Getting serious about budgeting

Last Updated on December 11, 2020 by Dave Farquhar

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.

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3 thoughts on “Getting serious about budgeting

  • October 17, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    How do all these books apply to the current calamity?
    What do you think of Buffett’s call to the American people to buy stock? Can we pull him out of his problems?

    • October 18, 2008 at 6:12 pm

      As far as Buffett goes, he’s fine. He doesn’t want us to bail him out. His point is that stocks are worth a little more than half what they were worth at their peak last year. The companies that survive will rebound and then some, so this is a good time to pick up bargains. It’s almost like being able to go back to the 1990s.

      Do I think the guy I know who just sold all his stock last week made a mistake? You better believe I do.

      As for the downturn, the key is really to be careful with your money. If you’re careful with it, you have more of it, and the downturn can actually present opportunities for you.

      I like this question. Let me do a little more digging and thinking.

      • October 18, 2008 at 7:46 pm

        Just a little something to mull. Buffett owns controlling interest in Star Furniture. No new homes, no new furniture.
        I would agree with buying stock if this was previous recessions. This one is different, and if you put money into to stock , it may disappear like the trillion dollars already gone up in smoke. Remember, those derivatives are something new.
        I’ve watched every recession since 1957. I only took note of that one because I went to bed hungry.
        This one doesn’t seem like those in the way it’s starting.

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