How’s Your Budget?

I think it’s fair to say that everyone is upset with how the federal government is handling the debt ceiling and budget issue. The frustration has been met with criticisms for overspending for decades. To everyone, I remind you that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

Up until about three years ago I had no budget. That’s not to say that I didn’t have a job, I’d been working since I was a teenager, but I certainly didn’t have a plan for my money. If I had the money for something I bought it, if it was something that I really wanted, but didn’t have the cash for I put it on a credit card. When my 1997 Mustang was showing signs of age I convinced myself that I deserved a brand new 2007 Mustang GT/CS and the fat loan that I needed in order to make the purchase.

While I never had a debt ceiling crisis that forced me to take a hard look at my out of control spending I did have a moment when I realized that enough is enough. Once I’d committed to taking control of my money the first step was to create a budget. I couldn’t rely on Washington, DC, my friends or family to save me from the ditch I’d driven into. It wasn’t easy at first, especially with all of the stigma associated with the word budget. To this day when I talk to people about being on a budget they think I’m nuts, or am somehow living a restricted lifestyle. I’d like to dispel that rumor, but you likely won’t believe me until you try it yourself.

Living on a written budget is like getting a raise. It allows you to tell your money where to go instead of wondering where it went. I don’t know of a better way to put it. If you’re struggling and find that you have too much month at the end of your money, I encourage you to try it.

Taking an inventory of your spending can be upsetting, I know it was for me. When I saw what I’d been spending my money on every month I couldn’t believe it. The numbers had to be wrong, but sure enough, they weren’t. I put together a written budget using the forms in the back of The Total Money Makeover book (also available for free on daveramsey.com) and for the first few months I was terrible at it. I was constantly going back and adjusting things, overspending in some categories and totally estimating wrong in others.

It took a few months to get the kinks worked out, but after finding a system that worked for me (which involved using a spreadsheet so I wouldn’t get the math wrong) I finally got it and I can’t imagine going back to a life without a budget. It’s allowed me to not only become debt free, but living on a budget has taken out a ton of stress in my life and for once I have a plan. I’ve got an emergency fund of six months worth of expenses saved up “just in case” something happens and now I’m saving for a down payment on a house. At this time three years ago, that wasn’t even within the realm of possible.

Living on a budget and having a plan has been so good for me that I ended up buying an extra copy of The Total Money Makeover just to lend to people who are skeptical but interested in making positive change for themselves. As I’ve helped a few people tackle their out of control lifestyle I’ve seen that truly everyone’s situation is different and we all have our own unique challenges. I’m convinced that while it’s not easy at first, it’s worth it.

If you’re waiting for the government to come to your rescue, for Aunt Susie to die and leave you a fat inheritance or for your lottery numbers to come in, you’re going to be waiting a long time. Take control of your money so you too can get ahead. If you hate living on a budget and having extra money, that’s OK, I’m not going to harp on you about it, you can just go back to the way you were doing things before.

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