As you guys know Aaron and I recently paid off all our consumer debt. It is seriously the best feeling in the world to only have a house payment. Talk about a major stress relief.
The crazy thing is that we still have to budget.
You would think that with all those extra payments gone we would be swimming in money (that might be a slight exaggeration).
The truth is, we aren’t suddenly swimming in money. The extra money is just reallocated to meet different financial goals.
It sucks, but so goes life.
I made a mistake, I kind of, maybe sort of stopped budgeting for a month of two. I just kind of put everything on auto-pilot and stopped paying attention.
I got busy with work, we ended up with two extra kids in the house, it is summer and in general, I just got lazy.
So last week I finally took some time to catch up on everything and wasn’t exactly happy with what I found.
I didn’t just break my budget, I completely blew it out of the water in a few areas.
I’m embarrassed to share these number – but here you go – as you can see, I obliterated my budget.
Obviously, the May and April numbers are more in line with my usual spending. I typically budget $600 for gas and $550 for food.
We made extended road trips in June and July (one to our family ranch) and had to take two vehicles each time. We took the boat out a few times. We have two extra kids at the house and had a few parties/BBQ’s. I did a major stock-up run to Costco.
I know exactly where the money went, but seeing how much we actually spent was a real shock to the system.
Part of budgeting is tracking your spending throughout the month – I skipped this step.
When I was in college, I carried around one of those Franklin Day planners. It was a gift from my father-in-law who was a huge Steve Covey fan. I used it for keeping track of school and work, but one of the little extra’s were spending logs.
At the time, I wasn’t exactly rolling in the dough, so I started writing down all of my expenses. I tracked everything. This was before debit cards were widely used, so most of my transaction were cash.
I had a few major categories (food, clothing, gas, entertainment – stuff like that) that every expense went into. At the end of each month, I would add the categories up and see where my money had gone.
As I got more sophisticated my planner was replaced by an Excel spreadsheet and eventually I upgraded to my current software which is Quicken.
How you track your spending isn’t important, it is the tracking that is critical to budgeting.
If I had been paying attention I would have made different spending decisions.
As I was thinking about my budget-busting ways over the weekend I realized that there are six keys to tracking your spending.
1. Check your bank accounts daily
This is something I typically do, but I got lazy and out of the habit. I chose not to make time for something that takes me less than 5 minutes each day.
I know it sounds small, but when you check your balances each day it is a subconscious personal accountability system. When you see your balance and do a quick check of your recent spending it reminds you of your budget.
Those daily reminders will keep you on track.
2. Use financial software to track your spending
There are hundreds of programs on the market. Do your research and find the program that matches your need and skill level.
Personally, I use Quicken Home and Business. I seriously love this program and the reporting structure. Just as a disclaimer, it is more complicated than some of the personal financial software on the market.
3. Keep a watchful eye on your budget busting categories
You know the categories I’m talking about? Mine are gas, food and outdoor gear. Those categories get me every time if I’m not careful.
I can guarantee you know your spending weaknesses. Those weak areas need a little bit of extra TLC.
4. If you can’t control your debit/credit card spending switch to cash
I used cash for years to control my spending. It is really hard to keep spending when you are out of cash.
I’ve switched to a credit card for ease of tracking but can guarantee that I wouldn’t have gone over my budget if I had still been using cash.
5. Don’t put your spending on auto-pilot
I’ve been budgeting for years and still failed miserably when I stopped paying attention. If you want to be financially self-sufficient you need to make daily decisions that reinforce your goals.
That means you have to pay attention.
6. Know your budget spending limits for each category
It is okay to say no occasionally. Controlling your spending is significantly more important. If it is a must have, then you will have to cut the budget in other areas.
We didn’t need to bring Ribeye steaks to all of the BBQ’s. We could have skipped a boating day at the lake or accepted gas money from friends.
Budgeting really is all about self-control.
Why Spending Tracking Matters
If you are going to control your money and budget properly you need to be doing at minimum a mid-month check up on your spending. Mid-month check-ups allow for minor course corrections that can mean the difference between going slightly over or completely obliterating your budget.
You aren’t budgeting if at the end of the month you are totaling up your categories and hoping for the best.
Real budgeting comes when you are making conscious spending decisions that are tied to realistic measurable goals throughout the month. I forgot the simple rules in budgeting for dummies.
My take home message
Hopefully, this post will help keep me just a little bit more accountable to myself. I don’t want to be a hypocrite who constantly tells people to budget and then gets too lazy to do it myself.
So now it is back to paying attention to my personal finances and actively budgeting rather than re-actively wishing I had done better.
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