Friday, January 30, 2009

One Month In, Trying, Horrible, or Hopeful?

Whoosh, bat an eye and gone is January. Oh but where did January go? Part of my New Year’s Resolve is to spend consciously, I must also reflect consciously about how the spending is going. Like a nice little circle to keep the budget in check, think about where the money is going and then reflect at month’s end if the energy was put in the right place.

Budget, yes I said it.

I am sure many laugh at me, as I am new to this budgeting thing. Heck the concept is not new to me, countless times I’ve wanted to keep a budget, but typically it falls by the wayside. Sort of like all the half empty pretty journals that fill a shoe box in my guest bedroom closet. It’s very loose as far as budgets go, no spreadsheets, just a yellow legal pad, a few categories, and some hope. Hope to do better, to reduce debt and get our spending in check.

Let’s rewind to December 31, 2008. Romantically enough, I sat with a pile of bank statements, my checkbook, a calculator, and bills in my lap. J and I actually had a conversation about money (for us this is huge), where we spend it, how we could do better. We of course hashed out what we could do with out and what we wouldn’t compromise on.

Take for example paper towels. I said, let’s do with out them. My husband suggested we should set ten paper towels out every morning, and when they were gone for the day, that would be it. 10 paper towels a day. We laughed. A paper towel ration. What’s next toilet paper squares? We decided to keep our paper towels, but use rags of old t-shirts and cloth diapers more aggressively and play down our paper towel dependence. For the record, we do buy recycled paper towels at Costco. Is a pack of paper towels every other month weighing down our budget, nah? Time to dig deeper.

Oh yeah, did you catch this was New Year’s Eve. Aren’t we just dripping with party all the time around here? What time would be more perfect than the cusp of the New Year, to get it together. Hey the girls were asleep and I thought it was a very bankable moment, no pun intended.

So at month’s end, how did we do?

Looking at my tech-savvy yellow note pad, the biggest expenditure we have is food. Not even eating out. We spent about $65.00 eating out four times. Not bad at all. But grocery shopping is our area of non-compromise. We are big fans of Whole Foods and it’s hard to turn your back on quality food. Instead, meal planning and thrifty spending to make our money stretch at Whole Foods will become our focus next month. I will revisit my post about saving money shopping at Whole Foods.

As for our “other” category, this is where unconscious spending would fall. I must pat myself on the back. No trips to Target for sponges and Ziplocs and leaving $100 later. Now that is huge for me, a small celebration indeed. Not once did I go shopping for things we don’t need, like clothes or toys. Hello this is the month following Christmas, if I can’t stick to not buying toys in January, we would be doomed! “That’s not in our budget,” rolled off my tongue with ease through out the month. At first my five year old questioned this budget, but became very accepting of it. We diverted our attention from stuff to us, to what we have, and it worked.

One night Sj asked to go out to eat. I gave her my canned response about the budget. So instead she came up with the idea to turn our house into a restaurant. It was lovely to have my daughter take down my order, dress up the dining room, and share in conscious spending as a family, even though she hasn’t a clue that’s what we accomplished.

The best part of celebrating one month down, I didn’t put a dime on my credit card. I am trying to aggressively pay it off and I no longer carry it in my wallet. It warms my heart to feel the promise of staying grounded in my spending.

Next month, I’ll share the emotional gamut I went through with the budget. How I truly am an emotional spender, how I once laughed about retail therapy. But really it’s not a joke, it’s sad to try to escape how you’re feeling with a drink, some dessert, or a credit card. No matter how you look at it, staying present dealing with emotions as they unfold is one heck of a challenge.

Watch out February you may be a short month, but one that will be easy to stray off budget. We have a few birthdays and of course Valentine’s Day. I envision a lovely evening at home and some chocolate fondue with the girls. Very budget friendly and very heart warming.


10 comments:

  1. I put my credit card in block of ice once, it work for a few months. We are having our budget conversation tomorrow night, what a way to spend Saturday night...

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  2. Good for you for cutting back on spending. I am with you on Whole Foods. Everytime I've been there I think "if I don't need it, don't buy it." or "use what you have first." Also, I've been asking myself "can I make this?" (i.e. salsas, sauces, salad dressings). I am still a firm believer in buying the quality food though, because I'd rather do that then spend on medication for diabetes/heart disease.

    I've stopped retail therapy too. I use my gym membership, library card and journal frequently. It helps with those emotional days! Keep it up!

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  3. Yay! This is totally inspiring. I have got to stick to my list when I go to Target. It is trouble.

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  4. I would consider getting out of Target at $100 a COMPLETE victory! As you may have guessed we are not so good on that budget dealy-thing either.

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  5. Ah emotional spending... My old friend... It's a toxic relationship for sure.

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  6. good for you. it's so hard to do and it is frightening to see how much is spent on groceries - the trick for us has been costco or buying in bulk, in the long run it makes a big difference but it is hard to budget it to start with and to store it all!!!

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  7. Good for you!

    See, here's my glitch, I have been 'planning' on getting on a budget for a long time. Maybe not even a budget, but just keep track of where I spend money. Who am I kidding though, I don't even balance my checkbook. Money comes and goes fast, and it feels like a whirlwind that owns me.

    I want that feeling you've got now. However, I would be tickled pink just have the 'I know exactly how much money is in my bank account' feeling.

    You've inspired me :)

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  8. Sounds like you're doing a great job! Keep it up :)

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  10. Some grocery tips: If you have a Trader Joe's nearby you can do a lot better than Whole Foods and still get organic, quality stuff. Even Super Target has been carrying hormone-free meat and organic produce, and the meat will go on sale for less than $4 a pound.
    Personally, I have gotten my grocery budget for a family of 4 (2 are little kids) by prioritizing what I need to have organic and what I don't. The things I need organic, I get at a monthly trip to TJs. Other things, I aggressively bargain shop and stockpile so that I have enough budget room free for the organics. A big help with the decision making was the Environmental Working Group's list of which produce has the most pesticide residues.
    A big benefit, for me, of setting and sticking to a monthly grocery budget is realizing that buying the cheapest food in any given category is not as cost-effective as sticking to lower-cost foods in general. Now, we eat more frozen (organic) vegetables, a lot more carrots and potatoes, and less meat. Works for us.

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I always appreciate the gesture to stop and take a moment to comment. Thank you!