Well, February started with me being super excited about my January grocery spending success, but also a bit upset about the car repairs that threw my budget off track. I was determined to make February a success, and I got all the way to February 7th before blowing the budget yet again.
That day, we woke up at about 6:00 am to a strange smell and a funny noise. Turns out it was a burned-out furnace blower, which comes with a price tag of about $150 if you DIY the repair—or $800 if it’s 13 degrees outside, your DIY-furnace-repairing husband is flying out of town in two days, and the part won’t arrive for a week. Sigh.
As the month progressed, I also fell off the wagon with keeping track of expenses because it wasn’t new or fun anymore. In fact, I went an entire weekend without entering any expenses into my tracker. Here’s what happened.
Lessons learned from falling off the budgeting bandwagon
That temporary reprieve I took from tracking expenses made it hard to get back on the bandwagon. But the good news is that I learned quite a few lessons from the difficulties I faced, including:
1. This is why people fail at resolutions.
All it took was that back-on-the-budgeting-bandwagon difficulty to help me understand why people fail at New Year’s resolutions. Like me and my budgeting experience, they’re initially super excited about making a “new year, new you” change because there are so many possibilities.
And then reality sets in, which makes you realize that change is a slog. It’s a grind. And it’s boring—particularly when there are no immediate results. Tediously tracking my spending, only to see the big, unplanned expenses derail my budget, was defeating—just as defeating as eating right and exercising, only to step on the scale and see no change—or worse, an uptick.
2. I’m not necessarily spending more; I’m just more aware of my spending.
The reality is that my furnace would have broken in February if I was tracking my spending or not. And my car would have slid into that ice bank back in January even if I wasn’t meticulously logging every expense.
By meticulously tracking my spending, I’m simply more aware of how much I’m spending. I’m keeping track of the money that is coming in and going out. And by keeping my spending in the forefront of my mind, I’m helping to curb frivolous spending on things that don’t matter, won’t improve my life, and aren’t important to me.
3. I’m making more conscious decisions because of it.
Because I’ve been tracking my spending, I know that we’ve already gone out to dinner several times this month. And, since I know that we’ve gone out, I find myself suggesting alternatives, like cooking at home instead.
Or, sometimes I do the opposite. I know we’ve gone out a few times, but I’m also making a conscious decision to go out, while fully understanding that it’s expensive and will add to my restaurant category—with the spending total easily accessible to me (and everyone else who chooses to go to biggerpockets.com/mindysbudget).
This forces me to think about what I’m choosing to do rather than just doing it.
So, how did Mindy’s spending look at the end of February?
We ended the month of February by spending $5,926.16, which was $1029.26 above our budgeted total. We had a lot of categories come in below budget, but some categories continued to be a problem for us last month.
Sure, I could just increase my budget, but that isn’t what I want to do. (Someone made a comment that my January budget was too restrictive. I didn’t feel restricted in any way, and getting my spending under control is something that I really want to accomplish.)
It appears that food spending is going to be a constant struggle. I want to get the cost below $700 per month. I do believe I can get there, but I have to be conscious about it and try to plan ahead. It’s super easy to say that I’m going to plan my meals, but it’s a lot harder to put that promise into practice.
The household category also continues to baffle me. I don’t know that I’ll be able to get this one under control for the year. I will continue to plan for what I think I will be spending and will continue to keep track of where it’s going in order to try again next year.
Utility costs are still in flux because we didn’t have a gas bill for the first two years we lived here due to a mix-up at the utility company. Plus, everything will be electric when entering the summer months, and we’ve got solar panels to power the majority of that. But then we’ll also have a water bill, so who knows.
Shift your mindset and make the impossible a reality.
Life is just waiting to give you everything you deserve and desire—you just need to shift your mindset to achieve it.
Final thoughts on last month’s budget experiment
The main point of this whole exercise is to figure out just how much I am actually spending each year. My financial independence number was based on spending $3,000 per month, with a bit of wiggle room for unexpected expenses, which bumped the total to an annual spend of $40,000. I haven’t landed anywhere close to that budget yet, but I was under the impression that that’s what I was spending. That kind of thinking will have you going broke in retirement.
But I am tracking this now, so I can make adjustments now, while I still have a job. It’s OK to be wrong, and it’s OK to adjust and pivot. It’s even OK to decide that you want to be able to spend more money in retirement. You just need to have that money to spend to do it.