On Budgets and Budgeting

“This planet has – or had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”

"Parable of the Rich Fool" Rembrant, 1627

“Parable of the Rich Fool” Rembrant, 1627

 – Douglas Adams (1952 – 2001), “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” 

One might think from my choice in artwork and quote that I’m in the “money doesn’t matter” camp, however, that is far from true. I just also see the humor in it all.

I have a good job and I make a decent living, but there was a time right after my divorce when I was broke. So broke that I thought I might lose my house… and a lot more. Many things helped me get through – the love and support of friends and family, a fierce determination not to go under, and a budget. It was a budget that I lived and breathed by. I didn’t make any decisions without consulting it. It was my Ten Commandments, my oracle, my Magic Eight Ball.

Eventually though, things worked themselves out and I didn’t need to watch my pennies quite so closely. Things have been running fairly smoothly for quite a while, but over the last year, I’ve started thinking about using a budget again. Part of it has to do with the fact that fitness is expensive. I don’t see it written about all that often, but being fit costs money. Take running – people say it is great because you don’t need any equipment: step out your front door and just go. Then in the very next breath they’ll say, “Well, you should get good shoes. And,” they’ll admit, “good shoes are expensive. But it is worth it.” I agree, it is worth it, but what they don’t mention is that if you are a woman you are also going to have to shell out for a sports bra, and if you are a woman who is larger in the chest area, those don’t come cheap. You can compare them to cheap running shoes – sure, you can get some for under $20, but you don’t want to. Then, once you have those, you should get some decent socks, because good shoes are no good with bad socks, and really, you should have some kind of light for night running, and then…. you get the idea.

Here’s something else – in my case, getting fit helped me significantly change sizes. So, all the running clothes I bought when I first started running? I had to buy all new ones a few months later because the old stuff was falling off me. That includes that very pricey sports bra – they only work when they fit.

So yeah, costs. There is weight lifting: I bought a weight bench at a garage sale for $10 and borrowed a bar for the weights, but weight plates are running roughly $1 a pound, and I keep needing more of them! Of course, there were also the books I bought to learn how to lift in the first place. Then there’s cycling. A friend gave me a free bike, but I still had to have it tuned up, have new tubes installed and had to buy a helmet. I’m still saving up for a bike rack.

On top of all this, there are other things I want to do – I want to do some home improvement projects and I’ve been considering a career change. If so, I’ll want funds in the bank. As things are now, I am fine. I am able to do what I want to do and pay all my bills. I’m setting money aside for emergencies and Hermes’ vet bills, but I want more. And I don’t want a second job.

I’ve decided to go back to the budget and see what it can tell me. This month I’ve been starting to collect the numbers. Of course, November and December are ridiculous months to create a budget in, there is so much holiday spending, food buying and socializing, but I’m just plugging in figures and seeing where they go. On my Lift app, I am tracking “saving money” and trying to make sure that I get in some No Spend Days and use my coupons – I am trying to build more shekel saving habits.

I have decided not to make any decisions or significant changes until January or even February. I’m just using this time to help me create a starting budget. Then I will see where that leads. I’m hoping I can find some way to make the pennies squeak – I’ve got a whole lot of goals ahead for next year!

Finances and Fitness

BudgetThis week I started working on my financial budget draft. I always make my own. I’ve tried using other people’s templates, but I always need so much customization that they never work for me. I start adding fields and changing records and screwing up the built-in functions, and by the time I’m done, I might as well have started from scratch. So, that’s what I am doing.

It’s good work and I am glad I am doing it, but it does make you look at the realities of life. Already I have caught a couple little rough spots. For example, I prefer to think of bills on a month to month basis. Some bills, however, are quarterly or semiannual; insurance is a good example. My life insurance bills quarterly, my auto semiannually. Since I hate “surprise” bills (I always forget when those are going to hit), I simplify things by adding up everything and dividing by twelve, then each month I direct that portion to a separate savings account. Basically it allows me to account for them all on a monthly basis – and I know I always have funds available. The bill comes and I just pull it out of the account. It’s nice, but what I realized this week is that my auto insurance went up a bit recently and I wasn’t accounting for that increase. Not a big deal, but it is a danger with the “set and forget” method.

For several years I lived and breathed by my budget – day in, day out. I went through a rough patch after my divorce and I had to really keep an eye on things for a while. The last few years I haven’t been tracking it as much. Now that I have some goals that involve sums of cash, it’s time to get back to it. I’d like to look at joining a gym or taking classes, but I need to see how much I can swing. I also am determined to have that roof rack for my car by early spring so I will be ready to bike and kayak when the warm weather hits.

Here’s what I can tell so far – on my base salary I am fine. There isn’t a lot of extra wiggle room, but it’s fine. However, my company also offers quarterly profit-sharing. Presently I’ve been using that for my discretionary spending. If I have goals I want to meet, I am going to be a lot more deliberate in how that money is handled.

I’m planning on handling my finances more or less like I handled my weight loss. I’m figuring out my goals, looking at my options, and am going to move forward using a combination of tried and true wisdom mixed a fair amount of gut instinct. I’ll let you know how it goes!


Photo credit: Tax Credit on flickr