Right after I got into the fated car accident that started my interest in personal finance. I signed up to Mint.com to get a better idea of where my money was going. I wanted to start an emergency fund, but I didn’t seem to have any spare cash available to do so. I tracked my spending for about a month before sitting down and trying to make an actual budget. I used the numbers based on what I had been spending in the previous month, and the results were, interesting.
It was kind of like watching a car crash – I couldn’t look away. It was grotesque, but fascinating.
I mean, one can only spend so much on clothing, food, and coffee shops. Yet I still couldn’t believe the numbers I was seeing. For a few months I became obsessed with my budget. I would track every penny just to see where it was all going, I couldn’t get over how much was disappearing into the void. I was spending money on things that I thought were worth it at the time, but looking back I realize they were frivolous purchases that weren’t helping me get ahead in life. Every time a $5 “Coffee Shops” purchase was registered on my budget, I would cringe. How was I supposed to save for an emergency fund, let alone pay down my debt, with all that money trickling away.
Old Habits Die Hard
Still, it wasn’t easy to train myself out of these habits. $5 here and $10 there added up quick. I tried and failed to not spend so much money on crap for a few months, until finally, slowly, I started to get the hang of things. No more coffee, McDonald’s (I was addicted to their fries), no more clothing, or books that I was only kinda-sorta interested in. Finally I started to eek out $50 a week to start building my emergency fund.
What A Difference A Few Months Makes
Now I’m a frugal machine! I bring my own coffee and lunch to work every day. I don’t buy books, or clothing or anything really without agonizing over whether I really need it. I don’t colour my hair, and get it cut about once every six months. I used to go to yoga classes at least once a week (that’s about $60/month) but I’ve traded that for running and working out at home. My fiancée and I used to be big movie goers, but now that the theatre is at least $10 worth of gas to get to, we enjoy hanging out on the couch and watching a movie just as much. Take-out and restaurants used to be a weekly or bi-weekly occurance in our household, it has become a thing of the past.
I’m Still Happy!
So I’ve made all of these changes, and the results are starting to show. I’ve started and completed my emergency fund (more on that next week), I’m aggressively paying down my debt, and saving for my wedding. I don’t indulge in day to day treats and snacks, and I’ve eliminated some things that I previously had thought were necessities in life.
Am I miserable without all of the stuff that I used to spend money on?
Sure, there are lots of things that I wish I had. (Like a vacuum, my cat may be hypo-allergenic, but she sheds, a lot.) I get frustrated that I have to put off purchases like that, I get sad when I lust after a book that just isn’t worth the money, but overall, I feel the same or happier. I don’t miss my little daily treats. I genuinely love taking my lunch and coffee to work each day, and I truly appreciate a good restaurant meal now, more than I ever have.
My first budget was an absolute wreck, but I’m slowly working out the kinks and getting it to a place I can appreciate and be happy with.
How long did it take you to get a handle on your budget? Do you ever slip up? Do you have daily treats that you still consider a necessity?