November Budget

It’s November budget time! Since Christmas is coming up (along with some other holiday stuff), we’ve got a few more expenses than normal.  Which is ok- we could save more for Christmas throughout the year, but this way works for us, right now.

Yucky Yucky Debt

  • $135,225 – Progress is progress.  Dave Ramsey calls them baby steps for a reason.
  • Planned payments: $1200
  • Planned over-payment: $1200 (I’m hoping this ends up being more. I think I’ve over-budgeted in a few areas, but a few things this month have some cost uncertainty associated with them. I prefer to over-budget and be pleasantly surprised than under-budget and be left scrambling.)

Necessities

  • Rent: $1300
  • Utilities: $280
  • Phone: $51
  • Groceries: $600- This is high to account for both a tentative “welcome home” party we might be having for B. (who is returning sometime this month!!!) as well as an extended visit from my sister and brother-in-law (and my adorable nephew).
  • Gas: $300- Once B. is back stateside, F. and I will have to drive a bit (4.5 hours!) to go collect him.  So gas will be required to do that.
  • Daycare: $1003
  • B. Cash: $500- this will hopefully cover what he needs as he returns. We shall see.

Other Items

  • Netflix: $11
  • Restaurants: $100 – With so much traveling and family coming in from out of town, this may be hard to stick with.  But I’m going to try!
  • Pet care: $800 – Ah, the joys of owning a pet.  Due to some elevated values, R. has to have an ultrasound done as well as some unknown other testing.  The ultrasound is $500 (ugh) but I’m cushioning that amount for any other testing/charges.  Just like people, pets generally tend to incur more medical expenses as they get older.  Since R. is 13 years old, I’m guessing this might be the new normal for a bit.
  • Clothing: $150- The weather has turned to slightly warmer than frigid here and I realized that I am in dire need of some winter-appropriate shoes for work.  I had shoes to make it through last year, but pretty much all of them developed un-fixable holes at the end of the season, so I need to re-stock my wardrobe with some work AND weather-appropriate footwear.
  • Sports and Entertainment: $75
  • Miscellaneous: $200
  • Hair care/cosmetics: $75 – I need a haircut and some make-up all in the same month.  I don’t think it’ll cost $75, but I’d rather estimate too high.
  • Fun money: $100
  • Doctor: $50
  • Maid: $200
  • Lawn service: $400-  I think this is high as well.  $250 is for the bush and tree trimming they did last month. I still haven’t gotten an invoice for that yet.  However, I think they may have also cut our grass once or twice.  Fortunately, I think we’re done with yard work for the year.
  • F. Birthday: $75- Instead of a party this year, F. asked to spend the entire day with Mommy, doing fun things 🙂  So we’re going to do whatever she wants to do.  Currently, she wants to “eat pancakes,” “fly on a rocket ship with Mommy,” and “go to the park by our house.” I’m really looking forward to seeing what she comes up with on the actual day.
  • Hotel: $250- As I mentioned above, B. is coming home! After six months of  being deployed, I am eagerly anticipating his return (and yes, compared to most military deployments, we are very lucky). However, he’ll be returning to a location 4.5 hours from our house and will need to be picked up. This will likely necessitate at least one night in a hotel (since traveling with a toddler is challenging) but I budgeted for two, just in case.
  • Christmas presents: $300- This should cover the majority of our Christmas spending. We try really hard not to go overboard with F.  Sometimes we’re more successful than others.  I try to stick to a little maxim I read somewhere long ago: “Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.”  I’ll check back in after Christmas on how that went…
  • Charity: $50- A holdover from last month.  We generally do most of our charity spending in December, but I’m always on the lookout for other opportunities throughout the year.

Total Planned Expenses

  • $6870
  • Percent of total income: 73%

Oof. I knew this month was going to be bad, but ugh.  For those of you not keeping track, this is roughly $1800 more than we aim to spend in a month. I actually think December will be better, which is just sad since, you know, Christmas.

 

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The KISS Budget: What do you actually WANT to spend?

Welcome back to this week’s series on getting started with budgeting.  Yesterday, I walked through my “process” for conducting a spending audit.  Go read it if you missed it. It’s really just a fancy way of saying “figure out what you currently spend money on.”

Today’s step is more fun. The next step in the KISS budget is to figure out what you actually WANT to spend.  However, that’s often easier said than done. I can’t tell you how many times I performed a very comprehensive spending audit, only to get totally overwhelmed by all of the data and stop entirely.  So here’s my step by step breakdown of figuring out what you actually want to spend.

Step 1: Classify spending categories

Each category gets a prioritization level assignment.  I don’t believe in making things complicated, so there are only three priority levels:

  1. Problem spending– this is any spending that is actually creating a financial problem for you.  Going out to eat so often that you can’t save money or afford gas? That’s an area of problem spending.  Is clothes shopping preventing you from saving for something you want or need? That’s an area of problem spending.  If you’re already living on a shoestring budget, you may not have any areas of problem spending.  But in that case, you’re probably also already on a budget!
  2. Nice to change– this label applies to any area where you think you could spend less, but it’s not currently impacting your ability to meet your financial goals.  I often think of things like utilities and cable in this bucket, because most of us could probably do better in this area, but it’s also usually not a high problem area.  Groceries is a category like this for me- I’m not likely to vastly overspend on groceries, but I could probably do better than I currently do.
  3. No change needed– this label applies to any area where you either can’t easily change the amount you are spending (i.e. debt, rent) or you don’t see this as a problem spending area (B. and I are both introverted, so spending on non-restaurant entertainment was never a problem in our house.  Netflix all night? Yes please!)

Step 2: Pruning your problem spending

Note: If you don’t have any areas that you consider to be problem spending, skip to step three. 

The next step is to look over your problem spending.  What area needs the most work? Where are you overspending the most?  Look at what percentage of your money is being spent on a given category*.

If you aren’t sure whether you’re spending too much in a given area, I’ve (very hesitantly) included some averages below (courtesy of Dave Ramsey). I just want to caveat these by saying that each individual situation is different, so take your needs, preferences and cost of living into account for each of these averages.

  • Rent/Mortgage/Utilities: 30-35%
  • Childcare-: Dave Ramsey suggests 10%. I think this is a joke.  About 20% of our monthly spending is spent on childcare
  • Groceries/Restaurant/Household products: 10-15%
  • Transportation: 10-15%
  • Insurance: 10-25% (note- this includes home, auto, life, short-term and long-term disability, long-term care insurance, health insurance, etc.)
  • Personal care: 10-15%
  • Non-restaurant entertainment/Miscellaneous: 5-10%
  • Doctor/Vet: 5-10%

Once you’ve decided where you’re overspending, your first goal is to work on one problem area only (if you have the luxury of being able to gradually work your way into budgeting).

See, humans are funny, in that we routinely underestimate a) how hard a task is going to be and b) how well we’ll be able to sustain behavior over a long period of time.  So we may think “oh, hey, cutting out all clothes shopping and eating out is going to be fine. I can do that, it won’t be that hard.”  But after a few weeks, reality sets in, we get busy, we get bored, it rains for three weeks straight and suddenly we’re back at McDonalds with fifteen shopping bags in tow. Because when things get stressful, our control breaks down and we’re right back into old, comforting, familiar routines.

It is much easier to change behaviors if you focus on one behavior at a time.  So in this case, pick one behavior that you’re going to change. Maybe it’s eating out. Maybe it’s going to see movies.  Maybe it’s going shopping on the weekend because you’re bored.  Pick one thing and work on only that, for at least a month. The idea behind this method is that after a month, you’ll have replaced a not-so-great financial habit with a better financial habit.  And once behavior becomes habit, it’s much easier to a) stick to existing habits and b) work on new habits. Finally, you slowly add new goals (no more than one each month) until your problem spending has been addressed.

Step 3: Look for ways to save on “nice to change” budget items

This step can happen simultaneously with step two, but if you have a lot of problem spending areas to tackle (3+), I wouldn’t recommend that.  It will start to feel really overwhelming and not very simple any more, which defeats the entire purpose of this budgeting method.  If you need ideas on how to save money for certain budget categories, I highly recommend Google.

So there you have it- the second phase of the KISS budget.  The third, and final, installment will be tomorrow and I’ll be talking about how to track your spending throughout the month.

*If you aren’t mathematically inclined- take the amount of money you spent on a particular budget category and divide it by the total amount of money you spent in a month. Then multiply times 100 and you’ve got your percentage of monthly spending!  For example: I spent $500 on groceries and $5000 overall a month.  500/5000) * 100 = 10%.  So 10% of my money each month gets spent on groceries. 

 

The KISS Budget: Budgeting made simple

This week, I’m going to be talking in greater detail about my approach to budgeting.  It’s loosely based off the Dave Ramsey method, but a little bit simpler (hence the KISS budget).

Have you ever wanted to have a budget, but didn’t know where to start? Have you ever wanted to know where your money is going? Have you ever gotten to the end of the month and wondered where the heck all your money went? Have you ever felt incredibly overwhelmed by big, long books about budgeting? This week of posts is for you!

I know how you feel because this was me, until about six months ago, when B. deployed. Before that, budgeting was his “chore” and I just let him do his thing. But I took over budgeting once he deployed and have been responsible for keeping our spending on track.  The budget method I’m going to share with you this week is one that I have managed to keep going while a) working full-time and b) parenting a toddler full-time, so you know that it takes very little time or effort on my part.

Today and tomorrow are all about the pre-work that goes into “developing” a budget.  Wednesday and Thursday are all about the day-to-day budgeting experience.  Sound like fun? Let’s go!

Conducting a Spending Audit

Still here? Excellent.  I know this sounds big and scary and a lot like getting audited by the IRS, but I promise it’s much better than that.  Conduct a spending audit is really just a fancy way of saying “figure out how much money you’re currently spending.”  To do this, you’ll need bank statements (either online or paper) for the last 3-12 months and probably a calculator, pen and paper. Or some slightly better than basic Excel skills.  Your choice 🙂

The goal of the spending audit is to take everything you’ve spent over the last three to twelve months and figure out how much you’re spending on different budget categories. This doesn’t have to be complicated!! If this is your first time conducting a spending audit, I recommend the following categories:

  • Rent/Mortgage:  Your housing costs, not including utilities
  • Utilities: Water, sewer, garbage, electricity, recycling, gas, internet and cable (including subscription services like Netflix or Hulu)
  • Childcare costs
  • Groceries: Excludes eating out- only food you buy in the grocery store.  You can choose to include cleaning products and personal care products in this category or not.
  • Transportation: Gas and car maintenance- do not include any car payments here
  • Cleaning/household products: toilet paper, dog food, toilet cleaner, paper towels, sponges, etc.
  • Insurance: Home, auto, life, etc.
  • Personal care: clothing, haircuts, waxing, make-up, pedicures, etc.
  • Restaurants: eating out, including convenience food
  • Non-restaurant entertainment: movies, shows, anywhere you take kids that costs money
  • Doctor/Vet: All medical care for you and your family, including pets.  This includes any prescription medications
  • Miscellaneous: Things you aren’t sure of that don’t easily fit in any other category
  • Debt: Credit cards, car payments, student loans, etc.  Includes all money owed to others except your mortgage.

That’s it.  I wouldn’t try and refine these categories any more at this point- the point of the spending audit is to get a first-pass look at where you spend your money.  If you find your miscellaneous category is getting big, don’t worry. We’re going to sort that out together tomorrow, because that says something about where most of your money is going.

Step One: Assign expenditures to spending categories

The first step of the spending audit is to assign each expenditure to a spending category. There is not right or wrong way to do this.  I personally have an affinity for markers and paper, so I started out by printing out all my monthly bank statements (sorry trees!) and physically wrote in the category of each expenditure.  You can do whatever works for you.  This doesn’t have to be perfect. You can see my expenditure assignment exercise below:

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See? Not pretty! It doesn’t have to look nice to be effective.

Step Two: Add up your categories by month

Most people get paid on a cycle that makes monthly budgeting make sense. This may not be you- adjust as needed.  But we budget on a monthly basis, so that’s what I’m going to detail here.  Go through for each month (I recommend going back at least three months, but a full twelve will give you a good picture of seasonality) and add up how much you spent on each of the above categories.  Again, this doesn’t have to be fancy, as you can see from my scribbles below.

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Sorry for the truly terrible lighting!

That’s it! We’re going to do something with all these numbers tomorrow, but for now, you’ve completed the first phase of the KISS budget.  You now have a fairly accurate picture of how much you spend on what for each month.  Congratulations and stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment!

October Budget

Here’s our budget for October- a few extra things, but this looks pretty good!

Yucky Yucky Debt

  • $139,302 – I’m going to just celebrate the fact that we’re under $140k. Celebrate the wins, celebrate the wins…
  • Planned payments: $1215
  • Planned over-payment: at least $2800

This should be easily attainable. It’s a four-Friday month and we have very few extra expenses planned this month. I’m hoping to have more than $2800 left at the end of the month.

Necessities

  • Rent: $1300
  • Utilities: $280
  • Phone: $51
  • Groceries: $500- I know it’s only a four Friday month, but a Sam’s Club trip is in order, so I’m not sure we’ll make it with only $400.
  • Gas: $300- I may or may not be going on a trip later this month, so I’m making sure to budget a little extra for gas in case that pans out.  Plus, gas prices have gone up a bit so gas has been costing a bit more. Or maybe I’m driving more. Not sure.
  • Daycare: $996
  • B. Cash: $500- We’ll see if this covers it- as his return date approaches(!!!), he may need slightly more to start shipping some of his stuff home. We’ll see.

Other Items

  • Netflix: $11- So affordable.  So wonderful.
  • Restaurants: $100
  • Pet care: $500- The dog is badly in need of having his teeth cleaned (turns out that being bitten every time is a good way to avoid brushing teeth. Don’t do this- it costs so much more later, I didn’t even realize. Plus, he’s more at risk of infection now until they get cleaned up).  The vet doesn’t know exactly how much it’ll cost (see above: biting- so far, she hasn’t been able to accurately assess what needs done) so I’m hoping that $500 is the high side of things.
  •  Clothing: $75- We’re mostly set for winter (I think) so we shouldn’t need much this month for clothing. I think I need some new tights for cold weather (as mine conveniently waited until winter was over last year to develop holes), but otherwise, spending here should be minimal.
  • Sports and entertainment: $75- Gymnastics plus miscellaneous.
  • Miscellaneous: $200
  • Hair care/Cosmetics: $50
  • Fun money: $100
  • Doctor: $50
  • Maid: $200
  • Lawn service: $150- Why oh why is the grass still growing?? A very rainy and hot September has led to a lot of grass growth.  JUST QUIT. Summer is over. Stop growing.
  • F. Birthday present: $50- F’s birthday is coming up and I want to get her something for her birthday. I’m not sure whether I’m going to get her an actual present or instead use that money for a birthday day of adventures with her. Just mommy and F. 🙂  I asked her if she wanted a party or to just spend the day with mommy and she picked spending the day with me 🙂 So that’s what we’re doing for her birthday.
  • Tree/Bush Trimming: $250- We are the (un)proud renters of a house that has a TON of bushes, all of which need to be trimmed back each year (This, right here is what I hate bushes. Too much work. I hate yard work).  I’m not totally confident in my ability to handle the electric trimmer, plus time is at more of a premium right now, so we’re hiring someone to do this.
  • WOW subscription: $78 (yearly subscription)
  • Charity: $50- The Food Bank of Iowa sent me a thing in the mail asking for donations, so I’m donating. Direct mail works, people.

You may notice that I don’t have anything budgeted here for Halloween.  We generally forgo any Halloween “events,” largely because B., F. and I all hate crowds of people.  And Halloween events are always crowded.  We usually just go trick or treat around our neighborhood on Halloween- it’s a great way to meet your neighbors! Our candy purchases get folded into the grocery budget (eggs or candy? decisions, decisions…) and a costume for F. usually gets folded into the clothing budget.  Last year, she went as a Care Bear (wearing the delightful Goodwill-purchased Care Bear costume below) and this year decided she wanted to be a Care Bear again.  Done and done.

Fiona Care Bear
The cutest little care bear ever.

Total Planned Expenses

  • $5941
  • Percent of total income: 59% – Higher than I would like, but c’est la vie. Pets are expensive. So are bushes.

Monthly Budget Roundup- September

It’s the beginning of a new month, so time to go through the budget I posted at the beginning of the month and see how I did.  For this post, you’ll get to see the amount I budgeted in black and the final amount I spent in red or green (depending on whether it’s over or under budget).

Yucky yucky debt

  • Planned: $1215 plus at least $2800 at the end of the month
  • Spent: $1215 plus $3500 at the end of the month
  • Total: $4715 ($715 over our $4000 target- YAY!)

Necessities

  • Rent: $1300                                      $1300
  • Utilities: $280                                  $271
  • Phone: $51                                       $42
  • Groceries: $500                               $493
  • Gas: $200                                          $149
  • Daycare: $1245                               $1241
  • B. Cash: $500                                   $532

Other Items

  • Netflix: $11                                     $11
  • Restaurants: $100                         $96
  • Pet care: $20                                  $42
  • Clothing: $150                               $81
  • Sports & Entertainment: $100   $93
  • Miscellaneous: $200                    $193
  • Hair Care/Cosmetics: $100         $59
  • Her money: $100                         $72
  • Doctor: $50                                    $0
  • Maid: $200                                    $198
  • Lawn Service: $75                       $74
  • Thank you gift: $75                     $50
  • Soccer: $90                                   $90

Look at that, guys! After a rash of bad budget months, I think I might actually be under our planned spending for September!! This month has been great- I only ended up over on two categories.  The first is vet- the dog did need a prescription refill, but said prescription refill was more expensive because his dose needed adjusting.

Second is B., who had a few unexpected expenses this month (like a new laptop keyboard) that upped his spending.  I won’t give him too much grief though- he regularly stays within the $500 we budget. 🙂

And, as predicted, now that I remembered to budget money toward medical expenses, none occurred.  F. was sick, but Tricare pays for everything 100% while B. is deployed so we didn’t end up incurring any expenses.

Here’s hoping October continues the trend of good spending!

Final Spending Tally (excluding debt) 

  • Planned: $5157
  • Actual: $5087
  • Percent of total income: 50%

(For those of you following along with the math, that means that we put roughly 47% of our income toward student loans this month. UGH but yay?)

Tune in tomorrow for October’s budget.  How did your month go?

Monthly Budget Roundup- August

It’s the last day of the month, so time to go through the budget I posted at the beginning of the month and see how I did! For this post, you’ll get to see the amount I budgeted in black and the final amount I spent in red or green (depending on whether it’s over or under budget).

Yucky yucky debt

  • Planned: $1300 + $2000 at the end of the month
  • Actual: $1242 + $3000

This makes me happy because, as you’ll see below, August has been a no good, very bad budget month.  I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to make my $4000/month goal and was feeling pretty down on myself, given the state of our budget this month.  But you know what? It’s a new month. September is a new opportunity to try again (and for anyone starting out, please know that even after six years, we still have bad budgeting months over here!)

  • Rent: $1300                     $1300
  • Utilities: $260                  $265
  • Cell Phone: $50               $40
  • Groceries: $600               $559
  • Gas: $200                          $95
  • Car insurance: $350       $310
  • Daycare: $980                  $983
  • Vet: $300                           $283
  • B.: $500                             $498

Other Expenses

  • Maid: $250                       $269
  • Lawn Care: $150             $111
  • Clothing: $100                 $86
  • Gymnastics: $48              $48
  • Restaurants: $100           $65
  • Netflix: $11                       $11
  • Hair/Cosmetics: $50        $70
  • Fun money: $100             $72
  • Miscellaneous: $200        $223
  • Charity: $65                       $64
  • Vacation: $300                   $217
  • Mattress: $0                       $298
  • Plane ticket:  $0                 $200
  • Ring repair: $0                   $164
  • B. Travel Card: $0             $424
  • Doctor: $0                           $75

 

Sigh. This has been a bad month.  For those of you that don’t want to do the math, not only was I over in five of my planned budget categories, I also spent $1161 that were never in my budget to begin with. Oof. So- what’s been going on that caused this??

First, a few things that were outside of my control. In my early morning daze, I accidentally dropped about half of F’s pills down the sink, so I ended up having to replace those at full cost (only $13, but still…).  Also, she got sick and needed meds/Tylenol/Pedialite, all of which are not cheap.  And finally, we got a bill for labs that were done back in APRIL (thank you very much for that super prompt bill…) that was due before the end of the month. Though these things were outside my control, budgeting for them is not, so next month I will budget doctor money even though I don’t anticipate spending it. Lesson learned.

Second, due to continued incompetence in the military (SO SHOCKING…), B’s government travel card, which he uses to book required travel while deployed, was in danger of being suspended because whoever was responsible for paying it wasn’t doing so. Due to, I’m told, “technical errors.” So we ended up paying it because we’ve worked hard for a good credit score and don’t want it ruined because of someone else’s incompetence. We’ll eventually get this money back, but for right now, I’m real pissed about it. This isn’t the first time that bureaucratic incompetence by the military has cost us money.

Third, the plane ticket (which was really just a $200 change fee).  I had bought a ticket last month to go see my sister after Chicago, but due to a series of random events, my sister actually ended up being at my house instead of her house, so going to visit her when she wasn’t there would have been sort of worthless. So I paid $200 to change my flight to come home instead.

The other unplanned expenditures were my choice.  I needed to get my wedding/engagement rings re-sized and I did not realize how much that was going to cost. I thought I could fold the cost into my miscellaneous budget, but it ended up costing about as much as my entire miscellaneous budget.  Also, F. finally asked for a big girl bed, but I draw the line at used mattresses. We went to a local furniture store, but it was so expensive (nearly $1000), I just couldn’t do it. But! I found a great mattress online at Sam’s Club, and it was delivered to our door in less than a week.  I was planning on saving this expense until September, but it just so happens that my sister and brother-in-law are down here this week. I ordered the mattress early so I could take advantage of the free help to get it set up. And she’s so happy in it!!

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F. in her big girl bed. She looks so small! And so grown up…*sniff* Also, take note of the lovely Goodwill bedding 😉

Anyway. That’s my month. Hopefully next month will be a little less full of budget surprises.

Final Spending Tally

  • Planned spending: $5914
  • Actual spending: $6730

Sigh. Oh well. August was definitely kind of a bust, budgetwise.

Tune back in tomorrow to see what September’s budget looks like!

Money Mondays: Why We Don’t Do Dave Ramsey “Correctly”

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Are you gazelle focused? Source: Pixabay

The other day, Dave Ramsey’s team posted the following article about living like you’re on baby step one forever.  The idea is that once debt is paid off and your emergency fund is fully funded, there’s no reason to keep living with “gazelle intensity.”

Dave’s definition of gazelle intensity is, at times, quite rigid. You’ll know you’re “gazelle intense” when you’re:

  • Living on beans and rice
  • Driving a busted up, beaten down car because it still runs
  • Selling everything you can do without to raise capital
  • Forgoing all luxuries, up to and including new clothes, dinners out, meat and internet

This article really got me thinking about the way B. and I approach budgeting- I don’t think Dave would ever look at our budget and agree that we are “gazelle intense.” Because the truth is, we aren’t.  I look at our budget each month and I see a lot of opportunities to cut costs. For example, we could:

  • Replace meat-based meals with bean-based meals
  • Eat more junk (no kidding- it is way cheaper in the short run to eat pre-processed food than it is to eat healthy food, including fresh fruits and veggies)- $200 (ish)
  • Get rid of the house cleaner -$200
  • Get rid of the lawn service- $150
  • Get rid of our restaurant budget- $100
  • Dump our individual spending money -$200

See? Right there, off the top of my head, I came up with $850 a month that we could cut from our budget, which averages out to about $10,000 per year. Now, let’s do a little bit of math.

At our current spending, we’re hoping to pay roughly $40,000 on student loans this year. It’s an ambitious goal, to be sure, but I think we can do it. With roughly $150,000 in loans, paying $40,000/year means we’ll be debt-free in just under four years- 45 months, to be exact.  Paying $50,000/year means we’ll be debt free in three years- 36 months. That’s a nine month difference.  Less than a year.

Honestly? That extra nine months just isn’t worth the lifestyle change to us at this point.  I want to be out of debt more than I’ve wanted anything in my whole life, but not enough to give up living my life for the next three years. No matter what our budget picture looks like, the reality is that we’re in this for the long haul. If cutting our budget to the bone for six months would allow us to pay off all our debt, I think we could do it.  I could sustain that lifestyle for six months.  But 36 months? It’s really really hard to make the decision to live that way when you don’t need to live that way to survive. I just don’t have it in me.

I approach budgeting the same way I approach dieting- with an eye to what is sustainable long-term. Back when I first started trying to seriously lose weight after giving birth, I decided to cut my calorie intake down to 1400(ish) calories a day (which all the calorie calculators said was appropriate). I. Was. Starving. Two days in, I was cramming every cookie I could find in my mouth. Next, I tried a really complicated program where you track your food macros each day (I have friends who swear by this diet). Again, one week in, I gave up because tracking my food every day and trying to adjust was so freaking complicated. Netiher of these approaches ended up being a sustainabel lifestlye change, which is what I really needed. I wasn’t going to be able to follow either for the rest of my life, but what I needed was a diet plan that was sustainable.

I take the same philosophy to budgeting. We could get “gazelle instense” but I’d be burnt out long before that intensity produced any signficant payoff for us. And just like dieting, I’m afraid that my burnt out response would be a disporortiante spending spree.

Instead, I try to take frugality and budgeting in moderation. Because realistically, paying off debt for three+ years is the equivalent of a lifestyle change, not a fad diet. Walking to Starbucks with a co-worker once a week or so makes me happy.  Going out to eat occasionally is a nice break. Eating good food is a long-term investment in my health. Our lifestyle right now is sustainable, and I’m confident that once we reach our goal, our lifestyle won’t change that much (B. may beg to differ- he’s more  of a “stuff” person than I am).  To me, that’s success. Is our system perfect? Not at all. Is there room for improvement? Always. But our system is sustainable for us and for now, that’s good enough for me.

So if Dave Ramsey is intimidating to you, and the prospect of living off beans and rice for the next three years is overwhelming, just know that it is possible to find a sustainable balance that includes room for a few luxuries as well as room for money toward debt. A sustainable budget should never be an all or nothing proposition.

A note on these posts. A lot of the themes of money Monday posts are going to touch on some variation of spending choice and money not equaling happiness. I just want to point out that money doesn’t bring more happiness after a certain point. Choosing which luxuries to indulge in only matters after a certain point. There are many many people who are unable to meet their basic needs (food, shelter, clothing and health care) and I think that while budgeting is arguably more important in that situation, the reality is that conversations about spending choices are pretty moot. B. and I have definitely had our leaner times (i.e. new baby and one income plus piles of student loan debt) and are incredibly grateful for the relatively privileged financial situation we’re in now. If you’re there and you’re struggling- I feel you. I really do.