“The only reason a great many American families don’t own an elephant is that they have never been offered an elephant for a dollar down and easy weekly payments.” ~ Mad Magazine
That is so true for some of us, isn’t it? I know that I have been guilty of living this way. As many of you know, I am presently enrolled in a Dave Ramsey FPU course and I am just about able to call myself a “graduate” in a couple of weeks. I enrolled in this course not because I was in insurmountable debt or because of crisis but because I wanted to learn how to manage my money appropriately and even possibly to begin being able to save for my children’s college and my future as well.
Like many people, I did not grow up in a household where finances were taught (or much less talked about). All we knew, as kids, was that “money did not grow on trees.” We were also, regularly, given the speech before we went into any store, that we were “not getting anything so don’t even think about asking.” My mom used to like to tell us that she was broke, although she made more as a woman and a single parent than most women and men combined make when both are working, so it quickly became ingrained in our minds that there was no use in asking her to buy anything for us. This could have been good logic – or very poor logic – however, it accomplished what she wanted to accomplish and thus, we stopped asking mom for anything.
This type of teaching instilled a sort of ‘poor mentality’ in me as the years went by. I never saw my mother budgeting but I did always see her – and hear her – “robbing from Peter to pay Paul.” I grew up thinking this was okay and when it was time to think about college I already knew that there was no help coming from my parents.
This was also confirmed by both my mom and dad when I had gotten accepted at a number of my top choice schools and had finally chosen one only to get a letter in the mail, a few weeks before I was set to leave, stating that I still needed to pay my tuition and room and board – to which mom responded, I’m sorry but I cannot pay that for you.
At that point, my dreams of going to college were shattered since everywhere I applied said that my mother made too much and I didn’t qualify for financial aid. My only options were moving out, getting married, having kids or waiting until I would be able to file independently, without needing to use my mom’s income in my financial aid applications.
I think that was also when my life began to take a turn for the worse and spiraled out of control. Getting married young, having children right away and not having a real grasp on money or credit definitely did not help. My ex and I were both rather young and immature when it came to money. I was the saver but noticed how I began to succumb to pleasing my husband and felt like a “bad wife” every time I would get upset about him spending money that he and I both knew we did not have. We had a joint account but he also had a separate account, which I later found out about, that was used for his “extracurricular-extramarital activities”. Every time I even mentioned the word budget, you would think I had swore at him so, needless to say, we never had a budget for the entire time we were together. This proved to be ‘not so wise’ after going through not one, but two, evictions and a car repossession.
When he and I divorced I did have a hard time digging myself out of debt but I managed. I heard about the Dave Ramsey course and figured I could only go up from here, so I enrolled and for the very first time in my life, I learned how to make (and keep) a budget. A budget, unlike most people think, is not a restriction from doing fun things, in fact, you have to include some spending/pocket money and even money for entertainment or it will be like most diets that we never stick with because it’s too hard. It has been proven that withholding things from yourself and not allowing some things that you want (even if you don’t need them) very rarely works for anyone. A budget is a tool that is used to be able to “tell your money where to go and how to behave”.
The steps are pretty simple and if you get this down, I promise you, your entire attitude and view on money WILL eventually change for the better.
1. Gather all of your bills and sit at a table. Nothing can ever get done unless we make an effort to actually do it! So, even if you have to schedule a time to do your budget, make it happen. Mark it on the calendar, set a reminder in your phone, and commit to it.
2. Use a notebook or find some budgeting documents online. You can also use budgeting software but I would recommend you actually sit down and write out your first couple of budgets on paper. This way you get familiar with the process and actually think about what you are doing and why. It is also a good way to include your spouse (if you are married) and to include others who may have a hand in helping you with your budget but may not be as tech-savvy as you are. 🙂
3. Get to a zero-balance. No matter what, ensure that all of your income for that month is put in some category. For instance, if you make $3000/month but realize, after sitting down to plan your budget for the month, that you only have monthly expenses of $2000, find somewhere for that extra $1000 to go…it can be split up and used to give to someone in need, fund your retirement, pay on your debt, additional savings or even sat aside a bit of it for entertainment (if you want). Just make sure that in the end, your balance is “0”, this is what is known as a zero-based budget and it is what will help to keep you on track.
4. Be sure to keep receipts and track your spending. You can use your checkbook for this or just write “Paid” and the amount directly next to each category on your budget sheet. This visual definitely helps to remain on track and is a great way to know what may change from month-to-month.
Some sample resources to help you get started with your budget:
I am changing my family’s legacy one step at a time and you can too. Not only is starting and keeping a budget a great way to know where your money is going but it is a great teaching tool for your children. I know that my older girls have already started doing their own budgets and even help me with the “family” budget from time to time. They get great joy out of being involved in this way and I am using it to show them how to manage money and also that nothing is impossible. Once I am completely debt-free (only have student loans left) this will not only be my victory but theirs as well and I expect they will be just as, if not more, excited and relieved as I will be. It will open up many doors and give us new opportunities to be able to do (and give) and I know all of the sacrifice and the “cutbacks” will all be worth it.