The Spark of a Conversation
Back before Jenna and I started dating, we spent a lot of time just hanging out as friends; going on walks, making food, and building a solid foundation of friendship. We would talk about work, since we were both paraprofessionals at the same school, update each other on how our families were doing, talk about our faith, and basically anything else under the sun. We were very truly, best friends and loved spending time with each other. All of our friends continually asked us if we were dating, or if we ever thought about dating each other, but we were simply just good friends. Of course all of that changed and we are madly in love with each other and have a blast being married! But that is a whole different story completely! 🙂
I remember back to one of our hang out nights a few years ago when something Jenna brought up stuck with me, and I believe that conversation changed my outlook on self improvement, and ultimately led me to create my very first budget. Jenna was reading through a book called “When God Writes Your Love Story” by Eric and Leslie Ludy*. I still have not ready this book, but it outlines basic guidelines to have an amazing, God-centered romance that can last a lifetime. At that time we were both single, but wanted to fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after (we didn’t realize at the time it would be with each other though!). She told me that one thing we can do to move toward our ultimate love story is to prepare ourselves now for who we want to be when we are actually married. She elaborated to say that we should be learning skills, habits, and shaping ourselves to be that person now. For example, I knew I was a terrible cook. If I met a girl and wanted to cook her dinner, I would be screwed. So I took steps to fix that. Jenna happened to be a wonderful cook, so I asked her and a couple of her friends to teach me how to make a few simple, but awesome dishes. I can proudly say that I can make delicious enchiladas and chili! To this day, these are two staple dishes in our home that we love to cook together.
It wasn’t until a few months later however, that I realized that I wanted to be the type of husband who understands his finances, can follow a budget, and achieve financial goals. I didn’t want to head into marriage with no clue how to manage money for myself or my family and I guessed that my future wife would want me to be able to manage money well too. That was how my budget got its start. At the time, I didn’t know how far down the rabbit hole I would fall into the magic of budgeting.
The Birth of My Budget
Over the next week, I researched how to create a budget. I wanted to know which categories I should include, how to create formulas to automatically calculate income and expenses, and how to best get rid of my substantial debt (student loans and credit card). I started simple and basic, but I was so proud of the result of the few hours of work. I had a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet I could use to easily track my spending every month to make sure my bills were getting paid. The greatest thing was, I didn’t need to change my lifestyle to start a budget. I think it is a common misconception that creating a budget will force you to change your lifestyle and spending habits. I don’t agree. Creating a budget does not force you to do anything different. It only gives you a visual of how you spend your money. However, I do believe that once you see how you spend your money, you might change a few things or reorder your priorities. It becomes a conscious, intentional change of spending habits. That is kind of what happened to me, except in a more explosion of panic sort of way. Let me explain.
Looking Through New Eyes
After a couple months of tracking my expenses with my new budget, I noticed something was off. At the time I had a pretty large credit card debt over $1500 that I was desperately trying to get rid of. I was paying somewhere around $300 a month extra towards the balance, which in my mind was awesome because it would be paid off in no time. But there was a problem. I was actually losing money every month and didn’t even know it! The extra money I was paying on my credit card caused my checking account balance to creep lower and lower each month. Talk about a red flag! I had a full on breakdown because I couldn’t afford life, even though I had a full time job. I thankfully happened to be at Jenna’s house during this meltdown. I couple days earlier told her I made a budget and she asked to see it so I could help her make a budget of her own. As a result, she had a front row seat to my panic attack! Fortunately she talked me through it, showing me I simply had to change my priorities slightly and pay less toward my credit card and trim expenses in a few other places. I took a few deep breaths and realized I would be okay, and I was. In less than six months, my credit card was completely paid off. The crazy thing is, I didn’t even know I was losing money every month! I always kept track in my head and always had enough money in the bank to pay my bills, so I thought I was doing great! If I hadn’t started a budget, it would have taken me a lot longer to realize my spending mistakes and by then I may have been in a major crisis. I think it’s important to point out that these situations are normal and to be expected when you first start budgeting. I encourage you to keep going, to make changes, but never give up.
I have learned that you will not solve all of your money problems overnight, not even by simply creating a budget. It is the small decisions you make every day with your money, repeated over many months and years that truly helps you reach your goals. For me, making a budget was the first small step. Each month I followed and stuck to my budget was another step. The small, consistent decisions Jenna and I make each day help us accomplish goals we never thought possible on two teacher salaries. Coming up in my next post I will explain our budget’s partner in crime, the debt log.
Let Me Know in the Comments
Why did you start budgeting? How have your spending habits changed since you started your budget?
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* I have written this post only to explain how and why I started budgeting. This book was a part of that journey. I have not been compensated in any way mentioning the book or for this post.