Saturday, February 2, 2008

What My January Spending Taught Me

It's one thing to have a spending plan and quite another to stick to it. Ok this concept is not news to me, but I was reminded of it once again during January. If I just look at the numbers, I did quite well with my budget. I stayed within $20-$30 of all my major spending categories, spent less than I earned, and saved everything I intended to. The problem is that I can't just look at the numbers.

The information hidden behind the numbers is what is going to have a big impact on me and the world in the long run. And it's not pretty.

A Closer Look at My Gas Spending
I wrote a whole post on how I intended to maximize my gas mileage. I came in just $2 over budget, which I think is great considering I still have enough gas left in the car to go another week or so. But I didn't do the things I planned. If I had followed my own advice, I would have gotten better results. Why does that matter? After all, I stuck to my budget didn't I?

It matters because in this day and age, I have to be careful with my fuel consumption not only to prepare myself for rising prices, but because even the smallest steps will impact the environment. I forgot about that. A gas budget is going to be moot if we have no environment to live in.

A Closer Look at My Grocery Spending
This one is shameful even though my numbers here are pretty phenomenal. $135 at grocery stores including food, tp, toothpaste and hair color, $65 in eating out, and I even got a haircut and gave the lady a 35% tip. Plus I have plenty of food left over for a few more weeks. This looks good on paper!

The problem is I forgot to put my health into the equation. I have written about the importance of maintaining your health into old age and even wrote up a skeleton menu of healthful foods and how they would fit into my budget. But I didn't do all that stuff! In fact, this has been one of the most preservative-laden months I have had in a long time. Canned soups, frozen dinners, too much ice cream, and even drive-thrus at unmentionables. Yikes!

Why did this happen? I know a few things about myself that I failed to make accommodations for.
  • Over the past year or so I have developed a low tolerance for hunger. If I am hungry I will eat right away. All proactive thoughts about health and nutrition lose their power. In order to accommodate this, I should keep healthful foods on hand at all times. I didn't do that.
  • I do not like to cook. If I am tired after a long day the last thing I want to do is put together a meal. I avoid it like the plague. I need to give myself more time to prepare meals and also have meals all set to go for those late evenings. Again, I know this but I failed to do it.
  • I can't say no to sugar. If I put that first bite in my mouth, I'm not stopping until that food item is completely gone. I can't bring home more than a single serving of dessert. I haven't found my off switch yet. Guess how much ice-cream I ate in three days because I purchased a half gallon of it. Yeah, too much. Some people don't know how to use credit wisely, I don't know how to use sugar wisely. It's best if I maintain strict control of my access to it.

So What Did My January Spending Teach (or remind) Me?

It reminded me that I must keep all of my priorities in balance. If I am so busy focusing on one thing that other priorities suffer, then I need to make some adjustments. Sometimes the adjustments are simply a matter of being more aware and renewing my commitment. I can do that. But if I want to really make a difference, then I have to look closely at why things are falling behind and come up with some strategies to prevent that.

My gas spending I think simply needs a renewed commitment. The grocery spending however is going to require the additional strategies outlined above.

Here's hoping for a budget-wise, healthy, and environmentally friendlier February!


Anonymous said...

Analyzing and reflection is such an important step in living with a budget and your intentions, and few of us do this step --we just look at the numbers and wahoo! if we "made it". Congrats on your introspection; just don't kick yourself for being human!

moneychallenge said...

Thanks Anon! I'm actually pretty good at giving myself a break for being human.. sometimes too good! That's what I have to watch out for :) I am hoping that this whole blogging exercise will keep me a little more accountable for some of my grand plans.