Financial Literacy

I tried using a budget for the first time and it went sort of terribly

By: Lisa Coxon on January 11, 2018

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I’m 28 years old and I’ve never made a budget. It’s not that I don’t believe in their positive—err, lucrative—effects; I just think I have a pretty good handle on my finances and don’t need to meticulously track them to know when and where I’m spending too much.

But after struggling to make ends meet for the last nine months, I figured it might not be a bad idea to see what this budget thing is all about. So, I decided to test-drive one for a week. For Baby’s First Budget, I went makeshift and tracked my spending in Excel, colour-coding my expenses according to categories like groceries, dining out and transportation. Then, like any millennial would do, I downloaded an app to figure out what my daily budget should be after all my fixed monthly expenses are covered. $56 was the magic number. Here’s how I fared during that week. (Spoiler alert: not well.)

Day 1 | Daily total: $42

Day one of budgeting also happened to be payday. How serendipitous. With a fresh installment of money in the bank, I was feeling both optimistic and in control. Right away, I moved half the amount of my rent and a small sum of money (let’s just say it rhymes with “nifty dollars”…) into savings. I paid for my bus fare to and from work, and purchased some hygiene products and snacks later in the day. Then, since it wouldn’t put me over my daily limit, I ordered pizza for dinner. Girl, you got this.

Day 2 | Daily total: $71

I started the day off feeling anxious about how I was going to drop around $200 at the hairdresser’s this afternoon when my stylist texted saying she had to cancel my appointment. Hallellujah!

I then spent a small portion of that money on a birthday present for my sister. I suppose I didn’t need to purchase sheet masks for myself, or order pizza for the second time this week, but what other joys are there in life if not for facial hydration and excessive carb loading? One slip-up is O.K. I’ll get back on track tomorrow.

Day 3 | Daily total: $85

I sense a bit of an upward trajectory here, which I cannot say I feel great about. But today’s overage was sort of inevitable. My boyfriend and I split the cost of a rental car so we could go visit our families, who live out of town. My half was $79. Crap. Feeling thankful for mothers who cover the cost of lunch, and boyfriends who pay for dinner dates.

Day 4 | Daily total: $127

So, things are sort of spiraling and I don’t really know why. Or do I? Today I ate two lunches out (yes, you read that correctly), got groceries, paid for gas, reloaded my Presto card, and took a cab home instead of the subway. Does it help that I also put some money toward my debt? Don’t answer that.

Day 5 | Daily total: $85

Toronto was hit with a ton of snow so instead of waiting for the bus, I took an Uber home from work. The driver took a very-out-of-the-way route, which made my trip a whopping $40. Does this man not understand that I’M ON A BUDGET? I complained and Uber reduced the fee by $13. At this point, refunds are my only hope.

I ordered pizza for dinner again, though I only ate two slices before cabbing it to the emergency department because I thought that my boyfriend, who’d been battling a nasty stomach flu all day, might actually be dying. Sigh. Boyfriend is alive and well. Daily budget? Not so much.

Day 6| Daily total: $18

Well, I didn’t surpass my daily limit, but I’m really starting to feel over this whole conscious spending thing. Today, I guiltily bought some food at the convenience store for my sick boyfriend BUT I cooked dinner with what I already had at home. Can I even feel proud of that, though? I’ve gone over my daily limit so much in the last five days that today’s allowance was actually a negative number.

Day 7 | Daily total: $62

Freedom is near! Today, I bought my colleague’s lunch and spent about $45 on groceries. I went over my daily limit, but not by a huge amount. Honestly, I’m so relieved to be done with this. I’m tired of answering to this stupid spreadsheet every day. It only forces me to confront what a financial failure I am. Go to hell, budget.
***
So, what did I learn after just a week of tracking my spending? That I really hate tracking my spending! But in all seriousness, I can no longer ignore the fact that I eat out way too much, especially when I’m tired or the weather is less than ideal. Or that I’m literally robbing myself by buying, well, anything at a convenience store.

But here’s what I didn’t expect to learn: I’m too sporadic with my saving habits. In just one week, I paid down $280 of my line of credit, and while that makes me look like a responsible saver on paper, this budget helped me see how irregular my savings contributions are, both in amount and frequency. When I see my credit card balance creep past the amount I’ve deemed “manageable,” I panic and start throwing money at the problem. I don’t actually have control over my finances—they have control over me.

That said, by the end of the week, I just wanted my budget to die a fiery death so I wouldn’t have to confront the fact that I’m a convenience-loving pizza addict. I’m no convert, and I probably won’t employ a budget again anytime soon, but I have to say I’ve never been this up close and personal with my spending and saving habits.

So, thanks, budget. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the torturous week we spent together.

 

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