I consider myself to be a moderately intelligent person with numerous capabilities. My checkbook always balances to the penny-I am OCD-I maintain the family calendar for all five of us, I multitask on a daily basis. Yet, for the life of me, there are two things I just cannot figure out how to accomplish. Organize my home and get my finances under control.
Money! It makes the world go round, it pays the bills, it provides security and entertainment. Money is very important. To all those people who say life would be better without money altogether, I challenge you to live in your car during a Minnesota winter and eat food from a garbage can. Then tell me money is a bad thing.
As a family, we are financially unstable. And that is the nicest thing I can say about our money problems. We have more money going out than we do coming in. Sound familiar to anyone else? I read books about finances, I have worked for two different banks and advised clients. Those clients have done really well, by the way. Over the years, I have helped friends get their finances under control. But for some reason I cannot get our family money situation under control and I hate it!!!
Over the last few months I have done a lot of thinking and planning. I reviewed financial records for the last year, tracked most of our spending and consulted with my banker and a financial adviser. Here is the bottom line: we are financially irresponsible. The experts say to pay yourself first. They say savings is the key to a solid path to monetary security. Every article and book ever published pushes the importance of budgeting. I know these things, yet I am still failing at money management.
I say we, because it is a combination of J and myself. We are both guilty as sin in this department. J freely admits that he is bad with money and has no interest in trying to change his habits. Just talking about finances and bills is an open declaration of war in our home. On one hand, I am accused of controlling all the money and stopping him from enjoying life. On the other hand, he tells me to just handle the bills and make sure he has cash in his pocket. When I ask him to sit with me and plan out the month, the answer is a resounding “NO!”. If you want to see your husband looked like a trapped rat, just spread the bills and checkbook on the table and invite him to sit down.
Since we purchased our own place and have moved in, the money situation has changed. I am still ironing out all the kinks. Amounts have changed, due dates have changed, and gas money has quadrupled. If I keep working at it, I should have a fairly accurate budget in place within the next two months. Obstacle number one: sticking to it. We have never, ever stuck to a budget. Before I got married or lived with someone, I had a rough budget each month and I kept to it for the most part. Since marriage and cohabiting, this has never happened. Hmmm….
Starting small is key for us. Any major financial changes have never worked and we end up worse off than when we started. Something as simple as building up our savings has always been beyond our reach. So I am starting small in this area. From each paycheck, I put $5 into each of our daughters saving accounts and another $5 in our savings account. Interest is next to zero and these small amounts do not add up fast. But it is a start. I also pay an extra $5 toward the one credit card we have. The monthly payment is always made, but then these extra payments each week help bring the balance down faster.
The credit card is used for large purchases, like in January when I had to purchase new tires for my car. Those are almost all paid off now. We do not rely on credit cards and never have. They are for emergencies or purchases that are to large to fit into a weeks paycheck.
Some day I want financial stability and security. I have no delusions about becoming rich or being a millionaire. However, I am sick of struggling to simply keep food on the table and the lights paid. We shop at thrift stores, use coupons, go to the food shelf. We have never had cable, we have used cars and the last time we went to a movie theatre was about 2 years ago. And that was for a girl scout event, so it was only my oldest and I.
A small start to savings is still a start. Living paycheck to paycheck makes savings a daunting task. Find away to start small. All through February, I only saved $2 per paycheck for each account. It was a start. It also showed me some wiggle room that allows me to bump it up to $5 per check this month. This amount goes into savings before I pay anything else. Try it and see what happens.