I realized this weekend that I write a lot about all of the places I go, see, patronize… But what I haven’t written about are all of the things that I do behind the scenes to make all of that possible or, more accurately, more comfortable. See, having it all, for me, includes having a comfortable financial situation.
At this point in my life, when JP is in school and we’re living pretty much on one salary, a comfortable financial situation means making a budget and sticking to it. This is what I’ve found to work:
First things first…
- Realize that making and sticking to a budget is going to take some work. If it was easy, then the average American wouldn’t have over $5K in credit card debt (or more, depending on which source you use). Creating a budget that will actually work takes planning – prioritizing, paying attention to how you spend, keeping an eye on deals, and creating a strategy for when to spend on what.
- Don’t go into budgeting with a negative attitude – remember that a budget simply means doing and having the things you love, just not all at once or in the same quantity. I still eat out, travel, go to many events around Austin, and update my closet. The only difference is I think before I spend.
Making it happen…
- Keep track of your spending. Technology is your friend – whether you use the built-in budget function from your bank, purchase accounting software, use a free product like Mint.com, or (like me) fall back on a good old Excel spreadsheet, find a way to keep track of what you’re spending money on and when. When we did this, we realized most of our money went to food, so budgeting for us (among other things) came down to working on how we ate.
- Prioritize your expenses. We are not TV people, so things like cable fell to the bottom of our list and we now only have Hulu and Netflix. But food, or more specifically good food, is very important. JP and I both love cooking, and entertaining, and dining out. Particularly, I prefer to buy organic and without hormones. So we budgeted in at least one meal out each week, and I researched the “Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen” so that I only splurge on organic for those items that are actually high in pesticides and hormones.
- Shop around. Now, I love buying local and once I get hooked on a place, it is soooooo hard for me to switch. Like Starbucks – I’m originally from Seattle and started drinking coffee from the original Starbucks in Pike Place Market. But when I compared Starbucks to buying coffee and making it at home, I made the switch. Costco carries a lot of the items I love, like biodegradable soaps, but not the hormone-free meat. So I make one Costco run each month, and then stock up on my meat whenever Central Market has a sale.
- Keep an eye on sales. OK, now this is where those priorities come in. Some people think “sale” and buy up the whole place. But buying something on sale still means you’re spending money on it. So I keep a written list of all of the things I want to buy – clothing items, furniture pieces, restaurant food, services – and I watch the sales to see when those items go on sale. I never, ever buy sale things that I didn’t already want or need. LivingSocial and Groupon, as well as the email lists for your favorite vendors, really help with sale-watching.
- Not everything costs money. Some of the best experiences in life are free. Have a conversation with a friend, in person, like we all used to do before cell phones. Take a walk. Go to the park. Read a book. Enjoy a bubble bath. And, in many cities, there are free movie nights or festivals or art-tours or so many other fabulous things that cost as much as it takes you to get there.
- Give yourself permission to dismiss the budget every once and a while. Sometimes being too restricted ends up like a time-bomb, where you end up having a Sex in the City Manolo Blahnik moment. So, before you have to sell your apartment to pay for the shoes you’ve bought, let off a little (and I do mean a little) tension here and there – order dessert at dinner, buy that sale shirt you really don’t need, go to a movie, or whatever little expenditure you need to make now…so that you don’t make really huge expenditure later.