Sustainability: Baby Steps

This week’s post is by Liz of Lizerati.com , one of my partners in craft. She’s also an active participant in the Wanderland Project. Say Hi to Liz!

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Hello Budgeteers!

That’s the cheery title I’ve started using for myself in an effort to make sticking to a budget a little less grim – Budgeteer. This also explains why I am a ‘grocery superhero’ and a ‘traffic ninja’, doesn’t it? Maybe I need to get out more.

So who do I think I am, anyway, telling you how to live and how to manage your money? Am I a CPA or some kind of finance wizard? No. But I am someone who’s trying to work her way out of some past debt and insure an easier future for herself. I like to call this plan Keeping Past Liz From Screwing Future Liz and the premise is pretty simple:

Do what I can now to make sure I’m not screwed in the future.

The biggest challenge that I face is usually remembering that you can’t fix everything all at once. Yes, ideally you would give up everything non-essential and put all money towards your debt until it’s gone. However, that’s simply setting yourself up for failure. I might be wrong – you might be excellent at denying yourself everything all the time. I, however, am not. Occasionally I want to go out to eat, or maybe I want an adult beverage, and I’d like to buy myself a book to read.

With that in mind, here are a couple of small things you can do to get yourself started:

1. Create a budget. No, seriously. Do it. I used to have a running total in my head of about where I thought my bank balance should be. Sometimes I would be a little wrong, sometimes I would be majorly wrong, and sometimes I would be right on. It’s better to know than to guess.
Google Documents has got some good pre-made budget sheets. This also forces you to face all your obligations and to figure out where your money is going, which is the first step towards making sure it’s all going in the right places. My bank allows me to view the past 60 days of purchases on my debit card and I slammed those in to excel and then sorted by “description”. I was horrified at some of the trends I saw when I did that.

budgetdoc

2. Include a little fun in your budget if at all possible. Budget in one meal out a week or every two weeks. Make sure you’ve got a bottle of wine in your grocery budget. Save your change and convert that in to your entertainment fund and go buy a book, see a movie, or go watch the pig races at the state fair. (I have done this. It is awesome.) It’s a lot easier to relax and enjoy these things if you know that it’s already worked in and you don’t have to sweat the cost.

3. Don’t pay for convenience. This takes some planning and is my biggest personal challenge. When you go grocery shopping, do your shopping for the week and get everything you need. No more swinging by the store for just one or two things – this is what gets you in trouble. You grab one thing and oh yeah, you need some more of this, and hey aren’t you out of bread? You have to make lists and reduce the number of shopping trips.

4. Shop for bargains and discounts. This seems obvious, but sometimes we have to break ourselves of habits. Hit the thrift store for books to read. Substitute things on sale for items on your grocery list if possible. Go to Trader Joe’s for wine and make Chuck your best friend.

5. Don’t nickel and dime yourself to death. Look at your budget and see where the small amounts are going. Two dollars here, five bucks there… it’s not bad, but it adds up and before you know it, your cushion is gone and you’re scraping together change in order to get enough gas in your car to go to work. (I have done this. It is not awesome.)

That’s it for now! Remember, chin up. It takes some work and it’s all frustrating and annoying and you get sick of being poor pretty quickly… but the day you make that last payment? That’s one of the best days you’ll ever have.

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That’s it for now, next week tune in for a little essay on disaster preparation, brought to you by the intense flooding we’ve been getting around these parts.
xoxo!

Lori

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