Budgeting sucks. If only we could all live like multibillionaires and fling our money away on every desire and whim and never have to stress about making ends meet. If money only grew on trees as the saying goes. That would be the life. Sadly, most of us are not billionaires and money does not grow on trees. My fiddle fig leaf is just a regular tree, so I have to prioritize what I spend. This means a budget. If I choose not to budget and spend more than I make then it means: debt.
Debt is nearly synonymous with the “American Dream”. The mentality of “you can have it all”. Just open a credit card (or a few) and you can “afford” the dream car, dream house, dream gadgets, dream wardrobe, and also get yourself some Starbucks every single day. You can also take out $100,000 of school loans for a degree in dance and make it all back and more once you graduate…. or so it is portrayed. One does not even need to sign up to get credit card offers in the mail. They come pouring in like Harry’s Hogwarts letters at the Dursley’s (anything I can do to include a HP reference). It is so easy to go into debt and this is why we do. The media drowns us with ads screaming: “you deserve it!” and “treat yo self!” and it is hard not to listen.
Our friends and neighbors are able to have new cars, well-curated homes, wear the latest trends, go on vacation multiple times a year, and eat out every night so why can’t we? But, if we take a deeper look into people’s lives and budgets we may notice not all of them can actually afford their lifestyles. According to TheBalance.com, the average credit card debt in a United States household was $8,339 as of April 2019. That is just credit card debt, so no car payments, student loans, or mortgages included. I am incredibly lucky to have managed to pay off my school loans and to not have credit card debt, but Paul and I still have car payments, a mortgage, and other financial struggles. We are currently trying to pay for him to do post Bachelor classes so he can be accepted into a Physician Assistant program. This means he is working less and we are paying for courses therefore, we have less disposable income.
This is why we decided to come up with a budget. Each month we set aside money for the essentials: food, mortgage, bills, charity, etc. Then with the leftovers, we decide on how much “fun money” we are going to allow ourselves to have. The “fun money” is for us to do with what we want without the other having a say. This includes clothing, eating/drinking out, gadgets, movies, concerts, classes, etc. For us, we decided on $150 each. This amount may seem exorbitant to some and minuscule to others. It sounded doable to me at first until I realized my bad habits and just how much money I spend a month. Last month Paul and I started our budget and also went 30 days without buying unnecessary items and we ended up saving $800. EIGHT-HUNDRED DOLLARS! HOLY SHIT! That is an insane amount of money for this middle class lady. Think of all the things someone could do with that amount of money. Think of all the dogs I could adopt with that money…
Love him or hate him, the hair sniffing Joe Biden said it right when he stated “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” I cannot even name the amount of times I have tried to tell myself I want to go on a trip because travel is what I value, but then end up ordering junk off Amazon instead. This seems to be a common theme. I overhear coworkers complain about being “broke” and how they want to have money to do something and then watch them go get coffee every morning and then go out to lunch every work day afternoon. As a collective society we kind of suck at budgeting and living within our means. I am speaking from the middle class. I realize there are a lot of people who are lower income and/or people who do live within their means and still do not have enough. It feels we get swept up in the advertisements and competition with one another that we forget what we actually value and want for ourselves.
Like I said, budgeting sucks and I am not very good at it. I am learning and failing and then learning some more. All I can say is I am better today than I was before. The budget has been a tough adjustment, but my eyes are now finally open to the amount of money I waste and now I have learned to prioritize. The American money guru Dave Ramsey, says “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” Instead of spending my money on things I do not need, I am now spending it on what I value like saving for an upcoming trip with my friend or experiences with people I love. Budgeting can sometimes feel like a punishment, but with it is reward. A reward of delayed gratification, future possibilities, and overall financial peace. It sucks in the meantime, but is worth it in the end.