More money matters

I have slight OCD tendencies and it comes out in numbers. I count things and run math equations when I’m stressed. The math usually has to do with money of some kind or another. It used to be how we were going to get out of debt – how long it would take and how much we’d have to send each paycheck to pay it off earlier. We started with over $30,000 of debt. There was a lot of math to do. Now my money math is about how we are going to save for getting the house ready to move and at least some of the closing costs in a couple of years. Again, it’s a significant amount so there’s lots of math to do.

As you may remember, we are working Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. Through the grace of a couple of large tax returns, a windfall, and some difficult money decisions, we paid off our debt in two years. We agreed after that that we would do our best to never get into debt again. With the money we freed up we are able to have retirement savings (which we never did before), and to start college funds for the kids (we opened the accounts day before yesterday).

Now I work budgets. Partly to have a road map for where our money is going, but mostly to see the amount we can save in a month. Even if it’s not much, I can work out the new total of my savings account and that’s always a good thing. Some months, like this month, we ended up not saving at all, other months we’ll save loads. It all depends on how strict we are with sticking to our allotted amount. We can plan for some spending, like Spring Break in Myrtle Beach for the boys, and know that we’re not going to save that month. Other times, especially when I go on a spending fast, we are able to save quite a bit.

I’m due for another spending fast I think. We just came off a spendthrift cycle, it’s time to break that feeling of spending euphoria and get back into the savings euphoria. That’s the fun of spending fasts, it’s like being on a diet, you feel very proud of yourself if you make it a whole week. If you can make it two weeks, you have become a saint. Even if you have to spend money on something (you need to buy gas), you see it as an aberration, not the norm, and you get right back into the fasting. You start getting creative, too. So you’ve run out of bread for sandwiches? What else can you pack for lunch? Can you make extras of dinner and heat it back up? Can you bring a thermos of soup? How about an apple and peanut butter dipped in plain oatmeal? (It’s a full meal and it tastes good. Try it.) Clean out your cupboards and make new things with what you find. There are websites that can take the ingredients you have on hand and give you a recipe to fit them. Shopping stops being a sport and starts being something you try not to do. You’ll be amazed if you try it. It’s fun trying to figure out alternatives to your normal ways of doing things. Some money has to be spent, of course. You must pay your bills on time. If you absolutely must have a car, you’ll need gas for it. But the goal is to spend as little as possible. No eating out, not shopping for clothes or books (!), no buying groceries, nothing. Set your exceptions before-hand and stick to them. Short of an emergency, don’t spend anything.

Part of what makes it fun is that you have set yourself a finite challenge. You know it’s going to end in a week or two so it becomes fun to try and figure out how you’ll make it that far. The best part is, at the end you will be amazed at how much money you’ve saved. The hope is that you won’t want to go out and be a spendthrift again because you’ve seen how easy it is to save. I’m hoping that I can keep the fast going until it becomes habit rather than special.

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