2/1/09

A Budget Nazi in the Making...Part 1

After years, literally years, of going through the same struggle with money, I decided once again to make a change! How was it different this time? Well honestly, it wouldn’t have been. I searched through the same budget websites and used Google to find free budget worksheets; you know the one that was going to make me rich if I just filled them out!

During one of these mad searches I came across a finance website (sadly I don’t remember what the site was). I actually went to the site because it was selling itself as a one stop shop for all things budget and wealth. While probing the website for a super fast, super easy way out; I happened to read a line that changed the whole process for me. The quote was something like “To have success with budgeting is not as easy as it sounds; it takes a change in inertia to stop overspending and to successfully budget.” Well after a quick stop off at dictionary.com for a reminder of what inertia means it hit me…like a mini Oprah uh-huh moment. The only way I am going to change my spending habits is to stop doing what I am doing. I am not sure why it took me so long to realize this, but finally I did. DUH!

I wasn’t going to be able to, even with the best intentions, budget, spend less, save more and live without overconsumption without first changing completely what we were doing now! Gee, I was hoping that a free budget worksheet download was going to fix the situation that my husband and I have been creating for years, when SMACK, I found out the only thing that was going to modify our financial state of affairs was US!
Seriously? This is up to us? CRAP! If I am reading this correctly it is saying: we have to change our unhealthy and unconscious spending patterns!

So here is what I’ve learned so far:
FREE EASY downloadable worksheets=LIE!
Budgeting=HARD WORK!
I have been in denial for a long time.

Although it seemed unappealing and unbearable and unbelievably hard at first; it was really freeing information. It was now clear to me that it wasn’t going to be easy and if I wanted to work really hard I could accomplish something really great. Something that will change my family’s future and future Stephenson generations.

After the light bulb went off I started slow, but I started!
Step one: Get Started.

I started by figuring it all out. What I owed, who I owed what and how much interest I was paying on that loan. That requires some patience and a bunch of positive self-talk. Remind yourself that you are doing this to see a light at the end of this tunnel, if you can’t face it or are uncomfortable with the cold hard facts of it all; the tunnel will only get that much longer and that much darker.

I also kept a log of upcoming expenses that were a given. Although, they seemed to surprise me every time I got one of these bills that I KNEW were coming; for example Property Taxes…I lived in the house all year and we paid a mortgage payment but every December when I saw the bill from the Township Treasurer I was caught off guard. Surprised the same way Aunt Flo’s visit surprises you when you are wearing white pants and are on a first date. Your initial worry turns to overwhelming anxiety in about 3 seconds flat. You are so worried that this crisis is going to "leak out" and everyone will know(even if most of your friends and neighbors are in similar situations). How do you NOT keep an extra tampon in your purse? How do you live in a house all year and FORGET to put an extra $4000.00 in your savings account for the taxes you knew you had to pay? Again-DUH!

I also kept track of the money I had coming in. That way I could see just exactly where I could apply that money so it would have the best impact. If I was getting paid $60.00 for working a Saturday I was exactly what my husband needed for bowling for the next 2 weeks and as soon as the money was in my hand it went to him, and if for some reason I needed some of it I was aware of exactly how much bowling was covered and how much other money I was going to have to come up with.

I had what I called a money snapshot. I knew what I had in every account at any given time. If you don’t know exactly what you have it is much easier to overspend. This really helped me a lot. It is much easier if you have online banking or if you only use a debit card, the money comes out immediately and you are aware right away of the amount left in your account!

I have to say that all of this requires time and energy, like I said before this is not easy work. It takes patience and forgiveness. By that I mean you have to forgive yourself for all of the “sins of the past”. So you paid too much for that purse or car. Or maybe we didn’t need that vacation. What’s done is done and you are not going to solve your budget troubles by beating yourself up about your past spending sprees. It is about changing the future; not undoing the past! That is much harder to do anyway, believe me and my therapist when we tell you this!
Give yourself a few minutes every night or two to re-evaluate your money snapshot and adjust any changes and relish in the positive changes you are already making. I assure you, you will notice changes very quickly!

Step two: Give your budget the time it needs and deserves.

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