That’s how far we went over our budget last month.
In just one category.
As far as our budgets go, it was a bloodbath. It was also proof that if I give myself an inch financially, I’ll take a mile. Or at least a few hundred dollars.
Rather than wring my hands or cry tears via GIF on the Internet, I realize that it’s simply time to recalibrate this month. For us, that means it’s time to reassess, evaluate, and act.
The Lazy (Wo)man’s Budget
I don’t share all of our numbers in all of one place. However, if you’ve read my blog long enough or dig around in enough places (godspeed: I gave up transferring categories two Christmas breaks ago), you can probably piece together a general gist of what we spend each month.
What I will share is this: my budget is about the simplest budget you could create.
Not because there aren’t adequate categories for our needs and wants, but because I simply copy and paste everything from month to month. When I’m done, I delete the cells with the previous month’s data and go from there. I adjust nothing. Gas? $60 a month, no matter the month. Some months, we’ll be at least $40 under budget. In the winter, it’s a good month if we are only $50 over budget. Is our budget perfect? No. In a world that values precision and formulas, we are a laughable best guess.
But it works for us.
The magic behind our financial success isn’t the rough budget that we carve out each month. Instead, it comes from keeping a daily spending diary and then totaling up all of tracked spending at the end of the month. The real power is that everything is done manually.
That means we have to take a long hard look at the spending that we’re doing each day. Theoretically, it’s a foolproof check to guard against frivolous spending.
It turns out that it doesn’t always work. Just look at last month.
Lifestyle Creep Sets in Fast
Last month, my pay was reinstated in full. That’s right. It took an entire year after my maternity leave to earn my full salary. And I could not be happier.
It was also a three-paycheck month.
And for the first time in a long time, we made a different decision for a three-paycheck month. We spent some of it on wants. We didn’t even dress them up, thinly veiling them as needs.
We simply started buying things because we wanted to. And it was fun. We savored it. But then, the occasional treat because the weekly staple. Before we could tear a single page off the calendar, lifestyle creep had taken hold.
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Granted we weren’t out shopping for Rolexes. There isn’t a Benz parked in my driveway. I didn’t buy any clothes or new handbags like I would have in the past.
But we started to treat ourselves at the grocery store. We went a little overboard buying things for my husband’s birthday dinner. We recreated the latte factor with $3 pints of blueberries that we bought daily for HP.
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Little indulgence on top of little indulgence turned into the most spendy month that we’ve had in a long time. It’s not that we couldn’t afford it. It’s not that we didn’t also put money toward debt. It’s not that we skipped out on investing.
We paid our bills in full. We chipped away at our mortgage, and we even continued to invest in our taxable accounts and HP’s 529. (Our Roths are already maxed if you must know. ::brushes shoulder off::)
It is simply a reminder that while we may have deserved it and we certainly enjoyed it, our lives weren’t made drastically better because of it.
So it’s time to recalibrate.
Where We Are Making Changes
The biggest areas that we are going to address this month and in the future are related to groceries and spending. I’m still determined to not out-frugal myself or anyone else, but our grocery budget has been comfortably hovering between $200 and $250 a month for over a year. Consequently, there’s no reason we can’t return to it. It will just take a little more planning, a little more watching prices, and a little bit less ice cream (but not much less because life is sad without ice cream).
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We also really ratcheted up the general spending, which is basically our fun money combined with other things that we might want (beer for the Mister or chai for me) or need (yogurt drops and diapers for HP) throughout the month. The $300 we set aside for that really breaks down to $100 for each of us. It’s usually more than enough, but I let my emotions get the best of me and put my spendy pants back on. Though, I reigned myself in before I could do too much damage buying things that my son absolutely doesn’t need, I may have gotten more than just a little overzealous with treats and used toys for him.
Returning to our usual ways may not seem significant, but it is. Like any habit or lifestyle you create for yourself, you have to continually practice it. I firmly believe that purposeful spending is a muscle. And if I’m being completely honest, it’s looking a little flabby after being let off the hook for the better part of a month.
Final Thoughts on When It’s Time to Recalibrate
I could make excuses. In fact, I could actually probably give some actual reasons to increase our spending. But the bottom line is that I didn’t enjoy the past month any more than I did the months prior to it. My time wasn’t optimized. My health wasn’t improved. Baby knows my sleep wasn’t.
So what’s the point?
If we refuse to recalibrate, we are essentially turning back into who we once were. It would take months, if not longer, to undo all the progress that we’ve made. But once you strip away the excuses and look hard at the numbers, it’s easy to see that there’s no reason to turn back. So we’ll recalibrate instead.