Over the last few months, my husband and I have been struggling to make our budget match our spending, which often resulted in us running out of money until our next paycheck.
Failing. And Failing Again. And Again.
By any reasonable standard, we have failed to make our budget work almost since we moved to Colorado five months ago. Our expenses went up with the move but our income didn’t (it even went down a little at first), so the systems I had devised when we were in Michigan no longer applied.
A month ago, we spent $450 on food, $300 of which was spent on eating out, and $150 was spent on groceries. Our food budget is usually $300 for groceries and $50 for eating out, which means we overspent by $150. Oops. The end of the month got a little tight, money wise.
A few weeks ago, we got over-excited about the fact that my husband is making more money now, and started transferring money to savings at an extreme rate. This came back to bite us when I found out that our spending from paycheck to paycheck is way out of balance.
Last time we got paid, I gave us too much fun money, which was great for fun, but it means that our checking account balance is again much lower than I would like as we approach payday.
Getting Back Up and Trying Again
It would be very easy, and is very tempting, to throw up my hands and say “Screw this budgeting shit!” Using the last few months as a sample, budgeting clearly isn’t working for us. But here’s the thing: despite the fact that we’ve failed over and over again to get our budget right and manage our money properly, every time we fail, we learn something.
From over-spending on eating out, I learned that I need to a) increase the amount I budget for eating out, and b) we need to find a better way to plan meals so that we don’t have to resort to eating out quite so often.
From over-saving I learned that it’s better to work on one goal at a time, instead of trying to work on all of them at the same time. Not only does working on all of them at once mean that very little visible progress is made, but it also over-extends our budget because I’m overly optimistic about what we can save.
From over-allocating fun money I learned that we need to be a little more judicious about how much we budget for Needs (clearly not quite enough), and also about how much we can spend on fun (clearly a little too much).
Failure Is a Necessary Part of the Process
If I took you back to the beginning of my experience as a semi-dependent (read: college student), I could lay out a string of failures in budgeting and personal finance that would make you wonder why I even still bother.
But every failure has taught me something, and every time I screw up, I get better at avoiding screw ups in the future.
The point I’m trying to make here is this: No matter where you are in the process of figuring out your finances — whether you’re still in high school and you want to know more about how the world works, or you’re in college and you know you’re going to have to think about this stuff sooner than you’d like, or you’re finally out in the “real world” and you’re just trying to buy a clue as to how to make it all come together — you will fail, and you will learn, and that’s the only way to get better.
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