I’ve only seen the first episode of Downton Abbey, but Maggie Smith’s money line and her sincere query as to what is a “weekend” have already sold me on the series. The last time I checked, we were number 49 on the library’s wait list for the first season DVDs. You’ll know when it comes.
Her awkward dinner party sentiment struck me as quite apt, though, as I feel like I’m thinking and talking about money all the time these days. And while our culture clearly no longer considers money an impolite topic of conversation, per se, I still feel a bit awkward writing about it. The topic of personal finance is labeled “personal” for good reason: no one really wants to know what other people earn and spend, and nor do they really want to share their own statistics. This hesitation arises from a deeply rooted association between self-worth and salary that, in my opinion, betrays a decidedly un-Christian perspective on how we value our own lives.
Nevertheless, we’re talking about money today because everyone needs to know that I have, for the very first time in my life, successfully tracked my spending for an entire month!
(Wait, what was that? Was that…? Did my dad just face-palm? Hey! I know you’ve been suggesting this for the past ten years, okay? Better late twenties than never! How about celebrating this minor success? Gosh.)
ANYway. I’m serious: Zach and I made a budget and, generally, kept to it. It would perhaps be overly dramatic to call the process excruciating, but I can honestly say it was difficult. Though I love individual deals as much as the next saavy shopper, persistent coupon clipping and denying myself impulse items was really tough at first. I can do the (simple, basic) math (with a calculator), but forcing myself to actually think about cash flow was uncomfortable. Maybe it chaffed because I don’t like to acknowledge my limits. Maybe I was battling my personal entitlement demon, who clawed in protest whenever it was denied instant gratification. Or maybe I just needed to break my habit of fuzzy math- budgeting from my single days. (In this delightful system, one $200 tax refund can be used to justify over $600 worth of purchases! Best when not combined with credit cards). Whatever it was: I broke through.
By the end of September, I could think about money without despairing. What’s more, I actually developed a positive attitude toward frugality: instead of seeing it as a horrible prison of self-denial and rules, I came to appreciate the freedom it gave me to plan for the future without anxiety.
As a result, we’ve found that we’re able to save more than ever before, despite me working part time and the addition of baby-related expenses. It’s a good feeling.
I’ve discovered that–for me, at least–the key to managing a budget is a generous allotment of wiggle-room. For example, we’ve based our utilities budget on our average bill from the winter months, even though we barely spend a 1/3 of that during the summer. So if one of us happens to maybe go over his/her allowance at an Ann Taylor Loft sale, he/she might be able to find room to categorize that expense without endangering the ultimate savings goal for the month. I realize that this is not, strictly speaking, an example of best practices when it comes to responsible budgeting, but let’s return to the larger picture and the cause for general celebration: I Have A Budget!!
The Good family started a budget
And found that they couldn’t make much fit
But then the wife got a glint
In her eye, went to Mint
And figured out how she could fudge it.