So I haven’t written much about my budget lately.
That is because I’ve been doing a pretty piss poor job of sticking to it.
I have been doing better. I have been making positive changes. But I’m not meeting my goals of staying within my budget or even tracking my spending accurately. As far as my budget goes, I’m failing pretty miserably.
But I am making better financial decisions. I’m not buying as much stuff and I’m saving a little each month. These are definitely improvements. Still, it feels a lot like I’m the kid who’s really bad at math, the one who has failed every semester for her entire academic career. Sure, one month she may turn in all her assignments, but some of them are only partially completed, and she’s going to get an F on the test anyway.
I taught a “remedial” math class a couple of years ago; I know what it’s like for those kids. They are so far behind, they have missed so much, and they just don’t get it. Some of them are never going to catch up. Many of them are never going to pass out of Algebra. (Did you know that not passing Algebra is the number one reason California high schools students don’t graduate or pass the high school exit exam?!)
I watched so many kids try really hard to dig themselves out of the hole they were in that year in math class. Some made truly valiant efforts but in the end the result was a 58% F instead of a 33% F. Sometimes it feels like I’m making improvements, but I’m still failing, I’m just not failing so exceptionally.
I keep telling myself that while I have a long way to go, I’m taking steps in the right direction. We all know what a journey of a thousand steps starts with.
The thing is, I can’t keep failing at this. Our financial future is at stake. My family’s security hangs in the balance. I owe it to my children to figure this out. It’s so, so, sooooo important.
And unlike a lot of other really important things that I feel I fail at (ahem, offering my kids consistently well balanced meals) this is measurable. My progress can be tracked in very real terms, with actual numbers. Hence the failing math student analogy.
Like so many things in my life, the first few months I did a really good job. Then I fell off the wagon. Spectacularly. One thing I will always do is fall off the wagon spectacularly.
I know the answer is to get back on. I KNOW this. I’m doing it. I’ve thrown one leg over the edge of the back. I’m struggling mightily to haul myself back on. I’ve told myself that I WILL start tracking my spending again. I’ve told myself that I WILL stick to my budget. I’ve set up incentives. I’ve talked to my husband. I’ve tried really hard to make it happen, to make it work.
I’m realizing that restricting my spending is a lot like other areas of my life, I’d do a lot better if I just stopped cold turkey. Moderation is NOT something I excel at. I’m pretty good at unwaveringly denying myself, but letting myself enjoy a little something here and there? That never works. I always fall down the slippery slope into absolute excess.
I didn’t want to go the cold turkey no-shopping route because I knew it wasn’t sustainable and I didn’t think it would teach me the skills of shopping in moderation that I will clearly need. Now I realize that I need to start with some cold turkey no spending rules or I’m never really going to get started. It’s like the juice cleanse before a major dietary overhaul. It helps with the sugar and carb addiction that’s gotten out of control. After I’ve exercised my “no spending” muscles I can try to really flex them by making harder choices about what I actually can buy, and when.
So this summer I’m not buying anything non-consumable. The only things I’m allowed to buy are those we go through and then throw away like food or TP or laundry detergent or, well you get the idea. The reality is I have enough of that kind of stuff bought in bulk that I probably won’t have to buy anything except food, and I want to put some pretty strict regulations on those kinds of purchases too.
The one thing I’m letting myself get are some things for the back yard (I really need to work out there this summer–that is another area of my life I haven’t shared because, well, the back yard = yet another FAIL). I will create a spending limit for that project and when I hit it I WILL STOP. (I’m writing that in capital letters to remind myself of my own determination.)
I’m reading some blogs about frugal spending. Some of these people are saving 70% of what they make! One woman hasn’t purchased one piece of clothing (used or new) in 18 months! Their frugality is impressive, to be sure, and the message is very much that once you make the habit, it’s easy to stick with it.
Except she is clearly someone who has felt stressed out spending money and so always did so sparingly. As someone who has ALWAYS had a spending problem, since the moment I clutched my first hard won quarters in my grubby little hand, I narrow my eyes at her assurance that it will become second nature. She seems a lot like the kid who is really good at math, who just gets it and doesn’t even need to try. Sure she puts in the work and gets the homework done, but she can do that because she understands what is being asked of her. It takes her a fraction of the time to get the job done, and she can do it well. The kid who isn’t as good at math couldn’t get three problems done in the same amount of time, and she wouldn’t know how to do them anyway.
I’ll keep reading the frugal living blogs, because it’s inspiring to see how others can live happily spending less, but I know I’m never going to be like those people. I’m never going to go 18 months without buying a single scrap of clothing. I’m never going to save 70% of what I make. Part of the reason is I don’t have a financial goal that drives me like they do (more on this later), but part of it that I’m just not the kind of person who will ever be able to live like that. And that’s okay. I can still make sound financial decisions, spend less and save money without living so frugally. And it’s going to start this summer, with a shopping ban. Wish me luck.
How would you like to change the way you spend money?