It’s true. I’m not great at budgeting. I’ve read about how other people budget. I’ve watched my partner try countless methods until finally finding one that works. I’ve watched videos and read books.
And I’ve been left with one simple truth: I HATE budgeting.
I hate it with a passion that is normally reserved for things like Los Angeles rush-hour traffic and dropped ice cream comes. And trust me, it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve tried every budget known to humankind: the envelope method, the zero-sum budget and the 50-30-20 method. NONE OF THEM WORKED.
You are only allowed to
spend eat a certain amount of money food each month. If you go over the allotted amount of money food than you’re a failure. The fact that I’m not supposed to do something has a laughably predictable outcome: I do it just because.
Feeling constrained and constricted makes me go insane. I’m not sure if it’s a personality type thing or some glitch I was born with, but I cannot abide by strict “rules.”
In other words, traditional budgeting is a nonstarter.
Here’s how a typical month of “budgeting” goes for me:
“Yay! This is the month that I’ll stay on track.”
*Puts half of salary into savings and other half into checking. Writes down the allotted amount for each spending category*
“Woohoo! Things are going really well.”
“I’m a failure. My money is already running low and I still have a lot more outings (i.e. fun things like dinners and road trips) to pay for. Man, I suck. I’ll never be good with money.”
*Internally cries and hates myself as I transfer money from my savings account*
“Next month will be better. I’ll finally do it! I’ll stick to a budget and be a success.”
*It all begins again*
If reading that made you want to pull your hair out and scream, you’re not alone. That is how I feel Every. Single. Month.
It’s the worst.
It’s a miserable emotional roller coaster that I subject myself to for no reason. I save about 50% of my income, have no debt and have built a healthy emergency fund. This torturous cycle is unnecessary because even on my “bad” months, I spend significantly less than I earn. It’s self-inflicted pain.
Last month, I finally decided to stop.
The first thing I did was give myself a (slightly) bigger monthly budget. I realized that part of the problem is that I was still living in “debt payoff” mode. I paid off nearly $14,000 of student loans in 7 months, but the aggressive payments weren’t sustainable in the long run and it was time for me to give myself some breathing room.
Secondly, I decided to separate my emergency fund and my “Oh crap, I need an extra $100 this month” fund.
You know those super sophisticated budgeters that have a separate fund for everything? $497 for travel, $321 for car repairs and $239 for medical. Yeah, I’m not that person.
As much as I wish it wasn’t true, I don’t think I’ll ever be that person.
So instead of falling for one of two extremes—dividing funds into hundreds of categories versus keeping it in one massive pot—I decided to try something else.
I moved all of my long-term emergency fund money into a separate bank. It is no longer linked to my checking out. I left $1,000 in the savings account that is linked to my checking account.
The $1,000 can be used for things like “Oh man. I really want to go on a road trip this month” or “I definitely need a new pair of running shoes.” It’s money that can be drawn from for various, non-emergency occasions.
It doesn’t mean that I’m giving myself free reign on the cash, but it does mean that I don’t have to have an almost panic attack every time I need to grab some extra cash.
So how is the $1,000 replenished? Exclusively from my extra freelance money. The savings from my full-time job is safely stored away in my other savings account and never touched.
So there you have it: I’m horrible at budgeting.
The truth is that I’m still figuring it all out, and I’m sure I will be for years to come. But I think the most important thing is that we all find a system that works for our unique circumstances and personalities…even if that means that we need to create our own.
Happy budgeting, friends.