have to live life consistently well, maybe bloated, but consistently, for now.