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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