You have to pay your bills. Your rent. Your mortgage. Your groceries. Your gas. Then you have to pay for your dog. Your new couch after your dog chewed up your old one. Your new shoes. Your night out. Your cable company. Your mom's Christmas present. Your toothbrush.
There're a lot of things to pay for.
And you're making only enough to cover it. Or maybe you're making plenty to cover it.
Or maybe you don't know.
Either way, you've heard of a budget. And most likely, you've steered far, far away from it because, ugh.
Budgets are hard. They make you work. They make you face the hard facts. They make you walk away from those beautiful pair of hot pink pumps. They make you eat weird food and never go out and hate yourself forever and make you feel guilty for every penny you ever spend and, ugh.
And, actually, they are incredibly freeing.
Let me explain: Last year, in August, I quit my job and moved north to work at a summer camp for three months. I kept my apartment and paid rent even while I was gone. Then I came back home and scrambled to find a job. And then after a few more months I secured a new, more interesting job out of state.
So I whipped out my credit card and bought some movers' time, a truck, a deposit, a fee, two months of double rent, and a dog. And then I had to pay. Loaded up with bills, things to buy for my new place, trips to see my now out-of-state friends, and a new dog who wanted everything in the pet store, I knew I needed to cut back my expenses.
And so I began to budget. Ugh.
Facing those numbers was hard at first. I realized I'd have to stall the purchases for my new apartment. I wouldn't be able to spend any money on myself for, like, ever. And in looking at what costs I could control and cut back, I decided to start couponing. At first, it felt like the most restrictive, limited lifestyle choice I'd ever made. But I wanted those bills paid off as soon as possible, and with that to guide me, I stuck to my plan.
After five months of cutting back my expenses, paying off my bills, and looking forward to a debt-free life again, I've realized that budgeting my lifestyle has been the most freeing experience so far this year. Here's why:
- When I budget I know exactly how much money I have. No surprises. No "how did this happen!" No confusion. Freedom from the unknown.
- When I budget I know exactly what I'm going to spend money on. I can calculate my regular monthly expenses and know just what it costs me to live. Freedom in knowing.
- When I budget, I know what extra costs to expect. Run out of toilet paper? No problem--here's the $10 I set aside this month to purchase it. Buying a wedding gift? Bam! I know exactly what I'm going to get, what it's going to cost, and BONUS: I don't forget to buy it at the last minute. Freedom by planning ahead.
- When I budget, I know how much money I have left over to cover unexpected costs. My dog ate the 5 steaks defrosting on the counter? Ok! I have $X dollars that I guess I'll be spending on steaks. Freedom from worry.
- Okay, this is the BIG one: When I budget, I buy less stuff. A fellow budgeting blogger friend of mine, Amanda, touches on this concept in her post, but I think it's my favorite reason for setting a budget for myself. I've been working hard lately on reminding myself that stuff is wasteful. Amanda says that buying stuff is a habit, and we can stop spending so much money if we break the habit of buying (that was you, Amanda, wasn't it? Now I can't remember...shoot.). But I believe it goes further than this. We are conditioned every day by ads, by our friends, and by our expectations that we should be buying stuff all the time. We need new clothes every season. We need nicer furniture to prove our adulthood. We need a new car cause this one has a scratch on it. But, the truth is: we don't. And by setting a budget for myself, I can keep this thought in the forefront of my mind on a daily basis. So when I see my friends or strangers buying pretty things, instead of feeling jealous, I can remember my decision not to live that lifestyle. That ultimately, this isn't a game I'm too poor to win, but rather a decision that whether I can afford the entrance fee or not, I don't want to play. Freedom from a materialistic life.
And that has been the biggest freedom of all. Choosing a life of freedom from a consumer-based thought pattern and taking back control of what really is important in my spending. I now have the freedom to enjoy spending my cash on life experiences, rather than letting those experiences cause stress because I've spent too much money on stuff.
I've now paid off the last of my credit card bills, I've budgeted all my Christmas-present-buying money, and I'm looking forward to a month of getting to keep all my hard earned cash for myself. I'll be, what most would consider, perfectly well-off.
But I still plan on budgeting. I still plan on couponing. I still plan on writing down every single purchase I make on my spreadsheet so I can keep track of myself. I may let myself slowly purchase a few fun wants, but I like keeping my needs and wants separated on paper. So separated that I can easily turn away from a potential purchase and say, "No, I choose a life full of life, not stuff."