The development of our household budget has been a wild ride. After we first married, some ten years ago, we rarely sat down to discuss finances, detail a monthly budget, or even discuss longer term plans such as retirement goals, etc. Over time I took on the role of handling the finances in our relationship and made a few half-hearted attempts at a budget on a most infrequent basis. It wasn’t until I finally had a financial wake-up call that I realized budgeting, and better communication about money, were the keys to our financial success. To this day, I have a difficult time setting a budget amount at the beginning of the month and sticking to it.
When Budgeting, Think in Shorter Terms
One of the ways I’ve found success in budgeting is to think in shorter terms. Instead of trying to plan for an entire month’s worth of income and expenses, I’ll just plan out the next two weeks (which works well since I’m paid biweekly). Personally, we find it easier to anticipate upcoming expenses over the next couple weeks than for the entire month. But even a two-week plan has pitfalls. Things always tend to sneak up on us that we forgot to account for when setting the budget. Kids’ yearbooks, medical expenses, or a trip to the vet can blow your budget out of the water. For this reason I’ve started thinking about my income and expenses on a daily basis.
The Daily Cash Flow Battle
I don’t literally mean I lay out a budget every single day in a formal manner. I mean that I break down my incidental, or miscellaneous, expenses budget for the entire month down into a daily amount. For instance, if I set aside $360 in June for incidental spending (eating out, clothes, gifts, entertainment, etc.) then my daily incidentals budget is $12. That means I can spend an average of $12 a day on these miscellaneous budget categories and not break my budget. I keep this figure tucked away in my memory bank and while out and about during the day keep sort of a running total in my head. There was the $3.00 breakfast sandwich on the way into work; $1.00 for the drink out of the machine; $5.00 for a coworker’s kid to go to band camp. I’ve already spent $9.00 of my $12.00 budget for daily incidentals. That means if I want to stop by Target and pickup that new CD that came out it will have to wait until another day.
One Bite at a Time
This plan reminds me a bit of that saying, “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” By breaking down an entire month’s worth of budgeted expenditures into a daily limit we are forcing ourselves to keep an inventory of our expenses as we go about our lives. Not much room in this plan for a $40.00 pair of jeans you happened to see in the window on the walk to work. If you continue to win the daily battles when it comes to daily cashflow, ultimately you will win the war against debt and overspending.
photo by IntangibleArts