Seventeen year old me
When I was young lass of barely 17 I moved into my first apartment. At the time I was working a less than minimum wage job (in Ontario there is something called student wage that allows employers to pay you even less than the bare minimum) and attempting to pay rent, a phone bill and put food in bellies (which meant approximately one bagel and one bottle of Coke per day). In anticipation of each pay cheque I would write out a short list - a budget. Totals never worked out, there was never enough to go around. I've always liked the idea of a budget but I had never been able to put it into practice. I've been struggling with this since the moment that I had my own money.
Back in November I began to seriously think about how much money our family spent. I knew there was a problem - most notably in the grocery department. We were shelling out $150 or more every week or so at the grocery store and eating meals out several times a week. How did that make sense? To top it off we were throwing away piles of rotten produce and meat every week. Gross. Change was needed.
The first thing I did was research. Weeks of it. The timing worked out though because I was rather pregnant and it was cold outside; my main priority was sitting down. I focused on learning how to create a meal plan, make the most of leftovers, the cost of food and all about coupons. If you've ever heard anyone say that they don't have the time to coupon - this is the period of time they're talking about. It was actually pretty exciting - but I tend to get really pumped about thriftiness.
For almost a year I've been focused on paying as little as possible for the food (and most everything else) we're buying. At the same time the quality of the food we buy and the meals we make has increased exponentially; but that's a different topic for another time. The only problem with this scenario is that there's been no limit to the spending. No budget. In January I created a an Excel file full of numbers and guidelines, but did I stick to it? The short answer is not really.
Without following a budget we have still been able to pay our bills on time, pay down our credit card debt and start a small savings account for a new roof. That rules on every single count. The problem? We're capable of so much more and simply not getting there. Extra dollars slip through our fingers. Treats are not enjoyed as such but rather seen as more of an everyday thing. While that is all fun and good in the now it's leave our future selves in a pretty crappy situation. No savings. No back-up. No nothing. But hey, those three doughnut trips a week were pretty fun. It was time to call in reinforcements.
Based on some good feedback and a fair price I ordered The Budget Kit by Judy Lawrence. Truth be told, I prefer to not buy books. However this is also workbook and I figured it would be better to own a personal copy.
Did I love this book? Absolutely. There is a lot of information in there and it attempts to cover as many financial situations as possible (ex. commission based income, unemployed, seasonal workers, etc). I've read some about budgeting in the past year and many of those topics were covered. However, this book did present a number of ideas I had never heard of and much of it was super helpful. Overall this book changed the way we deal with our finances in a big way.
I spent at least a week hunched over The Budget Kit during nap-time and post-bedtime. At the end of it I emerged triumphantly with a budget. A real one. A budget that include lines for exciting things like charity and emergency savings. I'm not going to lie, it was awesome. Another thing I won't lie about - it ain't easy. It's takes a lot of time (initially) to create a realistic budget. It's even less easy to follow through with it. It's hard to change your spending habits. It's difficult to just change the way you spend your money (I like to use my credit card to earn points but I'm finding out it's not necessarily the most conducive to sticking to a budget).
At the risk of sounding repetitious I'll say it again - budgeting ain't easy. However, I can confidently say that it's an important step in making the most of your money. Soon(ish) enough we will have enough tucked away that will carry us through three months of financial hardship. When you're a family that is carried on the income of a self-employed individual that sounds pretty damn sweet. Sooner we will have all of our credit cards paid off. We will no longer have to shoulder that often ignored burden and we'll be saying goodbye to the high interest rates. And at this very moment we finally feel like we are in control of our money - not the other way around. That, my friends, is awesome.
This post include affiliate links. I purchased the book The Budget Kit with my own money. I believe it is a very helpful tool in creating a household budget that works.