Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Spending Game

Money is the worst.

It comes in and goes out so fast you don't even know what happened. You make your salary and then figure out how to disperse it: bills, necessities, fun spending, emergency fund, short-term savings, long-term savings. There's so many things to do with your money, but there never seems to be enough.

We're no money experts, not even close. But we decided awhile ago to start tracking our spending with Quicken. Then we realized that tracking your spending is useless if you don't do anything about it, so we made up a monthly budget, thanks to some advice from Joe Sangl and plotted out our monthly spending before the month began. To the cent. So before the month even begins, we've "spent" all of the money we're going to make. It's a tough and frustrating task.

With our low-average salaries (and especially with me having been on maternity leave), our spending is tight. Most of our money goes to bills, then groceries, then $25 for each of us for the whole month to spend on whatever we want. $25.

This means that while my friends buy their lunches, go shopping, grab a coffee, etc., I'm usually just along for the ride or have to say no to things. And often that's really hard.

Sometimes I get really down about it. I wonder if we'll ever be in a place where we can just go out for dinner if we want to, or plan a vacation every year. We can't cut down our bills much more, so does that mean we need new jobs or promotions or even second jobs?

But there are two things that help me when I'm sitting at work, eating my leftovers while everyone is enjoying take-out. One is that I trust God with my money. We make room in our budget every month for giving. Imagine what a couple hundred extra dollars would do if we could add it to our budget. But that money goes to the church. And it's not a chore, it's a thank you. We might not have a lot of expendable income, but we've never been in real financial trouble and I believe a big part of that is our faithfulness to giving back.

The second thing that helps is reminding myself that I don't know people's private finances. Yes, many people make more money than we do, but look at how many people are also drowning in debt. They go out and they spend money doing fun things, and then go home and put down the minimum payments on credit cards. I feel so lucky that we have no debts aside from our mortgage and we pay off our credit cards every month. That freedom is worth skipping restaurants and shopping sprees even if it seems difficult.

I am confident that, as we get older, we'll be able to grow our salaries and give more room to take those vacations and eat out once in a while, but, even then, I plan to continue budgeting our funds every month and spending it before we spend it. We will probably never be wealthy by western standards, but I think we can be happy and stay out of debt and maybe that's more than many can say.


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