If you are anything like me, the word budget induces repeated involuntary cringes. Growing up, times were often lean as my single mom did her best to provide for my sister and me. We weren't poor, simply working class. Yet, I felt deprived compared to my suburban friends and their middle class families. My finances didn't improve much after college. I took low-paying nonprofit and teaching jobs that forced me to stick to a strict budget. When I left the classroom and moved to the for-profit world, I finally had a job that could meet all my financial needs and allow me to indulge a bit. I rejoiced!
Then, I started getting myself in a better financial position. I paid off the little bit of credit card debt I accumulated when I was on disability and unable to teach as well as my old Honda Civic. I opened a new retirement account and participated in my company's 401K. I followed the advice of having three bank accounts: savings, checking for fixed expenses, and a bucket account to pay for all the extras (groceries, meals out, hair care, manicures, CDs, movies, Starbucks, etc.). I divided my paychecks across all three. I felt so excited to be able to use my debit card, knowing there would be enough in the bank to cover the expense. It was amazing!
With my basic needs met, I could enjoy a bit of my hard-earned cash. I began going out to dinner with friends (something I could not do previously on a teacher's salary). I signed up for yoga classes in a studio (another no-no in my former life). I bought better gifts for my loved ones, and treated myself to weekly manicures. I was able to break out my passport and finally begin to collect some stamps--Honduras, Jamaica, Spain, and the Dominican Republic (twice). Best of all, I no longer had to walk around with hundreds of dollars in cash to pay for my groceries, clothing and other expenses. My bucket account debit card could do the trick.
Ten years later, I noticed that I was allowing a lot of cash to flow through my fingers, particularly out of my "bucket account." My savings account also wasn't growing as rapidly as I would have liked, and I was having a hard time funding all my travel adventures. I decided at the beginning of the summer that I would withdraw a certain amount of cash every Friday from my bucket account. Those funds had to pay for whatever weekend entertainment I chose to engage in, dinners out with friends the following week, and any miscellaneous costs that might arise over seven days. Groceries were not included however. For those I still could use my debit card.
I blew through the all the cash I withdrew within the first few days after beginning this experiment. But I decided to persevere. I had trips coming up to New Orleans and Martha's Vineyard. I wanted to have enough savings to enjoy myself--without having to use my credit card. Eventually, I got the hang of it. Some weeks, I even had money left over to spend.
I learned the most helpful thing from being on a budget: the power of choosing. I could go out to a fancy dinner with drinks and appetizers with a friend on Saturday night, but that meant I probably couldn't also go out for happy hour on Monday and Thursday night, especially if I went to a movie matinee on Sunday. My "allowance" could afford 1-2 big ticket items or 3-5 smaller, less expensive ones. Some weeks I splurged. Other weeks I was frugal. Over time, I started looking at my week as a whole, deciding where I wanted to spend my money and where I could cut back. My spending decreased, and my savings increased.
I am writing this a week after returning from my vacation in Martha's Vineyard. Due to my budgeting all summer long, I had a nice chunk of change to enjoy myself while I was there. I ate seafood just about every day, rented a bike to get around all week (and ensure I continued to exercise), and treated myself to a sunset cruise on a small sailboat. I didn't feel restricted at all while I was sticking to my budget. I actually was flourishing!
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.