Life on a Budget…

Many times in my many years I have had to live by a stricter budget than I would have liked. It took me a while to change my perspective on tightening my belt to make the bills and still live an adventurous life. For so long, it felt similar to a diet. If you are anything like me when it comes to dieting, you adhere to it for about two days, then spend two days being resentful and then you fall off the wagon. Funny how both budgets and diets sound like swear words to me. I’ve lived much of my life on the edge of one of the things that set me off in the wrong direction quickly, is anything restrictive or seeming to feel claustrophobic.

Once I figured out that I was feeling this way, it was time to change my mindset, but how? Here are the facts:

  • There is only so much time in a day
  • There is only so much income coming in

So all of the above considered, how do I turn this struggle into an opportunity for adventure? Well, it does take some creativity, but more so it takes a complete change in your thought process. Now, I share this with you not as an expert, but as a lady who has lived a bit under many circumstances and learned a few things along the way. I have friends that are well off. I have friends that are single moms and work their tails off to provide. I have friends that have done well and then fallen on hard times and friends that have come into money unexpectedly. I have watched and even experienced a bit of these myself, and above all have learned it is an attitude and mindset that lets us all get thru to the finish line.

So, back to the idea of making this into an adventure and even a challenge. A competition with myself if you will. I have a goal in mind and I want to reach it. So that goal needs to be the finish line. I need to work back from there. What items do I need with me at the finish line? Money? Stuff? People? All of these things need to play into my plan to get to the finish line and be winning. For this particular goal, I need to have a bit of extra cash in reserves at the finish line. So, I need to add that to my goal and then work backwards If I were to add stuff or people, then I would need to calculate the costs of those in as well.

Now that I have my finish line marked, I need to add a time frame to it. Without a time frame, is it really a race to the finish and how will we know if we have reached our goal. I will set mine at 30 days. It is aggressive for this particular goal, but I am motivated. That brings me to my next subject; motivation. There has to be a reason for the goal or you will lose your inspiration quickly. (Like the diet analogy and falling off the wagon). The motivator has to be big enough, intense enough, to not fade during the race to the finish line. Mine is a lifestyle change at the end of the 30 days. One I have dreamt of for many years. It is close enough now that I can actually see myself living in this new way. No wavering here.

Ok, we have a goal, set a timeframe, and have determined we have a strong motivator…. now what? Well, this is where the rubber meets the road. I’ve got to take a hard look at the steps I need to take to get there. The long jumps, the hops, and even the baby steps and ensure they are in the correct order to be successful. Since this is a money goal, it has to do with income, bills due and the extras needed to get all the way across the line. This part takes a bit of time. It requires number crunching, applying dates and amounts to each item along the way. This also requires thinking on a micro level. In my case, how much do I anticipate spending on gas, groceries, and any other things that take away from the bottom line. Manicures! I almost forgot. This is not a need, but something I do for myself every two weeks. Yep, into the budget that goes as well.

It does help to take a historic look at your bank account. Have you ever really looked at all the times your so easily swipe that little plastic card. Have you ever added up all the funds spent at starbucks or McDonalds? After I did, I realized it was a lot of fish-filet sandwiches and maybe I should change my eating habits! YIKES! Ok, I digress. The point here is to bring to the surface the reality of your spending. Now take pause here to do a reality check. This historical look at your spending it not meant to get you down in the dumps. It is meant to just bring you into the realization of what your day to day really is. There will be no time here to pause for longer than needed. There is no time here for poor babies or sad faces about reckless spending. This is where you really jump in and roll around in those thoughts for a while, but then dust yourself off and be sure not to lose focus. Afterall we are facing forward not back.
A LITTLE self-analysis is never a bad thing.

Ok, back to the task at hand. I’ve now got my path set…

  • Goal, what my end result needs to be to turn the page to the next chapter
  • Timeframe starting now and taking me all the way to the finish line
  • Motivator, what it is that will keep me inspired to stay focused on the task at hand
  • Budget plan with times / dates of each item to be paid along the way.

It’s go time! Now, lets put the plan into action. For some a daily journal helps. For some, a checklist of things to do each day or week helps. For me, I need a spreadsheet and to check it daily. I have also found a few tricks that will help me. I am one of those people that is quick to shop on line or swipe my little plastic card without thinking. To prevent these things from derailing me from reaching my goal, I need bumpers up. What are bumpers? Well if you have ever taken a child bowling, you are familiar. These are the guards on either side of the lane that help the ball roll down the center rather than falling off into a gutter. In my case, the gutter is on-line shopping and easy swipes of a credit card. So what will my bumpers be?

  1. Use cash. Since I have estimated my grocery and gas spending, simply take those amounts out of the bank and keep them handy. This puts a rule into place of no more swiping that card unless NEEDED.
  2. Delete the auto filled passwords on my on-line accounts. I can write them down and put them into the safe so I don’t forget them (because I will). This puts a little stop in between my shopping and the check out process. This should be enough to give me the opportunity to pause and think about what I am doing.

Now I have all the things in place. By doing the above, I have also found confidence and the feeling that my goal is attainable. But there is one more thing, and probably the most important. It’s is the ability to turn this plan into an adventure. If this goal is attainable but not fun, will I really stick to it? If I am honest, the answer is no. So how do we add a little fun into it? Here are a few of my ideas…

  1. Cash back apps. There are a million out there! I personally use “get upside”, “rakuten”, and “coinout” but there really are so many to choose from.
  2. Memberships! There are so many loyalty programs out there. Making your money work for you can be fun AND rewarding
  3. Piggy banks. Yep, an old fashioned piggy bank. It is rewarding to see the piles of change add up and then there is a little fun for a rainy day. I personally have always had a piggy bank and from time to time have cracked it open for a fun day.
  4. Creative meal planning. There are do many ways to save money with a little creative cooking. Take a look in your pantry and have fun with some recipes that may not be traditional, but they do help to clear out the pantry and freezer and even maybe spark your creative side.

I hope this helps someone else as I know it has helped me to organize my thoughts and really formulate my plan for the next thirty days. If you are out there planning a budget, tightening belts or just having to cut back, I wish you the best of luck. Many times circumstances are not as we would hope, but that doesn’t mean it is a dismal time. It simply provides us an opportunity to turn things around and add a little fun challenge to life.

This may not sound like an adventure in the traditional sense, but with all of the above combined, it will consume your time and energy and you will soon find yourself immersed into the goal of charging forward and even find yourself new ways to cut corners. Maybe even include your friends in the journey, after all, a family style meal is more fun than dining alone. Maybe a potluck meal? Also, shopping together for groceries is certainly more fun than doing it alone. Maybe make it a community effort and all the while focusing on your cost savings to reach your end goal. Also, at the finish line… smash that piggy bank and do something unplanned and fun! Afterall, you deserve it!

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