What does 'budget' mean to you?
Free From Broke posted recently with "Excuse Busters for Not Having a Budget." FFB then asked what other excuses we could think of. Being my opinionated lil' self, I chimed right in.
I explained our current situation and said it was simply not possible to budget for the problems that crop up between the two of us and our health conditions.
I said that the closest we got to an actual budget was:
- My disability check to cover our rent
- Making sure there was $500 in checking on the first Friday of each month, for Tim's insurance.
- Each week, keeping $220 in the bank -- $20 for our IRA, $65 for therapists kind enough to work on a sliding scale, the rest for groceries and other incidentals -- and throwing the rest at the credit card debt.
In fact, I ended up emailing with FFB to discuss this a little further. I explained just how many unexpected expenses come up, making it very very difficult for any real concept of budget.
Then again, I added, I suppose it depended on your definition of "budget."
FFB agreed with me. He wrote back:
I still see a budget as valuable so you can more accurately track your expenses ans spending. A budget doesn't have to be concrete, it can float. Unexpected expenses always come up and if you have a good budget then you can re-work it to free up money for the new expenses. Or at least know how you are going to pay for it.
By these sketchy outlines, Tim and I do have a budget. As expenses come up, we divert some money from credit card payments. Other times, we put it on a credit card (which we make sure to pay in full each month, to avoid interest) and then pay that down before any other credit card. Either way, our system does fall under FFB's description of why a budget is useful.
So do we have a budget?
My opinion is no. I think we have a frugal lifestyle.
We try to keep grocery costs down. But I don't have the energy to record all receipts from groceries. And when I am on Quicken, I use my time to be sure we're not going to bounce -- not to go through and find transactions from any of the four stores we might have visited.
We make sure there's enough money in the bank for the EFT from Tim's insurance. But that comes about only through careful planning of money allocation 10 or so days beforehand.
We don't buy many things on a whim. But we also don't rationalize that it's "not in the budget." We ask ourselves (or each other, depending on the situation) if we really need it. Especially in light of our current financial situation. Usually the answer is no.
And while I try to limit the amount spent on dining out (or ordering in), it's hit and miss. My goal is about once a week, or a total of $30. Some weeks, we do great and have no trouble providing food for ourselves. Other weeks, we're both feeling completely rundown -- whether from chronic fatigue/depression (me) or eczema/painful MRSA infection (Tim). Those weeks, we'll probably do very little cooking. I'll eat PBJs, Tim will scrounge for food. But at least twice, we'll give up and order a pizza.
About the only things we truly budget for are:
- Checks to therapists
- IRA contribution
- $10 each per week to do with as we please
On the whole, I'd have to say that, if our plan is a budget, it's a pretty terrible one that only sometimes gets followed.
Of course, perhaps I'm putting the cart before the horse. Just because we don't follow a budget, that doesn't mean we don't have one. Perhaps I'm being too strict in my definition of "budget."
To me, a budget is a plan that, while fluid, is something that you can generally stick to. It's something that has goal numbers for each sector: groceries, utilities, fun, dining out, etc. It has to be somewhat changeable, since life is hard to plan for.
But can you really have a budget if you don't have the energy to track each penny? Can you really have a budget if it only works about half of the time?
I'll put it to you readers: What is your definition of a 'budget'? How does yours work? How often do you not meet the goals you set out?