Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Budget Schtuff

As I mentioned at the beginning of the month, Matt and I have put ourselves back on a strict budget. We're on a tight budget because we have ambitious saving plans in the works. We want to save up money to buy Matt's next car with cash. We also want to vacation in British Columbia this summer (and Belize--for me--this Thanksgiving). We would like to start putting away some money for our future pregnancy (I imagine midwives can be pricey?). And there's always retirement. And the list goes on...

When we first combined finances, we created a complicated web of accounts. We had separate accounts for our personal allowances ($70/month each) and our joint allowance (which includes groceries, entertainment, dinner out, etc.). We set up automatic transfers, which meant that the exact amount of money automatically transferred each month, and we would use different cards for different things.

The system was complicated in the sense that we had to remember which card to use when. We also had to go online to check our account balances. So this month we've been paying for everything out of a centralized account, but we've been using an index card in my wallet to track our spending from the different account areas.

This system has been working really well for us. If I don't have my wallet with me when we spend something, I just wait until we get home to record it. I subtract the amount we paid from the total, so we're always left with an exact number of how much we have left to spend.

A few days ago, we thought we were doing pretty well, until I had to pick up 6-months worth of heart worm and flea medication for Hoss. One hundred fifty bucks! Then our neighbor offered to sell us her KitchenAid for a mere $50. We actually went $29 into "debt" in order to buy it.

Fortunately, Matt and I are both savers. We want to hold ourselves to our budget so we can achieve our long-range goals. At the same time, we said something like, "I guess we won't be grocery shopping at Whole Foods this week."

At that point, we had to start dipping into our personal allowances. Luckily, I hadn't spent any of mine. Also, a friend of ours from Austin stayed with us over the weekend, so he paid for one of our meals. Then we got invited to go out to eat with the parents of another friend, so they covered the meal. Score!

It looks like we're actually going to make it this month.

Here are some of the strategies we used to stick to our budget:
  1. We paid close attention to frivolous spending and tried to find a comparable alternative. For example, Matt is kind of addicted to Chai Tea Lattes from Starbucks (even though we are staunch supporters of our local coffee shops). Instead of dropping $3 a day, he now buys a chai tea mix from Whole Foods and adds his own milk. It saves a small chunk of change.
  2. We used retailmenot to locate coupon codes. I had to order Aveda Be Curly shampoo and conditioner. I used retailmenot to find a promo code that gave me free shipping. Woo-hoo!
  3. We spent an extra minute thinking of creative solutions. Matt called to say he was going to stop by Home Depot to buy a paint tray so he could touch up the side of our house. I reminded him that we had $0 left in our home improvement budget (since we spent it all on our fence at the beginning of the month). We thought for a second and then realized that he could use one of our big yogurt containers and a paint brush we already had. I did the same thing a few weeks later. I was going to buy some rope from Target for a lesson about the distance between planets. I realized, however, that I could simply use some ugly yarn I already had lying around the craft closet.
  4. Shop in your pantry before heading to the store. When we got down to the crumbs of our monthly allotment, we decided to dig through our pantry and build meals around things we already had. We had leftover tortillas, so instead of throwing them away, we made goat cheese and roasted corn quesadillas. We had a whole bag of black-eyed peas, so we're going to make this salad. We were able to cut our bill from our normal $125 to just $56 with this strategy (and by shopping at Fiesta rather than Whole Foods).
I was a little depressed when I realized our new budget strategy was actually making me count down the days until the end of the month ("We just have to make it to October 1 and then our numbers reset!"). But I'm also happy that we're finally applying enough pressure to our bank account to stop the hemorrhaging that we've let happen since the beginning of the year. I think the trick is moderation. You can't focus too much on the long-term that you let life pass you by, just as you can't focus too much on the short-term and never build something bigger and better.

It's all about balance.

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Ice Pizza said...

Hurray to people who have creative minds like us! It makes saving a lot easier. :-D

Mizz M said...

Right on! It's all about balance. I'm sure that you'll get really accustomed to it, and aside from the occasional difficult month, the countdown 'til the end of the month will largly ease up :)


Eve said...

The thing I love about this blog is that even if you aren't planning a wedding, there are still great general budgeting tips on here. :)

Also... Kinda addicted to lattes? I love that somewhat colloquial use of the phrase to suggest that caffeine isn't normally an addictive substance! I am amused.

Dinabear said...

I totally identify with you Sara! I only get paid once a month and I'm counting down the days until October as well. My hubby-to-be and I are trying to save money for our wedding and we recently implemented the same web of accounts as you and Matt (the idea for which I got from your blog--thank you!); we've been at it for about a month now, and although we are still trying to find balance, we think it's working out well, despite scraping by at the end of the month in the name of Saving for our Future. :)

Megan said...

I am a big fan of the blog and am planning my own budget-conscious wedding, and just hand an off-hand tidbit on the pregnancy mention... I am currently on a clinical rotation with a midwife and suprisingly using a midwife and a freestanding birth center is actually about 30% less than going to the hospital (prob cuz you don't have to pay an outrageous OB fee and you can go home in 4 hours instead of 2 days!). Not to say it's not still expensive, but a little good news for your budget maybe...?

Marian said...

I love your budget solutions!

We use the multi account method, which works really well for us, however, to differentiate between which debit card goes with which account I put different stickers on each (e.g. ants on the food account). The only thing we don't do (which we should) is have everything on automatic transfer.

Amanda C. said...

awesome, awesome, awesome budget! Thanks for the encouragement to start one :)

Also - midwives are generally cheaper than doctors (mainly because they don't push as many drugs), and if you do it outside of the hospital with them then it's muuuuch cheaper!

Michele said...

Sara- We used midwives at a hospital and it was all covered by (our-lucky-we-have-it) insurance. I try so hard not to ditch the budget at the end of the month and shop the pantry instead--- but I usually fail miserably...

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