The Expatriated Consumer

Imagining life without debt. Working to make it reality.

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I’ve been living a lie…

Posted by Max Finkle on June 24, 2008

I’m relatively new to managing my budget. I’m still figuring out the in’s and out’s of proper money management. I look at the numbers, little gears whir and spin in my head, something computes, panic hits, and then I remember that we have some little chunk of money coming in that I hadn’t previously accounted for. Then I know we can make it for another month, and I can worry about next month when the time comes.

I have regular panic attacks about money, because I fear losing all the hard work I’ve invested along with my wife, in building a comfortable life for our family. We certainly don’t live like kings, by any means. We also don’t live like paupers. But I discovered that we do live beyond our means. Very hard reality to accept.

It feels like we should have enough money, but at the end of every two weeks, when I’m done paying the bills, I notice the tank running close to empty.

I’ve read that most people don’t realize how out of whack their finances are until they actually see it on paper. Authors always recommend writing down your budget. So, being smug, I read that, then read onto the next chapter, because I know in my head what was coming in and what is going out. “Thankfully, that doesn’t apply to me,” I think. I meticulously track our expendatures in Quicken, so that I can print off some nice looking reports that don’t make any sense to me at the end of the month. At least I know what my monthly payments are, and what my income is. Then after all that hard work being meticulous, I have a panic attack because DOOM looms ahead. Why? Because of the stuff not in the accounting software in my head. Like the $40 in medical costs to bring the baby to the doctor. Tack on another $80 for the two prescriptions that my insurance won’t cover, and there goes the money I had earmarked in my head for the car payment.

Where does all our money go? For some reason, looking at the numbers that Quicken compiles for me doesn’t ring any bells for me. Perhaps it’s because I’m not watching the math in real time, or doing the work myself. Perhaps it’s something in the software, I don’t know. But, I discovered quite rudely, after finally reading it for the umpteenth time, that you need to sit and actually take the time to WRITE DOWN a budget.

Now, I hate pen and paper, I’m rather a perfectionist in my own mind, (upon close observation of me in action, many would argue vehemently otherwise, but I digress…) so I hunted around for some budget templates for spreadsheet programs on the Web. I discovered the one that fit my needs quite well right at Microsoft’s Office site. I like that I can change catagory names on the fly and that it does the actual math for me, and I just watch the numbers change after data entry in each catagory. There are a couple columns near the top, one that indicates income, the other indicates output. Guess which number is higher?

To the tune of $1000 – $1500 a month, our expendatures outpace our income on a regular basis, in case you didn’t guess correctly. That puts me square in the middle of one of the popular statistics among personal finance advisors – that the average American family spends between $1000 – $1500 MORE a month than they earn. That makes me hoppin’ mad, because I hate being a statistic. Needless to say, I hate the idea that I actually have been so obtuse to believe that I was immune to such egregious tendencies, as well.

Consequently, my wife has had to go back to work sooner than we had anticipated after our move, I’m in the process of looking for additional work, and our spending plans are getting a big ol’ makeover. We are struggling to rework the numbers so that they are in line with reality. Man, oh man, it ain’t easy, but we’re plugging away at it.

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