I begin every month with taking a legal sized envelope and folding it into fourths. Each quarter gets a week’s designation, and each week receives a spending limit. I record all expenditures on the virgin exterior of the envelope—whether it be a major outflow like $142.15 for groceries or something as minor as $3.14 for a Sonic Slush. At the end of every week, I total the damage, feeling smugly triumphant if I’ve kept our spending in the green, or vowing to do better if we dip into the red. My obsession with number crunching allows us to indulge at the end of the month if anything extra remains. Most of the time, though, we simply break even. By the end of each month, the overstuffed envelope’s surface is covered with numbers and notes on spending habits. It remains in my upper desk drawer until the credit card statement arrives as a means of double checking the balance for our month’s expenses.
My obsession continues into my record keeping. I have ledgers dating back to those first months of our marriage where we stretched $850 a month income across apartment rent, utilities, insurance, school loans and food. The numbers may have changed over the years, but my strategy remains the same. I know exactly where every penny goes, can use one year’s budget to project into the next year, and based on one year’s spending will plan financial goals.
I rarely set the goal of saving money just to save it. We don’t have some huge balance accruing that hasn’t been assigned an end purpose. The chunk of money accumulating in our Money Market goes to taxes on our home this month and anything left over will stay in place for April’s income taxes and work on the car. All of the budgeting and balance sheets pays off in the long run. We work together as a family to reach very specific spending goals. By watching the outflow carefully, we’ve plugged up leaks and pooled funds into building a secure future.
Sometimes I wonder if I’d hold onto the monthly envelope and colorful ledgers if our income ever rose. Would I stop tracking that dollar spent here? Or that five spent over there? Then I admit with chagrin that number crunching flows through my veins. It’s part of who I am, how I think. Whether I have only a teacher’s retirement income or a million dollars doesn’t matter. I’d track my spending, set my goals, and record all expenditures.
Maybe I’d just have a larger envelope!
Copyright 20214 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman