At the start of any Money Makeover is the budget process. Stay with me. Breathe deeply. It’s just a blog post.
If I don’t plan out where the money goes for which I am responsible, it will go where it wants, as fast as it wants. So I have usually stayed within general spending limits. But this is not a budget. What I’m talking about is a category by category accounting of where the expected income will go. No money left, the wants don’t get purchased. No bricks left, the wall doesn’t get built.
We’d decided last fall to scrimp this year in order to save, to make up for last year’s travel expenses and other things. Then we found some house issues while installing Christmas lights, that will require major repair this spring. Oh, the frugality! That belt got tightened a bit more. The new year’s salary was calculated, and we still needed to bring that budget to its last scrimpable possibility. I read Total Money Makeover and got inspired with a plan that affected the budget process.
Let me say that creating a budget is not one of my most fun things to do. We use Quicken for our finances, and I really, really, really do not like the way it handles budgeting. It gave me fits, as usual. And, as usual, I was unwilling to learn something new to replace this tool just now. But I persevered, and the budget was created, discussed, revised, and ultimately entered. We’re now one month in, and I have some happy things to report!
I was under budget on groceries! Yippee! The budget for January was smaller than other months because I had so.much.food in the freezers leftover from the holidays. I’d created freezer meals that weren’t used, so we’re still eating from that. Even with a reduced budget, I was under, and that makes me happy. Since my eating habits have changed drastically (along with my weight, thankyouverymuch), I’m eating lots of fresh veg and fruit, and try to eat lean meat just once a day. We’re also eating more produce at dinnertime, and our meat portions have decreased. Of course, coupons and price matching are still part of my agenda. But I’m also finding that I’m just not buying certain stuff anymore, like processed foods and things I know I have enough of in the pantry. Win!
We spent less on our vehicles than budgeted, too. I drove less, was religious about combining errands (to the point of rearranging my weeks), and the warmer January helped gas mileage.
There was an unexpected dental issue, which, even with insurance coverage, grabbed a couple hundred dollars from our balance. That’s okay, we had it, and that was a non-negotiable item. Not the end of the world. Because of that, other planned dental work for this month got postponed for later on. So while we’d budgeted for that to be paid from savings, we now have extra time to save up for it.
Long time readers will remember that February is a big month here. Valentine’s Day is our anniversary. My birthday is this month, too. I’ve considered all that in the budget, and we’ve vowed to make it work. Here’s one example: I decided to return a Christmas gift from DH, and instead got something for that gift, Valentine’s, anniversary and birthday: a Nutri Ninja Pro 900 watt blender/pulverizer/extraction machine. (Part of my new way of eating lots of produce means smoothies, homemade dressings, nut butters, etc., and the 30-year-old Hamilton Beach blender just wasn’t helpful anymore. It got Freecycled.) I’m so fine with that, it makes me giddy. It will probably also cost less than individual gifts in the long haul (we’re big on gifts here, even little ones). FYI, I used Savings Catcher, but the WM price was already the lowest.
My recent weight loss has been awesome, but those nice black pants I wore so often were two sizes too big, and they got sold on eBay, along with other wardrobe staples. That meant no dark neutral pants, among other things. With the budget so small for clothes, I have been super, super picky at the thrift stores (would I buy this if it was new?), and came away with just a few items this month, for less than $1 each. These make a huge impact for very little. The big item in this category was dry cleaning a sweater, and I will definitely write about that soon. I did salvage some items I can alter or refashion, and I’m on that a bit each week. This wardrobe process will continue for at least another two sizes by Easter.
Overall, we were slightly under budget! A few truly miscellaneous expenses arose (condolence flowers), but we did so well in other areas to make up for them. I am so hopeful for this year! We can do this, and we will do this.
What’s your budget category that has surprised you in recent months? How have you dealt with it? Let us know in the comments.