1. I am going to say some things in this post that might make you think I am a total idiot. At the very least, you might question my/our priorities and think I/we act kind of entitled/spoiled/wasteful. Please don't let these observations keep you from sharing some budgeting tips and tricks. I have talked to you and read your stuff, and I know that lots of you are real life adults who, like, budget and stuff.
2. Even if I claim in some of my ridiculous rants that will follow that I will not cut out X or cannot live without Y, feel free to tell me why life without X and/or Y is great or that cutting out those things is exactly what we should do. I want to hear your real life experiences and learn from your financial voodoo powers.
3. I might cuss because talking about not spending money makes me cuss. Damn it. See?
4. No need to tell me, Sarah, if you are looking to save a few bucks here and there don't buy giant framed glamour shots of yourself, YOU IDIOT. Because, dude? Totally get that. It won't happen again (until Ben loses the beard and my haircut changes).
I mentioned yesterday that we hit up Barnes and Noble for Dave Ramsey's _Total Money Makeover_, and our purchase of the book in hard back for $2.50 more than it cost at Target the previous day (when we declared the price tag too high) is exhibit A in the case of WHY WE NEED A FRIGGIN' BUDGET.
We quickly determined that the book is not exactly for us, mostly because it's really, really creepy. Culty creepy. But I occasionally listen to Dave's radio show, and I am always struck by the callers who make less than grad student wages and own their houses and cars debt-free and tithe 40% of their paychecks and STILL stockpile money in their savings account while watching their retirement fund grow to the millions. You don't have to look at my closet full of Snuggies, Sham Wows, and Magic Bullets to know that "too good to be true" is not a phrase that registers with me.
After reading the book, which is full of the same rags to riches, debt to miser kind of stories (featuring single income families who barely make 5 figures and have like 6 kids), I kind of think these stories ARE true because the strategy is ruthless. Unlike other financial planners who tell you to pay your savings account first and pay your debt from highest to lowest interest, Dave says pour all of your money into the debt pit, and pay your debt from smallest to largest. He advises saving $1000 for true emergencies (and he offers a very sharp definition of emergencies which are NOT things like regular car repairs, spontaneous trips, and outgrown/worn clothes) and then taking all of the rest of your money in your accounts and throwing it at your debt. He calls it a debt snowball-- you pay off your smallest debt first, then you take all the extra money you can scrape together plus the old minimum payment from that bill and roll it onto the next largest debt. Eventually, you have an avalanche of debt relief. And this, my friends, is the best metaphor in the whole book which is full of the very worst allusions and comparisons I have ever read (like diaper rash, which figures prominently as an extended metaphor. Poetry it ain't).
Where do you come up with this extra money? You live like a total pauper and you get some odd jobs (he frequently recommends delivering pizzas). And then, apparently, you get so high on the rush of living debt free that you continue the snowball and pay off your cars, your student loans, your mortgage, etc. That's when the real hoarding fun can begin, and you can squirrel your money away for retirement. "Live like no one else," Dave says," And later, you can live like no one else." He also asks "Aren't you sick and tired of being sick and tired?" and he proclaims, "There was too much month at the end of the money" so many times that I imagine these phrases are chanted by his teeming masses of followers who assemble at his Financial Peace University seminars where they wait in line to weep on Dave's shoulder and thank him for sharing his healing vision with them.
He has this great metaphor about being financially fat and standing in front of the mirror and sucking in your stomach and thinking you're skinny, and as I write the scathing paragraph above, I realize that's where Ben and I are right now-- sucking those credit card receipts in and turning sideways so all we see is nice rack of a balance in our savings account. I know when I whine and say we can't do Dave's plan because there are things we just *can't* give up, I am that idiot he's talking about who thinks I can afford something if I can just afford the payments on it. ("Stop paying for yesterday and live for tomorrow" is another phrase that's bandied about quite a bit.)
Some things we cannot live without according to a brainstorming session we had this weekend? DiorShow mascara (duh), name brand wrinkle cream, nicotine gum, high speed internet, 700 digital cable channels, DVR, Blockbuster online, using iTunes like an all you can eat mp3 buffet, Little Gym, our smart phones. Clearly, we are trimming down to the essentials. **snort**
For us, the credit card comes out when we want to buy something that we feel uncomfortable paying cash for because it costs so much. So stop using the card, right? Only buy things you are happy to afford, right? Riiiiiight. We'll get right on that. (And we have, really. We just have some residual debt that we can't get ahead of and instead of using our extra money to pay it off, we use our extra money to pay cash for even more shit. Which, we understand is a step in the right direction, but only a baby step.)
We're not comfortable halting all savings to snowball our credit card debt, but we DO need a budget that allows us to live comfortably, save money, AND make more aggressive payments in a few areas.
On Saturday, instead of going out to dinner, we went to a local butcher shop that we have been meaning to try for YEARS (and instead of spending $50+ on a restaurant tab for the 4 of us, we spent $8 on sweet corn and burger patties. And another $40 on wine. FAIL). On the way home, we drove through a preshus little neighborhood we've never seen before with tidy old houses, big, shaggy trees, quiet dead end streets and a tiny little park. Petty much the cutest place we could imagine. We wanted to move there RIGHT NOW. Or at least before H goes to kindergarten.
That's what spurred our quest for a money makeover, even though we are stopping short of a Total Money Makeover. Tomorrow night, we're going to curl up with the doctor:
and put together our first ever budget (I know; I know. We're idiots). So please with sugar on it, hit me with your best tips.