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Food For Thought: Talk Budgets To Me Pt. 1

The holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year and let’s be honest, it is the time of year where I spend money on other people and enjoy it. It’s never a lot of money because in my former life I was a procrastinator and always failed to plan for Christmas even as the decorations were going up in October.

This year followed a similar trajectory. But in October I got a budget, made a plan and now all my Christmas shopping is done almost done.

And you know what I discovered about budgets? Budgets equal confidence. And confidence is sexy. Therefore, budgets are very sexy.

Wait, let me explain.

I clearly have not always felt this way about budgets.

For much of my life, budgeting was about the pain of discipline and the shame of failing.

Budgeting, at least for me, has always been about achieving perfection, and then feeling guilty when I proved time and time again that I’m not perfect.

Budgets made me feel inadequate and unsure of my ability to adult. Budgets were very unsexy.

Until I met a budget that I liked.

After that, I realized budgeting is a lot like dating. Sometimes you’ve got to kiss a few frogs before you get a prince/princess.

So if you haven’t found “The One,” keep looking. Never give up and think through these three things to recognize “The One”:

  • The right budget doesn’t hold your past against you, supports your present being, but is willing to help you plan for the future. You took out too many student loans. You ran up the credit cards. You don’t have enough saved for an emergency. Retirement? You mean I can’t work until I die? Oh. The right budget helps you start wherever you are and says, “You can do this.”
  • The right budget doesn’t make you feel like you’re always doing it wrong. The right budget says, “We can do this better, together.” You budgeted $100 for eating out. You spent $125. You technically “failed.”  A good budget says, “You spent more than you intended. Adjust and move on without guilt.”
  • The right budget puts you in the driver’s seat and empowers you to prioritize what you really want out of life. You say you value experience over things, but when it’s time to snap up that great flight deal, there is nothing but cobwebs and tumbleweeds in your savings account. The right budget helps you put your money where your heart is instead of just where your mouth and feet are. The right budget helps you set goals instead of just limiting your spending.

The reality is that you have to find a system that works for you. Before the advent of phones that are basically handheld computers, I used Dave Ramsey’s monthly cash flow planning sheets and his cash envelope system. I liked the cashflow sheets and kept a binder full of them, religiously, for years.

(If you read the OktoberFast Update post, you know I now use software called YNAB (You Need A Budget) to manage money.)

But I didn’t last more than two months with the cash envelope system, which was supposed to govern my daily money management. I probably had too many envelopes and I was not the best at always writing down what I spent. I also never felt the “pain of spending cash” as Dave Ramsey likes to call it. The only pain I felt was when those envelopes were empty and payday was off in the distance. Empty envelopes just increased my anxiety because the grocery store money was gone, but there was no food in the refrigerator, and I didn’t know why.

When Reese and I started Operation Do Better we were living and cooking together. We also were overspending on our shared grocery budget. We’re a little bougie. We like good cheese and wine. Having one envelope strictly for grocery money and meal planning helped us rein in that spending area.

And that leads me to my next point. No one thing is going to fix your finances. But a number of specific, very intentional steps might. Reese and I had to budget and then develop a strategy for how we met that budget. We saw spending less on groceries as a goal rather than a limit. We saw occasional spending fasts from things like eating out as a way to realign our priorities and to reach goals faster. Reaching that goal allowed us to reward ourselves appropriately. Rewarding ourselves appropriately encouraged us to keep going.

You might be saying to yourself: Ricks, this is all cute and what not, but why are y’all still in debt?

Fair question.

The short answer: When I quit my job, we also quit the system. Not just the system of regular steady income, but the system of managing resources and managing them well. And honestly, while we’re not out of debt, we’re actually only wrapping up year two of actually trying to get out.

You’ll have to read Part 2 of this blog post if you want a more detailed answer. 🙂

Now that we’ve refocused our attention on slaying debt and saving with purpose and intention, basically Operation Do Better 2.0 (3.0 starts next year), I have been stalking these Interwebs for tips and tricks on how to do better on everything from budgeting to meal planning. And what I have discovered between You Tube and various personal finance blogs is a whole community of folks pushing back against the mass consumption of everything, and opting out of the Cult of Credit Card Debt.

The older I get the sexier financial responsibility gets.

— Ricks

(Hat tip to blogger extraordinaire J. Money over at Budgets Are Sexy for inspiring this post.)


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Operation Better Don’t: Filet Mignon Tastes on a Do Better Budget

Remember when we told you about our YOLO month in April? Let’s just say we had that kind of month again in June. It wasn’t as bad, and we feel like we were at least conscious of what we were doing, but we still have some stuff to come clean about.

Reese and Ricks’ Good News: Reese was tempted to not do her charitable giving this month, but she did…and guess what? She exceeded the amount she  planned to give. This is the thing she’s most proud of from June. The other thing worth bragging about is she stayed within the $200 budget she set for the NYC trip…yeah! Ricks also stayed within her $200 budget and actually came home with money, like seriously $40! ::hits the running man::

Celebrating Ricks’s Last Day at Work: Celebrating Ricks’ last day at Air Force Times with friends was on June’s calendar. You can read about why she quit here. Reese planned to take care of that and other celebratory things.  Dinner, drinks, and mani/pedis totaled $163. Money well spent considering the magnitude of the event. The goal was to celebrate with no worries and lots of love. Mission accomplished.

Unplanned Expenses: Coffee shops, TJ Maxx, Forever 21, and a search for bowties got Reese this month. Total spent: $220. Ricks’ unplanned spending came in at about $350 with eating out, shopping in preparation for NYC and a brand- spanking-new pair of Chuck Taylors.

Groceries: We failed. Like forreal. We’re embarrassed to even tell y’all how much we spent. ::long pause while we hang our heads in shame:: OK. We’ll tell you. We spent $418 in the grocery store. SOH. That’s not going to happen again. Forreal. Never. We promise.

Moving Forward: Looking at the raw numbers, we know it could be worst. But it’s bad enough. This whole journey is about doing better, right? Here’s are our next steps:

  1. Weekly Finance Meetings: Every Monday, we plan to sit down on our thrifty couch, balance our checkbooks, talk about what we spent and why we spent it, and make whatever adjustments we need to make for the week. This, we hope, will keep our spending consciousness high and helps us stay accountable to each other.
  2. Grocery Shopping: We’ve noticed a trend: When we shop with cash, we’re much more conscious. At one point, we got our grocery spending down under $250. We’re aiming for that again. From now on, we’re going to the grocery store with cash only. What can’t be bought with what we have will have to stay at the store.
  3. Retail Fail? No More. Back to avoiding retail stores. We both fell short under the powers of funky sunglasses, studded tops, and cute pants. No more shopping alone. No more shopping without a list. Heck, no retail stores at all unless it’s an absolute need.
  4. Planned fun. We’re leaving ourselves some grace for spontaneous drives to Fredricksburg for a trip to the Sonic Drive-In restaurant [Don’t judge], and we allow a $20 allowance for spreading some good cheer in the neighborhoods we plan to visit for our Around Town series, which we’ve written about here, here and HERE, ICYMI.

There you have it folks. June in a nutshell. What are you doing to improve your financial health this summer?