Monday, August 24, 2009

The B-word

Call it a “spending plan” if that makes you feel better, but today I am talking about the dreaded personal BUDGET. After college, I remember my dad arming me with a sophisticated budget spreadsheet that I could use to manage my new salary and grown up expenses. To his dismay, a couple months later, he asked me how the spreadsheet was working, and I confessed that I hadn't really used it. You see, for the last eight years I’ve lived off the simple principle of spend less than you make. Fortunately, this has served me very well during that time.

Lately, however, my financial picture is starting to get a bit more complicated. First, I got married last year and now there are two of us spending from and contributing to the same accounts. The duel income no kids (DINK) situation is nice, but we also want to make sure that we don’t raise our standard of living to a level that we can’t maintain in the future. You see, in a couple years, the hubs will have earned his Christian Ministry degree and likely trade in his corporate job for a job that pays notably less (we both agree it’s worth it to be able to do what you love). Add to that the likelihood that kids will enter the picture, and our expenses will rise. That’s leading us to realize that right now is the time to be smart and proactive with our money and save, save, save. Time for a real budget.

We’ve been tracking our spending since we got married, but we’ve not really sat down and decided how much we WANT to spend (or not spend) on certain things. Instead, it’s been more like, “whoops, we probably shouldn’t have gone out to eat so much…better luck next month.” So to help us be a bit more proactive I signed us up to use this cool Mvelopes online budgeting system. It’s going to require some planning and effort to get it set up to work for us and provide some flexibility from month-to-month, but I'm optimistic and committed.

I'm curious if anyone has other tips for setting and managing a budget? What financial goals to you recommend be set in our DINK household? I’m looking for tried and true, practical stuff. But not too practical. I will not reduce myself to the following:
  • Buying two-ply toilet paper and pulling the sheets apart or hanging used paper towels to dry so they can be reused
  • Wrapping gifts in aluminum foil
  • Cruising the neighborhood before community clean-up day (ok, I may have grabbed some unwanted furniture from the end of someone's driveway once in college, but c'mon, that was college)
  • Giving up Post-it notes
Here’s hoping that this non-financial, non-numbers person can claim victory with the b-word!

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