May 3, 2012

A Girl And A Budget Walk Into A Bar...

Something something, punchline, general hilarity. See? There was a reason you clicked over to The Mrs today, and it was budgetary gut-busting.

The reason I'm laughing is that it's taken me seven years to understand that the only way a budget will work is if you have a reliable way to track your spending, and that a "reliable way to track your spending" is so individualized that it's taken me a further two years to find one that I might actually use with success.


I say "might", because this is the girl who spent money on Quicken and signed up for Mint with great excitement, only to abandon both (Quicken in two months, Mint in six). I've created spreadsheets that have two weekly entries in them before the vast expanse of blank cells begins, and I've used a cash budget except I kept forgetting to take cash out.

Now that you've stopped laughing, I'd like to introduce you to my new best friend, the 20th century:

Oh, my much-beloved budget spreadsheet is alive and well, and it's the file on my computer that is opened and updated most frequently. But during my years of experimentation and - let's face it - abject failure at tracking our spending, I've come to realize a few Very Important Budget Facts:

Very Important Budget Fact Number One:
Spending categories are my enemy. Having to categorize transactions is the reason I abandoned Mint, and if I met a spending category at the grocery store, I'd follow it around and sneak really expensive things into its cart.

Today, I have only three columns in my tracker: Fixed, Other, and VISA. I track the fixed expenses so I know what our balance is. I track the other expenses so I know how much of our variable spending is out the door and how much we have left for the month, and I track whatever we put on the credit card so we don't spend our money twice.

Very Important Budget Fact Number Two:
Despite having 24 hour access to online banking, I can't actually figure out what we've spent unless I write it down, and simply looking at what our balance is or matching transactions on Quicken or Mint doesn't stop me from spending too much money. So far, writing it down does. So that's what I do.

Very Important Budget Fact Number Three:
We spend most of our variable money on food. We like food. So we're not going to worry about Project Grocery anymore (did you notice? bet you didn't.) I find it extremely tedious to unpack our groceries and take a picture of them, let alone tracking how much we spent and rolling over the shortfall or (rarely) surplus. We still shop the sales, use a list, and use coupons - sparingly - but the money is all rolled up in our "Other" category.

See? Hilarity ensued. And YOU wanted to read about Nathan Filion.

This time last year: Project Grocery: Blurry But Alive