your life is beautiful

Live Like the Queen on a Commoner’s Budget

When I was young and single and less responsible, and I wanted something, I subscribed to the ‘act now, think later’ way of life.

Not only did it mean I made some pretty embarrassing phone calls to ex-boyfriends and some slightly skewed social choices, it also meant that when I wanted something, I bought it – even when I didn’t have the money.  And that meant that by the time Simon and I got married, he was not only taking on a wife, but a hefty bit of credit card debt as well.

After a couple of years of marriage, we managed to cut loose the chains of debt, and now I live a different life.  Thanks to my husband, I am now a budgeter and a saver.  My new saving lifestyle even meant I finally got my beloved camera last Spring!

I’ll admit, when Simon first mentioned the word “budget” to me, I could feel the beads of sweat forming on my forehead.  Just the thought of an Excel spreadsheet makes my hands clammy.  But Simon promised to take care of the Excel-ing, so I said okay, we’d try it.

True to his word, he set up a spreadsheet complete with formulas (which I swear is black magic) and broke down our incomings and outgoings into minute little categories.

When he showed it to me, I cried.  And not in a good way.  There was a column for every. single. little. thing.  My ENFP personality – the free-spirited, i-hate-routine, don’t-give-me-structure part of me – couldn’t help but rail against the sheer organized-ness of it. But, after some stern words, some panicked questions, and several deep breaths, I promised again to try it – all the while thinking to myself, “This is not going to work.”

Now, it’s hard to say this, because I don’t like to admit I’m wrong but, well…I was wrong.

Simon’s budget has saved our life.  We should not be able to live on the minute income we’re bringing in right now.  (Well…the one Simon’s bringing in.  I am a lady of leisure.)  But somehow, every month, we do it.

And I’m here to tell you how.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy my tips on How to Manage Your Money. (I swear, I never – not in a million years – imagined I would type those words.)

Make a budget. I know.  It hurts.  Trust me: if anyone knows how much it hurts, it’s me.  But write down every. single. penny. coming in, and every. single. penny. going out.  Itemize everything.  Leave no tube of toothpaste or Pepsi Max (Ahem, Simon) unturned.  And if you need help, email me and I’ll send you a copy of our budget.

Plan your meals.  This is another one of those things that made my organization-phobic brain nearly short-circuit.  “Plan my meals?  Where’s the spontaneity in that?  What if I plan for something and then don’t want it?  Waaah!”  Shut up.  Get your notepad out and figure out how many nights in the next week you’re going to need dinner.  For us, this varies, because Simon works funny shifts.  So the night before I do my grocery shop, I sit down and decide I need, let’s say, five evening meals for the week.  I ask Simes if he has any special requests (fajitas, always fajitas), and then I go from there.  This is so helpful for a few reasons:

a) If I plan my meals and do one big shop, I don’t have to run into the grocery store several times a week to pick up various items, whereby tempting myself to grab another bag of chips/packet of chocolate bars/bottle of Pepsi Max(Simon)/whatever strikes my fancy.  I do my big shop, and that’s it.

b) I don’t have a cabinet full of random ingredients that don’t go together.  I actually pride myself on my ability to create a meal out of pretty much nothing, but before I started planning meals, I’d often find myself with a cupboard stocked with hummus, baked beans, and jelly and, I’m sorry, I’m not a miracle worker.

c) Planning meals in advance means I can plan things with ingredients that overlap.  For instance, I make a pesto pasta dish with bacon, so I get the better value big pack of bacon and also plan to make breakfast for dinner that week to use the rest of the bacon.  Or, I buy a big ol’ bag of spinach and use it to make salads, to stuff stromboli, and to add to risotto.

Give money away.  This may seem like a contradiction.  I know what you’re thinking: “Faith, I want more money; not less.”  It seems ridiculous, but I swear, the more money (or food, or baby clothes, or whatever) we give away, the more money we have.  I wrote about this a couple of years ago.  Yes, we budget, and we meal plan, but we’ll both tell you the secret to our money management is being generous.  It’s tempting not to do this, because as soon as money gets tight, my first thought is, “No, I can’t afford to help someone else out – I can’t even pay my own water bill!”

But I’m telling you, giving money away – to a charity, to a friend in trouble, to a stranger who needs help – is the best investment you can make.  It’s not math; it’s magic.  Want more money?  Give some away.

That’s my advice.  So okay, maybe you won’t live like the Queen.  But at least maybe you could save up for one of those hats she wears.

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