Sunday, July 12, 2009

Back to the Envelopes...

So, about two and a half years ago, a dear friend of mine, who also happens to be a financial guru in my opinion, got me onto the envelope budget and accompanying debt repayment calculation Excel spreadsheet. Jason and I had been essentially living from paycheck to paycheck with good intentions of getting everything paid off, but we still spent every two weeks looking at each other and wondering where all our "extra" money went. Yeah - he would work his butt off doing all the overtime possible... just to hear me say that we didn't have any money. Somehow we were throwing it all away...

We jumped into a new life of budgeting... every pay period I would faithfully enter in our payments, check credit card balances, and fill our hand labeled envelopes with the cash we were allowed to spend on groceries and miscellaneous. Let me tell you - the envelopes didn't have to be very big. We faithfully put money into savings every paycheck. I even began to tithe like I was supposed to. We even got an allowance!!

Over the years... I have slacked. We got lazy. I got a better job... which resulted in us feeling like we should have extra money... so we would buy things not in the budget. Then I would wait to balance the checkbook because I would be dreading the thought of saying, 'We have no money, and I don't know where it went.' At least when we first started the budget, I could say that we had no money... but we knew where it was. We purposely had no money because we were paying things off!! So, we have recently spent the last, oh, year and a half (we don't last long on a budget do we?) on a budget rollercoaster... we spend two or three months sticking like glue (the cheapest kind) to a tight budget, and then... we started to pull away. So much for saving money on glue. We made exceptions here and there. We would plan poorly and end up eating out too often. We decided we wanted something... and got it. Or just got carried away on a shopping trip.

For example, I am notorious for "saving money" on clearance items. JUST BECAUSE IT'S ON CLEARANCE DOESN'T MEAN WE NEED IT!! I am going to write that on my forehead every time I am getting ready to go to WalMart... maybe the strange looks I get will keep me from spending extra time walking down random aisles looking for red tags. You'd think the scorching WalMart temperature would be enough to get me out of the store in a hurry. (Do you know that they control Northwest WalMart thermostat temperatures from Arkansas??? Is that about the dumbest thing you've ever heard of or what? Apparently Arkansas doesn't actually pay attention to the weather up here - they just assume we are always freezing... but that we all layer our clothes so we can strip down to NOTHING just to be comfortable when shopping in their store. Anyway...) So - WalMart. It may have had its own envelope, but we started breaking out the evil debit card if we didn't seem to have enough. Heaven forbid I put back the three towels, chair cover and potpourri that I was getting solely because they were on clearance.

When you get lazy, you get off of budget. We are so off of budget right now. Like dogs returning to their vomit (what a lovely proverb), we just keep falling off the wagon. Every couple months, we stay up late having the same discussion about paying attention, not eating out, not needing what we were wasting our money on... and it seems like the very next paycheck we are hopping all over town, throwing the debit card down and dollar bills out the window.

So, here we are, wondering where our money is going, AGAIN.... only this time, we have nearly depleted our savings paying for a transmission in the truck, complete overhaul under the hood of the car and our planned payoff of the boiler we use to heat our house. Essential costs... not fun to have to pay for all at once. While I will not exaggerate this to the extent that people think we are scrounging in the forest for food (although we do!) and using credit cards to pay for our bills and having our lights shut off every month... we are getting to where we are uncomfortable with the loss of our buffer and ashamed of how frivolous we feel we are being with our money. We have to do something to keep from burning our money at both ends. It's fine and dandy right now, in comparison with tons of folks, but it sure won't be fun if we keep it up.

We were blessed enough to build a great house, right before the housing market and the economy all fell apart. The good news is we got financed and have a new house. The bad news is our house is worth less than it should be, and we can't refinance like we wanted to. So we are stuck with a house payment that is too high for comfort but too low to get us in on the stimulus. We have discussed not paying our payments and risking foreclosure, but that would be silly, unethical, and a little sleazy, in my opinion.

So, I am up late right now, balancing the last horrific checkbook register. From now on, it will be sunshine and cupcakes... never again will we converse in tense or teary tones about money. I am prepared to clip coupons, get serious about bargain shopping ONLY from the list, and be tightfisted with my envelopes and the debit card. We made pledges today in the car on the way home from church. It hurt a little to pledge outloud that we would not use the debit card for anything but emergencies... is a caffeine headache an emergency? We probably should have defined emergency...

While we aren't Dave Ramsey sell-outs, and we don't plan on eating rice and beans until we are debt-free, we are planning on cutting back and keeping track, so that we at least know WHY we don't have extra money to shop the clearance aisles with!!

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