My wife and I are adopting an envelope system.

We did OK budgeting up until now–I’d say paying off a mortgage 5 /12 years after I moved into the house qualifies as OK–but it doesn’t work as well when there are multiple things you’re saving for.The problem is that we want several things like new windows and new kitchen cabinets, and my wife kept asking when we’d be able to afford to get them. I never had an answer.

This week I sat down with a spreadsheet and made up a budget. I entered everything we spend that I knew, then I asked my wife about the things she knew. When we didn’t have an exact figure, we estimated. An estimate is better than nothing. Then I added line items for the things we want to save for.

So then we got some envelopes, wrote the line items on them, and put the cash inside. When the money runs out, we’re done spending on that for the month.

But really what I’m hoping is that the envelope system will cause us to be more careful spenders on most things. We’ll adjust when there’s a shortfall (when we need diapers and formula, we need them, and if the quantities change, something else has to give) but I’m hoping that in a lot of instances, we’ll be able to find ways to cut back a little. And then, of course, we can get those windows and cabinets more quickly.

And beyond that? We still have lots of things to save for, so having a system to do it will help us get there. We may or may not get there faster, but it’ll be a lot easier to know where we are and to project endpoints.

Now, as far as plans. I’ve had plenty of conversations about whether John Cummuta’s plan, the one I used, is better or if someone else’s plan is better.

As long as the plan has you paying down debt and not making risky investments (that’s not to say all investments are risky–but many financial books are just get rich quick schemes), and most importantly, you’re able to stick with it, I don’t think there’s a huge amount of difference. What bothers me is when I see people fretting over the differences in the approaches, and then not following any of them. The person being interested in helping people moreso than yelling at them also helps.

Like I told my insurance agent earlier this week: If you pick the wrong plan and pay your debts in the wrong order, you’re in debt one more month. Whichever way you go, you save thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands.