I've written before about our budget, but what I did not write about is how we totally and completely fell off of the budgeting bandwagon last year. Life got crazy and stressful, and we slowly stopped entering in our expenditures and balancing the checkbook. We slowly stopped having budget planning meetings. We slowly stopped being careful about what we were spending and very quickly found ourselves back in the predicament of living paycheck to paycheck.
The more time passed that we didn't get back on track, the more overwhelming the whole idea of getting back on track became. Life didn't get any less stressful, and our finances became a heckuva lot more stressful.
We were so stupid to let that go on for more than a couple weeks, but we did.
We went without a budget for over a year.
I look back on that time now and I could just kick myself! What were we thinking? We weren't thinking, actually. That's just the problem. We kept talking about how we needed to sit down together and start all over, but we didn't make it top priority, and we continued to wing it with our finances.
The problem with winging it financially is that you have no real idea where all your money is going. We paid our bills, but occasionally found ourselves in some tight spots with the checking account because we weren't paying attention. Our plan for reducing debt went out the window, and we even incurred a little bit more debt.
We were stupid.
Finally, it all came to a head and our checking account was bone dry (again), and The Maestro took the bull by the horns and made us sit down together to rework the budget and see where we stood financially.
That was in July.
It is now October, and we have completely turned our finances around. It's absolutely amazing, actually. I still want to kick myself for not doing it a lot sooner, but I am breathing so much easier that I don't even mind that much.
We have learned some important lessons about budgeting.
We already knew these things, really, we did. But we forgot. Or we let the fact that we were so overwhelmed with life block out the fact that sticking to a budget would actually make our lives a bit less overwhelming.
Making a "fresh start" on the You Need A Budget software was super easy and a lot faster than I had anticipated. (We love YNAB—here's a $6.00 coupon code should you decide you might love it, too.) It only took us a few minutes to clear out the old budget and checking account information and start fresh. Then we took a couple hours to hash out the budget, and that was that.
We were new people!
In the 3 months since our fresh start, we've
1. Sticking to a budget reduces friction in your marriage.
Obvious, I know. But—Wow! We didn't realize how much we were arguing over money, nor did we realize just how stressful it was on our marriage to live paycheck to paycheck like that. In the past, only one of us paid attention to the status of the bank account, which already sets things up for failure. When you aren't on equal footing regarding the finances, nagging and arguing can set in pretty quickly.
If one person pays the bills, that's fine, but both of you should be aware of how much money is in the account at any given time and be willing to enter in every expenditure. You should be having monthly budget meetings to reallocate and to discuss savings goals and see how the budget is working. That's equal footing.
And, voila! We are not arguing about money anymore. Ever. It's kind of like magic.
2. Sticking to a budget reduces worry in your home.
When the budget isn't working, you have to worry about whether or not the mortgage payment is going to clear. And then you have to worry about how you're going to pay for groceries or the surprise expenses the kids are always springing on you if the mortgage does clear. I checked the bank account way more often than I look at it now, simply because I was nervous things wouldn't go through!
Totally stupid. I was expending more energy for a much less fabulous result! Now, I don't worry that things won't clear. Even when I accidentally double paid a bill, I didn't worry. I knew exactly where we stood and it was fine. I know exactly what we can pay on groceries, and I know exactly what to do with the surprises from the girls. In fact, we have budgeted for those surprises and we are always ready for them now.
It's nice to look in the checking account and see exactly what you expect to see. It's kind of like magic.
3. Sticking to a budget helps you be disciplined in other areas of your life.
I've always found that when I am out of control in one area of my life, it leaks into others. Lucky for us, the flip side is also true: When we get back in control in one area of life, we gain more control in other areas.
Some of this is natural cause and effect: If you don't have money in the budget for ice cream and cookies you will not eat ice cream and cookies, and you'll start to have better control over your diet. If you don't have the money in the budget to buy random things you don't need, you'll start to have better control over the clutter in your home.
But some of it is simply because you're exercising that willpower muscle. I love how improving my finances has helped me to be a better person all around. It's kind of like magic.
4. Sticking to a budget helps you to afford more.
When you start paying attention to where all your money is going and you stop putting it towards useless stuff, you'll suddenly be able to afford more of the good things in life. When you start budgeting for big purchases instead of just lamenting that you'll never have enough money for that new camera or that trip to Hawaii, you'll soon be able to afford them.
Instead of feeling like you have no money for anything extra, you suddenly have the freedom for those extras if you decide you want them. Budgeting also helps you realize whether something is worth budgeting for in the first place.
We have never paid for cable. But last month we talked about it in depth, and we decided it was time for us to get cable—mostly to watch football as a family, but there are plenty of other reasons. The point is, because we budgeted for it, we can afford it. We would have never been able to swing it before! It's kind of like magic.
5. Sticking to a budget teaches your kids to budget.
When your kids hear you discussing the budget and saving money and paying bills, their little ears will not miss anything. They will begin to learn—from your good example—that budgeting is an amazing and magical thing. They will understand at an early age that sticking to a budget is vital for a happy home.
And that's not magic, it's just plain good sense.
If you want to try out the budgeting software we use (YNAB—You Need a Budget) click HERE for a coupon. It has helped us more than anything else to stick with the budget because it is so easy to enter our expenditures in via a phone app that syncs with our computer.
This post is part of my 31 Days to a Happier Home series.
To see all the posts in this series, click here: 31 Days to a Happier Home
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