Breaking the Family Budget

Budgeting is a relatively new revelation for me. I got sick of feeling like I was constantly depriving myself and yet never getting ahead. Any and every purchase was tinged with the guilt of “I can’t afford this.” I felt like I barely spent anything and couldn’t figure out where the money went. For years my husband I withdrew however much money we needed from our joint chequing account (neither of us exactly sure how much the other was spending) and barely made rent. The last week of every month was painfully lean as we tried to cobble together enough to keep a roof over our heads.

So last fall I drew up a budget. Well, first I bought the Pocket Idiots Guide: Living On A Budgetbecause I didn’t know quite where to start. It is pretty straightforward, but sometimes you just want somebody — some writer — to say “Start here.” We’re still not doing everything exactly by the book, so to speak. We have some debt to tackle rather than putting aside a rainy day fund, for example. We also have some needs to be met that cannot really wait for us to strictly be able to afford them. Like we couldn’t wait to pay off our debt before purchasing a car, a dishwasher and an air conditioner. (Trust me. The second baby plus trying to find the time to work from home made those things pretty damn necessary.) But the real miracle is that we found a way to pay for them. Knowing how much money we have left to spend after all the necessities are accounted for actually makes me feel richer. It’s okay for us to go out for dinner because I know that the essentials are taken care of. By putting most of my spending money on my credit card I get to pay down my balance when I come under budget, too. So I’m spending more freely and saving money — unreal.

But, oh my, is it ever easy to slip back into old habits. Instead of taking a couple hours every month to make sure we were keeping on track and to adjust for changing costs — like I did at first — I’ve been trying to keep it all in my head. I just haven’t set aside the time to properly manage the budget, so of course it doesn’t get done. (Next purchase: a book on time budgeting. There’s another word for that, isn’t there?) This basically means that our debt payment/savings are lagging because I hadn’t promptly funneled the income into its proper slots. I don’t know about you, but it certainly is true that we will spend what we have.

There is another casualty of my sloppy money-keeping: a trip. We had been planning — by planning I mean we decided to go but then did nothing — to visit Montreal this weekend. Ed has an old friend who is recently married and is throwing a party to celebrate. We figured that a road trip and weekend in Quebec was in order. I also enrolled Young C in nursery school for the summer and had to write a cheque to pay for that. I did nothing to set aside money for either expense though. I somehow thought that we would be able to pay for our weekend jaunt out of our regular spending money. Duh. I finally sat down and did some number crunching and realized that is just not going to happen.

So we are now looking at potentially spending one night away rather than two, and staying in a motel outside of the city rather than a downtown hotel or Bed & Breakfast.  Or maybe we’ll just call the whole thing off and do something closer. We’ll have to decide soon.

One thing’s for sure. I’ll be tightening my grip on the balance book and making sure that everything is in the budget next time.

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