Then in February I read Dave Ramsey's book, The Total Money Makeover. For the first time ever, we spent the month of March living on a budget. At least I did. I'm not sure about my husband. He looked at the budget I prepared and contributed to deciding on the final numbers. But I don't know if he really paid attention to his spending. The good news is, it did seem to work. The numbers mostly balanced at the end of the month (with a little tweaking here and there). So for April we have another budget to live on.
It's definitely been a learning process. Here's what I've noticed so far:
- if you think that $5 for prescriptions is a totally reasonable amount to budget because nobody. ever. gets. sick. you can plan on at least two trips to the pharmacy in the first week, one of which is for your own allergy medicine that completely blows the budget, even with insurance.
- pharmacy coupons go a long way in making up for unexpected expenses and after two trips and two good coupons, you may manage to stick to your budget after all. Having a budget means you get to pat yourself on the back for such dollar wrangling.
- there are so many odds and ends of expenses that you never notice if you don't have a budget. Like yet another field trip to pay for. Or new soccer shoes for your growing fifth-grader. Or that whopping pool club maintenance fee that is due this month, but you weren't thinking about because who in Illinois is thinking about swimming in April???
- if you have to account for spending only what you have available and it looks tight, you'll become very creative in finding money. Your dining out fund is already drained for the month? Gee, maybe it's time to use that restaurant gift card that's been languishing in a desk drawer. And hey, how about cashing in the credit card reward refund check while you're at it. That counts toward more money to spend, right?
On the whole, it feels good to have a plan. We're on our way to controlling our money better and directing it to where we really want it to go. Sure, you can't change the course of a river overnight, but bit by bit you can channel it in a new direction. That's what I hope living on a budget will do.
Anyone else have thoughts on budgets? Budget or no budget? What do you do?