I didn’t start a blog because personal finance is easy for me. I started a blog because I’m obsessed with reaching financial independence, and I love to think and write about it.
But managing your money is HARD!
Occasionally, I will read a blogger (usually an extremely frugal blogger) who will glibly comment, “It’s really hard for me to spend money. Being frugal is just part of who I am.”
That. is. not. me.
It is really hard to manage my family’s dollars, even after more than 12 years of paying really good attention to where our dollars go.
I have been budgeting since August 2008. Every month. That is 143 budgets, if you’re counting (12 months times 12 years, minus one month because it’s only June).
As I mentioned in several posts recently, I’ve rededicated my commitment to getting our budget right over the past several months.
In April, we got one month ahead with both our salaries in YNAB, our budgeting software of choice.
I started more sinking funds, so we can save money each month for even the smallest yearly subscriptions, like Ring Doorbell ($35 per year).
I’ve started a Celebrations Fund, so we can fund celebrations, birthdays, teacher gifts, and graduation gifts.
Those measures have helped, because I’m starting to see these sinking funds grow, and it’s making me feel better prepared for the future, less likely to rob from Peter to pay Paul in the budget.
But, we struggle constantly with spending. Last weekend, we went to Costco, and spent $265. That’s AFTER we already bought groceries for the week! And while we did buy a couple of items that will last us for a while, much of the food we bought will be gone by the end of the month. Housing an almost-thirteen, ravenous pubescent boy doesn’t help.
The same day, we also went out to eat at a very nice restaurant, all four of us. But that was planned. Because, you see, we finally reached the second part of our Three Year Experiment. We doubled our net worth.
Yes, the slightly insane stock market rally helped. But, we officially reached the milestone then surpassed it, and watched our net worth climb higher and higher and higher…
So, even though we reached a goal we’ve been working on for years, managing our money is still not easy. It’s easier, just not easy.
I feel smart and capable on the one hand. I feel rich, even though we’re not financially independent yet (we spend a lot). And I feel really bad at managing money on the other.
Apparently, the more you know about a topic, the less of an expert you feel about it. Those who know next-to-nothing about something are over-confident about their abilities (this is known at the Dunning-Kruger effect). This is why we listen to some painful, ear-distorting soloists on singing competitions each year. They have no idea how bad they really are, because they know nothing about singing (but seriously, can’t family members and loved ones tell them the truth??). The better you get at something, the more you know about a topic, the more you realize there is to know, the more you realize you have left to learn, and so you feel not that good at it.
So just because I still, after 12 years, feel like a non-expert when it comes to spending, does that mean I give up?
Ha. Of course not.
We have come so far in twelve years that it’s hard to wrap my head around. And I have a feeling that we would still be wallowing in debt, to this day, if we hadn’t made the conscious decision to manage our money differently way back in 2008.
It’s hard, but it’s worth it. That’s the message I want to give to people who feel like they will never turn their money train around.
It feels like it is infinitesimally slow, but the reward you get from setting a goal and sticking with it, despite the setbacks (and there will be setbacks) is great.
I’ll tell you that the difficulty in managing our money is different now. Mostly it has to do with not living up to the high expectations I’ve set for us (I’m an Eight on the Enneagram, and high expectations are kind of my thing. Read more here).
It does not have to do with decisions about how much gas to put in my car (Do I have $20 in my checking account??). I have filled my car up, every time, for the last ten years (except for that one time I was in a hurry and only filled it up half way because I was afraid I was going to be late).
It does not have to do with embarrassments at having my card declined (this happened to Mr. ThreeYear in an epically embarrassing moment a few years back when we were just using debit cards, the credit card and several other large payments had just been taken out all at once, and we kept our emergency savings in another account. It was my fault and I still feel bad about it to this day, especially because he was with an out-of-work colleague and she had to pay the tip!!).
It does not have to do with worry over how I’ll pay for an unexpected expense. I know, even if we go over our spending for a certain month, that we can tap into our sinking funds, or, if a large unexpected expense comes up, we can tap into our emergency fund. Or, if a super, epic, crazy expense came up, like a job loss, we could hypothetically take a loan out of our 401k and pay ourselves back. We got options.
It’s not worry about the future. Our past selves have set our future selves up pretty well. (Side note: we have introduced the past-self/future-self mental trick to our kids, and they have really internalized it. Such a great way to teach delayed gratification and the impact of past actions on current happiness. In fact, last week I used it with Little ThreeYear, when he’d drunk all his fancy lemonade at the fancy restaurant, which I told him not to do, then I wouldn’t let him get another one until dessert. “Your past self didn’t take very good care of your present self, did he?” “Nuh-uh.” Also, makes it difficult to pin the blame on anyone other than themselves).
It’s more the desire to be able to save more (even though we’re in line to save over 50% of our net income this year–see my note about my high expectations above). It’s the desire I have to grow our taxable accounts.
It’s managing four people’s competing desires with finite amounts of money.
It’s freaking marketing, and social pressure, and consumerism.
I have never, I hope, pretended to be an expert frugalist on this blog. I’m more of a regular Joe (Jane), with lots of privilege, as I’ve mentioned recently, lots of opportunities, lots of help, who has figured out how to do the big things well (invest a lot, save on house, cars, not food).
But the small things are still super hard.
What’s the hardest part for you about managing your money?