Mar 16, 2011

The not-fun side of being a grown-up

I generally enjoy being a grown-up -- staying up late, eating chocolate whenever I want, watching R-rated movies (yes, because I do these things ALL THE TIME. Ha.).

Oh, and as a grown-up you can make money. Which seems like a plus, and mostly it is. But what’s NOT fun is having to budget your money. When I worked as a grocery store cashier in high school, I'd cash my paycheck and then blow it all at the outlet stores the same day. Ah, I miss those days...

Anyhoo, back to budgeting. I’d say the hubs and I are fairly responsible when it comes to money. We’ve definitely gotten a lot better at it over the past couple of years as we’ve had to make some major purchases (the wedding/honeymoon, and then the house). There’s nothing like saving for a down payment to make you realize how much money you spend on pizza and beer (or shoes and wine, if you’re like me). It was kind of depressing to make our house budget and realize that, though I’d been working as a full-time grown-up for four years, I didn’t have much to show for it except a full closet. Yikes.

We did a lot of scrimping and saving before we bought our house (living with my parents helped us out a lot in that endeavor), and in the past four months have spent a good chunk of change on house-related items -- a washer and dryer, a snowblower, paint, curtains, etc. We stuck to our budget pretty well, but realized that little things -- like picture frames, tools and hardware, etc. -- can really add up. And with a few a bunch of major purchases still on our wish list, we decided to sit down and do some long-term money planning. It made for a wild Sunday afternoon, let me tell you!

Fueled by an entire box of a few Girl Scout cookies, we hashed out our spending for the next year. Lucky for me, my husband is a Quicken fiend and an Excel genius, so it was easy to chart how much money we’d have in the bank each month, how much we’d be spending on our regular expenses, and how much we’d have left over for savings and major purchases. 

Balancing a checkbook -- how quaint!

Since money is one of the biggest things couples fight about, we try to be as transparent as we can. We always set the budget together. While the hubs handles a lot of the actual bill-paying, I do more of the day-to-day spending, like groceries and toiletries. And to avoid nit-picking each other over every little purchase, we each have $200 a month in “fun money” in our own accounts that we can spend however we choose. We’ve been doing it like this for a few months, and so far it’s working out well for us.

We have a couple rules we stick to when it comes to budgeting. We paid off our credit cards before buying the house and are going to keep it that way, so no house purchases go on the cards. If we don’t have the cash for a new couch, we won’t buy it. We also keep at least two months of expenses in the bank, in case something unexpected happens -- one of us loses a job or gets hurt or sick. And we have some funds in our budget to handle unforeseen house expenses, like fixing a broken furnace.

And, we’re realistic in our budget with how much we actually spend. While we’d love to spend just $200 a month on groceries, we don’t, and rather than set a low budget and blow it every month, we budget for what we realistically think we’ll spend.

That doesn’t mean we don’t try to be as frugal as we can. We’re always looking for ways to spend less on the necessities by using coupons, buying stuff in bulk or on sale, and most importantly eating leftovers instead of letting them go to waste. If we spend less than we budgeted that month on groceries, then we have a little extra money we can ferret away for a rainy day. We do the same for things like eating out and entertainment, and give ourselves a generous budget for doing fun things because we know we will. Doing it this way means that we know we can afford something even when we’re living exactly as we want to, eating out included. But if we decide we want to save money for a big purchase, we can forgo eating out one month and save that money instead.

So, once we had our budget set for the next year, we made a list of all the big things we thought we needed or wanted to buy in the next year:
  • Lawnmower 
  • New paver walkway and plants/landscaping 
  • Outdoor lighting
  • Office makeover -- desk, bookcase, paint, curtains, lighting 
  • Living room set -- couches, coffee table, end tables
  • Art and headboard for the master bedroom 
  • Bedding, curtains and paint for the guest bedroom 
  • Two chairs and a coffee table for the “lounge” -- the room adjacent to the kitchen 
  • New car 
  • Motorcycle
Sadly, the next thing we need to buy is a lawnmower. I say sadly not because I hate spring, but because it’s no fun to spend money on a piece of machinery that will only make you bust your butt. Confession: I have never mowed a lawn. In my life. I’m pretty sure that streak is coming to an end...

And as I mentioned earlier this week, an office makeover is desperately needed. I also want to spruce up our guest bedroom with a fresh coat of paint and some new curtains and bedding. And with spring coming up, we also knew we wanted to spend some money on our yard. As I mentioned in my 2011 home goals, we want a new walkway, some landscaping and outdoor lighting.

Sometime in the next year, we also need some new living room furniture to replace our hand-me-down couches and coffee table. Both couches are fold-outs, which is nice for extra guests, but after a few years, these couches have started to sag like nobody’s business. They have no springs except the flimsy mesh that holds the mattress, which means that there’s nothing holding up the middle of the couch. One is now stuffed with an old egg crate, the other with some blankets and pillows. We even put a piece of wood underneath one to prop up the inner workings and keep the cushions from sinking. Yes, it’s bad. (P.S. I would never buy a fold-out couch again, at least not one that I wanted to sit on every day.) 

Check out that awesome egg crate. Yes, this is actually what our couch looks like underneath the L.L.Bean couch cover.

What’s that on the end of the list? Does that say motorcycle? Why, yes it does. My husband had a motorcycle a couple years ago, then sold it. I foolishly promised him that once we got married and bought the house, he could get another motorcycle. Well, that time is now, but we had to see if we could afford it first. Plus, I need a new car. Let’s just say my current ride doesn’t like to start when it’s too wet, or too hot, or too cold, and you roll the window down at your own risk.

Anyways, it was time to prioritize our purchases. We picked out the things we really needed (the lawnmower), the things we needed (new couches and a working office), and the things we didn’t need as much but wanted most (a presentable guest room). We did a little online research to figure out how much we’d spend on these items and plugged these purchases into our spreadsheet in the approximate months we thought we’d be buying them, with the lawnmower and the office expenses coming in first. We also have planned a little getaway for our first anniversary that we put high on the list -- you only have a first anniversary once, right?

We're going here! Do you recognize it?

I won’t bore you with all the details, but we soon realized that we couldn’t have it all (duh), and we’d have to choose between the motorcycle and a new walkway. Both we wanted to buy in the spring, which also came around the time of our anniversary trip, and it was just too much to spend in the span of a couple months. We could have sprung for the new walkway later in the summer or fall, but then we’d have to delay the couch purchase, and we really need those more (I mean, did you see that plaid wonder??). A new walkway is nice, but not necessary. 

And while a motorcycle isn’t a necessity, sometimes you just have to live a little. It has some practical benefits -- the hubs can drive it to work in nice weather instead of his SUV, saving some gas money. And I have to admit, I love being on the back of a bike. I never thought I’d be that girl, but I had a blast riding around on his old bike. Plus, I already have the super-sweet jacket and helmet I need to put to good use.

While in Aruba for our honeymoon, we did a Harley tour of the island. This is a rented helmet -- mine is way cooler. 

So we won’t have the pretty walkway this summer. That’s okay. Instead, we’ll have Saturday motorcycle rides out to the beach, winding along the beautiful Maine coastline and stopping for lobster rolls and ice cream. Sometimes, it’s about spending money on things you can do and experiences you can share than things to fill your house.

Plus, I earned some “wife points” that I can cash in later with something I really want. I’m thinking diamonds...

What about you? Done any budgeting lately? Got any tips to share on prioritizing spending or saving money? Let’s hear ‘em!

Checkbook photo from here.
Chateau Frontenac photo from here. 


Erin @ Domestic Adventure said...

You're going to Quebec City! So jealous. We got engaged and married there. We haven't been back since our first anniversary, which was December 31, 2008! Be sure to eat at the Conti is delicious.

Oh, and good job budgeting! :)

Suna said...

Budgeting, a topic very near and dear to my heart! I live and die by my Excel budget! I have to see where all my money's going at all times. I'm amazed by the number of people I know who don't really budget and cry poverty all the time, talking about not being able to pay hospital bills or being late with the mortgage or cable bill. But then they spend hundreds of dollars on haircuts, colors, manicures, pedicures, and eating out once a week. Sure, my social life isn't nearly as exciting as theirs, but even living on a drastically reduced salary for the past four years, I'm proud to say that I've never been late on a single bill (even while I was unemployed) and have even managed to pay off my credit cards.

Congrats on managing this very much not so fun aspect of being a grown-up!

Mindy @ Heart Maine Home said...

Erin -- Yes, we are! We've never been, and we're really excited. We will definitely check out that cafe!

Suna -- I'm impressed!