One of my New Year’s resolutions was to manage my finances better. I started my journey towards that goal by reading The Meaningful Money Handbook, which I cannot recommend enough. The next step I took was budgeting my money and starting to build some savings. With the help of the handbook and author Pete Matthew’s helpful app, I considered my income for the month, wrote a budget, then did my best to stick to it.
This post – promised in my review of the above-mentioned handbook – is a recap of how my first month of budgeting went.
Long story short, it was a rocky but ultimately successful month. I achieved my savings, but it was a struggle to do so. This was something I hadn’t expected, considering how cocky I was heading into this process. Since leaving behind expensive housing in my first couple of years of university, I haven’t often had to think about my spending overly much, and I guess I simply forgot how hard it is.
When I say I haven’t thought a lot about my spending much since partway through uni, that is not to also say that I spend extravagantly. However, I’ll admit that I’ve developed a habit of indulging my impulses when it comes to seeing things I want. Like Arianna Grande, but with a minuscule fraction of the money.
During my first month of budgeting, as I strolled through shopping aisles and scrolled through online shopping sites, I had to confront my impulses to buy things that just happened to catch my attention. And, I had to make sure to keep those impulses in check over and over again.
Though it’s definitely beneficial to think before you purchase, I found having to think so acutely about my spending – calculating how much my trolley’s worth of stuff is worth whilst I shop, keeping receipts, noting down every little purchase – quite frustrating at times.
That in itself, needing to be constantly in control, was the source of at least a few of my brief moments of wanting to give up. Not entirely, that is, but I just wanted to loosen my control enough that I didn’t feel completely preoccupied with my money all the time. Two weeks into my budgeting, I actually gave into that temptation and procrastinated my second weekly budget review – to revise how much I’d spent, and how much of my budget remained – until it was time for my third.
What a mistake that was.
Delaying the review alone might not have been so bad. I had a decent buffer that could have withstood more than a few impulse purchases of pastries or Haribos – I love food and sweets. Unfortunately, my buffer wasn’t enough to withstand what I actually ended up overspending on that month – a gift. If you’ve read my Christmas post then you know that sticking to budgets where gifts are concerned is not one of my strong suits.
While I purchased the gift I was vaguely aware of some money that I could move around, and some purchases that I could delay, to increase the funds I had available for it – though I intentionally chose not to check beforehand if I could actually manage it. Mostly, this was because once I’d decided on the gift – which I knew would be appreciated – I didn’t want to settle for buying anything “less”. So, I brought it and resigned myself to calculating the consequences later.
As bad as that was, the success I scraped might have been that much easier if not for another setback. It was, in fact, another mistake from one of the bad habits I’ve developed in recent years – avoiding checking my bank balance as much as possible. As a result, I only really had a rough idea of what money was leaving my account and why, so I was surprised when I logged into my online banking app and discovered that two unexpected direct debits had left my account.
The first was for my contacts, which I pay for quarterly. Whilst I had been considering giving them up, I do think I would have decided to keep receiving them for now, so my only regrets were not accounting for the contacts in my budget, and not getting around to downgrading from a lens and solution contract to a lens-only contract. Lens only would have saved me a few quid.
At any rate, I’ve noted down the date of the next lens payment in my diary. I’m going to continue thinking about whether I want to cancel or just downgrade for a little bit longer, but at least I’ve protected myself against being caught unawares again.
The second direct debit – which was as a result of that well-known sin of forgetting to cancel an account after a free-trial – hit much harder. Not only was the money for the direct debit more, but in order to cancel that account and prevent any further unnecessary losses, I had to pay even more money. That felt like being kicked after I was already down.
The direct debits and the gift combined to make my procrastinated review a very difficult one to get through. Sitting there, calculating what I had left of my budget, I became increasingly anxious as I slowly realised how big of a hole I’d dug myself. It was so bad, in fact, that I very seriously considered giving up. I sat there and pondered the fact that I don’t really need to save and cringed at even the thought of toughing it out and facing a failure – ie not saving the amount I’d intended to save – and the thought of giving up, for a moment, was very tempting. As someone who hates to fail, it was the latter more than the former that got me closest to giving in to that temptation.
But I didn’t give up. I encouraged myself to keep going by following some of the advice Matthew’s gave in The Meaningful Money Handbook. I kept the big picture in mind. I reminded myself that a minor shortfall was no reason to throw away what I could still achieve; and, that any money I failed to save that first month, I could always take from my budget in the next month. Fortunately, it worked.
It was a long final week-and-a-half, but after cutting back a little on my weekly shop and being extra careful to avoid any unnecessary purchases I managed it; I actually achieved my intended savings.
So, as I said, it was a rocky but successful month.
Whilst I am disappointed that it ended up being such a near thing with several mistakes made, I also appreciate the lessons I’ve learned and can take away. I think lessons tend to stick best when learned from experience, so at least I now have that on my side. Even if the mistakes were very much avoidable.
I intend to take those lessons and very consciously apply them to my budgeting journey moving forward. Already this month I’ve made sure to research potential gifts (yes, I have more to buy) and prices before inputting them into my budget. And, so far, I haven’t missed any of my weekly reviews. There’s only been the one at this point, so I guess that isn’t saying much, but it’s a good sign.
I’m sure I have plenty more lessons to learn, and I definitely have a long way to go before budgeting and being careful and intentional with my money is easy, but in time I’ll get there.
I just have to make sure to keep at it long enough to see that day.
So there you have it, my first month of budgeting. If you made it this far, thank you, and even if you didn’t learn anything from my experience, I hope you enjoyed the post.
To those of you who haven’t read The Meaningful Money Handbook or my review of it, I recommend you do; that handbook is a really a smart purchase if you’re someone who’s looking to better manage their finances, but if you’re not sure the review might help you to make up your mind.