Monday, May 16, 2011

Money Monday: May 16, 2011

Well. I finally got around to fiddling with the budget. Gads. You’d think it would be easier by now…but it isn’t, for the simple reason that I am a crazy person I have somewhat extraordinary buying patterns.

With a lot of outliers.

Which is fancy statistics-speak for randomly scattered big line items.

Which is another way of saying, I do things like buy meat by the whole animal and maple syrup six gallons at a time, plus instead of buying a nice little supermarket-box of Cream of Wheat, I order up a 25-pound sack of farina (which is what Cream of Wheat is, in case you didn’t know that) (which very few of us do, before some smart aleck comes along to go, “Hey, did you know Cream of Wheat is actually just farina?” in oh, EVERYBODY knows that! tones so that you’re all, gee, what’s wrong with me, that I didn’t know that, I must be a real dufus or something! when actually, I suspect there’s only about nine people in whole world who know and/or retain this information).

Which tends to make my monthly grocery bill look like this:

January: $Negligible
February: $Negligible
March: $YOWSA!!!!
April: $Negligible
…and so on…

Same thing with the clothing purchases, which tend to be made in two or three B-I-G shopping experiences rather than a bunch of little nibbles throughout the year…and just about everything else, really.

What I then end up doing is really kind of laughable. Obviously, I know I need to look at a good, long period – twelve month at least.

And equal in obvious-factor, I need to abide by those numbers, and not start playing, “Oh, ya, but…there was That One Thing in there, sooooo, I can totally shave, eh, a good $300 off that monthly figure…” game.

PLUS, once I’ve managed to overcome my denial and smoothed those numbers down into a workable budget – I need to stick to it. In both directions.

We have a tendency to spend what we have. It’s just human nature – and if you have given yourself $X to spend on something, and you don’t spend it, well! It becomes mad money, right?!

But I can’t really do that. If I’ve got a grocery budget of $650, and I only spend $200 in a given months, I can’t just go ahead and spend the other $450 on something else – I need to just hold onto it, in the ‘grocery’ envelope, and wait.

The Big Spend is coming – inevitably, it is coming.

So one of my big challenges is to really pay attention to how my spending is lining up with the overall budget, and to try to stay with it – even if my “problem” is what appears to be excess cash piling up. (And if I don’t actually end up needing it, well, so much the better! But if I do…I don’t want to be sobbing into my decaf about how I shoulda knoooooown this was coming. It’s embarrassing. And then I get pissed about it. And everything just kind of goes downhill from there.)

Overall, though, I think I’ve got a workable go-forward budget in place; the core expenses are all covered by the husband’s paycheck, which leaves mine responsible for childcare and pushing forward on the bigger goals – paying off those remaining bills, bumping up our savings, and trying to position ourselves better for the future. It’s cool to see things line up like that again; we’re still pretty close to the margin, but if I can stay the course and keep working those expenses down, pay things off and keep reducing obligations, we can come out of this (ahem) experience with nothing more than a few new scars on our psyches.

Which we can pretend we got in a knife fight. Oh, THAT debt-related paranoia? Ya, got it in a knife fight in the outback, mate…THERE I WAS, surrounded by ninja crocodiles…!


wrnglrjan said...

I think Cream of Wheat has iron added.

Yes, that's my useful contribution to your post. :)

Elizabeth L in Apex, NC said...

OK, but I have an ignorant budget question. Sticking with your scenario of spending only $200 of the $650 grocery budget example...

Why, instead of holding the unspent grocery for later - even though we know there will be a later - do you not dump that onto debt? Is it because when that killer month comes you don't have to add back to the debt? But, even if that's the case, doesn't it save you some interest? Is it just too complicated this way?

Colleen Mole said...

Elizabeth has a darned good question there! I, for instance, tend to pay a big chunk to a credit card and then on week two of our pay cycle (hubbie & I get paid the same day) run out of money and have to resort back the very cc I just paid down! Very annoying. But, is this actually a semi-ok idea since I avoid interest???

So confused...

Lisa A said...

Delurking, again, to suggest having a separate account linked to your primary where you can place your overage as a "holding account" until the big expenditure surfaces. That way the cash isn't staring at you, claiming to be mad money instead of farina/maple syrup/other large grocery item currency.

We don't carry very much cc debt, so the whole "pay off debt on a revolving basis to use later for large purchases" thing isn't something we utilize. That's just us, though, YMMV,

I look forward to hearing how your new budget plan goes, though.

Science PhD Mom said...

Great stuff, I have the same problem with setting aside the "extra" money from a month. Best laid plans and all that...I need to do better with that too!

Unknown said...

It was hard at first, but after a while, I've trained myself to LOVE seeing money sitting in those envelopes (virtual ones in my case). It makes me feel secure to know I have enough money set aside to buy...something. It feels so good, in fact, that I'm reluctant to buy the 'something,' because all that money will go away, and I won't have all that wonderful security. It's a mindset thing, I guess.