I have been living by a strict budget for the last few months, and I must say, it is very liberating.
A little background: I am 28 and married with a 1 1/2 year old. My wife used to work, but now she stays home with the child, so she brings in no income. Almost 2 years ago, we moved from Seattle to a much lower cost of living area in Arizona. We sold our house in Seattle and made a ton of money on it and moved to Arizona to live near family and so that I could go to work for the family company. My salary roughly stayed the same, but my wife’s went away completely. We rented a place from my parents for a while, but last Spring we bought a house and spent about 6 months renovating. We had a good chunk of money from selling our house and from a 401k loan, and we used that money as a down payment and for renovations. Our attitude was that it would be very difficult to do renovations while living in the house, so we wanted to get everything done before moving in. At the time, we weren’t living on a budget, so we didn’t have a good idea of what we were spending vs saving. The cost of living is much lower where we are now, but we had the baby which meant one more set of expenses. Also, my wife’s body had changed some from the pregnancy and she was feeling bored from no longer having a job, so she was doing a lot of shopping, especially for clothing. By November, our money ran out completely. We even blew through our emergency fund. And we still had a little over $1000 owed to the contractor. We had more credit card debt than cash, and I had never in my life paid any interest on any of my credit cards. We got lucky over the next month that I’d get a paycheck right before one of the credit card payment was due. However, even though my wife and I tried to cut back, we still were spending more than I was making.
Mid-December, I knew that a change was needed. I created a budget. I had tried it before, but it had been too difficult to predict everything for the month and it only ever lasted a couple of months. This time, I tried something different. I have all of my monthly, automatic expenses listed first. Those are predictable, so that was easy. In this category I even added things that happen less than once a month, but I divide by the number of months and use that number. For instance, I take my Prime membership fee and divide by 12, and put that number in each month. Then, I added categories that are more variable but I have to spend money on every month. To this I added groceries and utilities. For these, instead of putting a “limit”, I tried to predict what it was likely to be. Then, I added a line for what I want to save/invest every month. It would go towards my emergency fund first until that was full, then go towards paying off the 401k loan, and then towards other investing. Last, I took what was left and set that aside for what my wife and I call “discretionary”. True discretionary spending is part of that. That includes eating at restaurants, buying alcohol, buying decorations or clothing, etc. It also includes more irregular spending that isn’t a consistent amount and doesn’t happen in consistent intervals, such as Dr. visits. I track my budget using spreadsheets, and tally up my spending using Mint.com.
We’ve only been doing this for a few months now, but I feel so much more free now than when I wasn’t on a budget. We bought a couch and a Peloton using interest free financing. The money to pay those bills comes out of discretionary, which forces us to spend a little less on other things. Without a budget, I would have said “Hell no!” to both. My wife and I can confidently buy things that we really want or need without feeling like we’re spending too much. Many people think of a budget and think that it will make them feel restricted. However, I find that it’s the exact opposite. We stop and think about things before making purchases now, and decide whether it’s really worth it. We eat out a whole lot less, because we were able to see how much that was setting us back. However, when we do decide to spend our money, we do it confidently and without any guilt. It really is great, and I don’t ever plan on stopping.
TLDR: Due to major life changes, my wife and I completely ran out of money. I started budgeting, and now we feel so much more free than before.