In case you were wondering how it went...
When I started, I really didn't know how I could possibly save $1000 in one month (as Dave Says) or even in two. My budget is very tight. I make decent money, but I am very far in the hole due to the long recession and my career change. I have tried ways of generating more income but nothing has panned out thus far.
Where I Was:
- I had no idea how much I spend in a month on food, gas, personal items, etc.
- I didn't know what spending categories I needed and used, other than food, gas, personal items, and regular monthly bills. I knew there were more.
- I make enough to cover my expenses, but I had no real play in my month and couldn't really save anything.
- Having money in savings made me feel somewhat uncomfortable, not safe.
- I never actually knew how much money I had to spend. I always had bits and pieces of money here and there.
- I had very little idea of exactly what my interest rates were on various loans, or even the exact total of my student loans -- though I knew the exact monthly payment amounts and the due dates for everything.
- I didn't know what my credit score was, but I suspected it was not good.
- I lived paycheck to paycheck, and if I got through a month with money left over, I called it good.
- Once-in-a-while expenses (like renewing my plates) would throw me for a loop and then I'd struggle to catch up.
- I had no way of handling emergencies other than credit cards or not buying food. I lived with a low level of anxiety over my car breaking down, my teeth needing dental work, or my dog getting sick.
- I had spent time before (years, in fact) in tracking my spending, but I never was able to create and stick to any kind of budget, usually due to minor emergencies and unforseen expenses messing me up.
- My car insurance had been suspended for supposed non payment (a long story) and I didn't even know. Yeah, I thought I was insured, and I wasn't! For months!
Where I Am Now:
- I know how much money I have, everywhere, all the time.
- I know what my spending categories are.
- I know how much I spend in each of them.
- I know how much a 20 oz. bottle of Diet Coke costs downtown, because I drink one every day. I know that it is $2.24 at certain news stands, $2.51 at Jamba Juice, $2.05 at Walgreens, $2.11 in the Sears Tower ("Willis" Tower) news stand. I know it is 65 cents if I bring it with me to work.
- I have $400 on me, in cash, right now (shhhh, don't tell robbers). Most of it is allocated for things I have to pay out in the 2nd half of the month.
- I know all my interest rates and all my balances on every single loan -- credit cards, student loans, personal loans, etc.
- I have reveiwed my credit report.
- I regularly live with less than $15 in my checking account, and I don't care.
- I feel uncomfortable with less than $250 in savings. I am uncomfortable right now!
- I have a written budget, on a spreadsheet, for the whole month of December.
- I buy groceries and bring my lunch to work regularly, and I eat dinner at home regularly.
- I have car insurance with a fantastic agent. I know exactly how much coverage I have, for what, and how much it costs. I know when they will withdraw the payment from my account and how much it will be.
For 18 years, I have had to renew my plates by Dec 31st (I always seem to buy cars in December). And for 18 years, I have bought my sticker on Dec 30, or sometimes at 11:30 pm on Dec 31st, from the 24 hr currency exchange. I have always had to use cash gifts from Christmas to pay for the renewal, because all my cash in December went for Christmas. This year, I already have my sticker. I bought it with money I had been putting aside and compiling since October. It probably took only 15 minutes to buy it. It probably took the same amount of time as other years, but it did not feel as stressful and frantic. Because I wasn't doing it at the last minute, because I wasn't wondering how I could pay for it.
It really helped me to read blogs that gave details of exactly what people do or have done. I got great ideas and adapted some to my own situation. So I’m going to cover a few of the things I learned along the way. And since I can be rather prolific when it’s a topic I am learning about, I will break it up into a series. Come back soon for the next installment. Some topics I will cover:
• Switching to a Cash-Based Envelope System.
• Creating a Written Budget and Using It
• Shifts in Attitudes Towards Money
• Random Tips and Tricks
and whatever else I think of.
If you're not interested, that's ok. I don't mind. Come back some other time!
1. Photo: Financial Peace Junior. From "Money School is Now in Session." Matt McGee Weblog. 6 Aug 2008. LINK