Happy Budgeting – How do you do it?

Nothing makes me feel better than setting a budget and sticking to it. I feel so pious when I make it to my next paycheck with a few dollars to spare. I get a major rush from saving up for something I want and purchasing it with cash, without it affecting my next three paychecks. Living within your means is a wonderful thing. It’s also exhausting.

For me, budgeting everything down to the penny is difficult to sustain as part of a regular lifestyle. It’s about constantly deciding what needs to be bought NOW and what can wait another week or month. Do I pay a little more toward an outstanding bill, or do I buy new socks for my kiddo? Should I get an oil change or new underwear? Stupid stuff. I’m not  budgeting for vacations or an IPad. It’s stuff I will have to get around to spending money on someday.

My husband and I have made some progress this year that I am truly proud of. I have been faithfully putting away a little of each paycheck into a savings account. I am contributing to a retirement account again. We have been diligent about grocery shopping regularly and cheaply, and have cut down our weekly food spending by about $50 or so per week. It seems like I am still doing something wrong though. I often run out of money before the next payday and have to use my credit card for gas or something. I can’t ever seem to get ahead.

The first rule that any financial expert would tell me is to cut out unnecessary expenses. I am not even close to an extreme couponer, a garage-saler or even a good bargain finder, but I don’t spend money on the things most people around me do either. The only items I regularly spend money on that would fall into the unnecessary category are cable tv at $75 a month and lunches or lattes a couple of times a week. Yes, I could take that $3.50 latte twice a week and put that money into savings and end up with an extra $30 a month. Big whoop.  We don’t go out to dinner anymore. We don’t go to movies. We don’t go out for drinks. We don’t pay for entertainment or hobbies. When you consider that, the little luxuries of cable tv, lattes or a bottle of wine on the weekend become necessary rewards in the daily stress of working to live.

I know these times call for serious penny-pinching, and some people would consider me lucky to have food to eat and a roof over my head, so I hope I don’t sound too ungrateful. I’m just having a problem with budget burnout. If you are constantly depriving yourself of anything fun, how long until you go on a spree? I read an interesting article today comparing budgeting to dieting. The premise was with budgeting as with diets, you can’t go crazy for long-term results. Sure, restricting your calories or purchases to extremes will yield impressive results right away, but rarely is it sustainable over the long run.

How have you found a sustainable way to budget while not feeling deprived?  Are there little treats that help you get through your day while staying on budget? Sometimes the only thing that keeps me trudging through 8 more hours of work is the reward of a latte break, but is that going to be the death of my bank account?

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. rangewriter
    Oct 27, 2011 @ 01:34:09

    This is such a timely and heartbreaking topic. So many people are squeezed from all sides and at some point something’s gotta give. What makes me really angry is that it’s the real people like you who are feeling the pain. The effin rich just keep accumulating their investments. They may hold their cards a little closer during this depression, but they don’t have any idea what it means to really hurt.

    I like your analogy of the dollar budget and the calorie diet. I think you’ve really got something there. You can’t just keep on denying yourself everything. With no movies, dancing, dining out…cable is a lifeline.

    I hope some more people will repsond to your post because I’d love to see a discussion about how people tackle the budget issue.

    Reply

  2. dirtysocksandfaxmachines
    Oct 27, 2011 @ 02:22:07

    Well, I suppose I need to grow a set and get my blog out there if I want anyone to comment on it, hee hee.

    I do feel sorry for myself, but as I mentioned, I know there are people out there feeling a lot more pain than I am, so I am trying to keep it in perspective. No matter how bad things get, I have support. Lots of people don’t. Also, I am sort of reaping what I’ve sowed. I spent a few years floating purchases on future raises, promotions and investments that I just assumed would materialize. No one told me things might go the other direction. My generation was made to believe that student loans and mortgages are good debt – an investment. Well, not so much. So now I am trying to make up for that stupidity by going without some of the things I thought I was entitled to 10 years ago.

    But I agree, there are so many people out there who just have no clue – they think these complaints are from lazy good for nothing welfare recipients rather than the majority of hard-working middle class America. THAT makes me mad.

    Reply

  3. Heather
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 03:49:36

    Budgeting has not worked for us as a married couple. So I have started stashing money, starting out small just $20 a paycheck. If my hubby knows there is money in an account he will come up with a reason to spend it, or the car will, or the pets. Frustrating. So I’ve decided to keep my mouth shut about my stash and hope that it will grow because it makes me feel secure knowing that if jobs go away there is a little but of green hope.

    Reply

  4. rangewriter
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 21:48:29

    Heather’s point is a good one. If you can hide even $5 per paycheck from yourself, it’s a start. But there are two problems. First, there’s always something you need that $5 for when you’re paying bills. Second, if you’ve stashed it, it’s awfully easy to grab it for an emergency.

    What helped me was payroll deduction. If you can set up some sort of account that’s a lot of work to tap into (ex: savings bonds, mutual fund; ask a financial planner for a vehicle to store money in) and then have that $5 removed and stashed into the savings vehicle before you even see it, you don’t miss it as much. It’s as if your taxes went up a little bit. Only you’re sort of taxing yourself….but then paying yourself as well. Does that make any sense?

    Reply

  5. dirtysocksandfaxmachines
    Nov 16, 2011 @ 01:59:13

    I did the auto-deposit to an an online savings account. I have some money automatically taken out of every paycheck and deposited to this account, so it never touches my hands or my checking account. It’s the first time I’ve been able to accumulate any type of savings in years, so it really does work. Now if I could just figure out how to live on the rest…

    Reply

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