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Can we talk about how hard it is to manage money? I’ve utilized so many tools, from spreadsheets to templates to software packages. Just like managing weight, managing money requires a level of commitment that seems to go missing as soon as I decide to take on the challenge.
Variability of paychecks, forgotten budgets, and the overwhelming number of transactions have made it hard for me to pinpoint where exactly my money goes.
Month after month, my husband and I set a goal to pay-off our credit card bill and live on our paycheck. Month after month, we fail. Somehow, we manage to say “no” to things and get a credit card bill for a few thousand dollars. Month after month, I feel like a failure for not being able to take control of our expenses. Month after month, I am in the dark as to which pits I am falling into.
Following are steps I took this month to shed light on my finances. These are small steps, however, they made a big impact on how I feel about managing finances.
Find and stick to money management system
This year, I decided to go old-school and print out a template to record general monthly income and expenses.
So far I can say I like this system and writing things down helps me process the numbers easier. And having all the statements helps me remember details like how much is deducted from my husband’s paycheck for health and dental insurance and how much I pay for each car’s insurance. If you know these things already, you are way ahead of many of us.
Set a goal
Our goal is to avoid using a credit card. That requires (1) saying “No” to instant gratification—that is waiting until we get a paycheck before spending; (2) Saving before planning big expenses; (3) repeat (1) because it is the hardest thing for us to do so it needs to be said a few times.
Pinpoint large expense categories
Writing major expenses down made me aware of the fact that we have something big happen almost every single month, from expensive home improvement projects to trips. And month after month we are spending around $1,500 on food, between groceries and eating out. For a midwest town, that’s quite a lot. No wonder why we are always in the hole.
Having a system to go through the month’s events, income, and expenses are a start to pinpoint problem areas… A requirement before a plan of attack can be devised.
Get everyone on board
Finances are harder to manage as a couple. Getting both parties involved and committed is hard. It takes a lot of honesty, picking priorities, goal-setting, and accountability.
I had a conversation with my husband about what we were willing to give up for the sake of spending guiltlessly on things we really cared about. The top three holes in our financial bucket are food (groceries and eating out), home improvement, and trips.
It’s hard to cut down, especially when everything you spend brings you joy, memories, and improves the quality of your life. But if those expenditures are costing you your savings, sacrifices need to be made.
Pick what’s staying and what must go
We decided to cut back trips to one a year for him, one as a family and none for me. None for me because I recently made a decision to go for a less paying career for the sake of being less overwhelmed and more available for my kids. Our finances took a hit, but giving up luxuries is definitely a sacrifice I was willing to make.
As for food, we decided not to cut back. Can you tell our weakness? No wonder it’s hard for me to achieve those abs.
As for home improvements, we decided not to take on until we’ve saved enough to cover them. Thankfully, we don’t have any big projects at this point. Redoing the siding on our house seemed to cost us an arm and leg last year.
Last—and hardest—part is to stick to the plan. Getting everybody on board helps hold each other accountable. And just the fact that you can now guiltlessly spend on things you care about the most will motivate you to cut back on things that get in your way.
What have been your financial challenges? And what steps have you taken to face them?
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