I don’t have the power will. How to run a budget

Personal experience as a spender

When I was nineteen, I worked at a school and rented an apartment with a friend. My salary was barely enough to pay for housing and food, and I wanted to dress fancy, party in clubs, and get my nails done.

One day a friend drew out a school notebook and explained that now we were going to keep a budget. We had to write down all the expenses in special boxes, glue receipts, and adhere to the limits. The very next day I bought an unplanned pair of shoes and a box of Doshirak with the remaining money. I never used the notebook.

Then I got married and forgot about the limits for a few happy years. But this year we decided to move. Our expenses went up, but our income didn’t. I had to watch my money again.

I started budgeting several times, quit, started again, and quit again. Because of my lack of self-control, I was once left in a foreign city without any money. But gradually I got the hang of it, and for the past four months I’ve been able to keep track of my expenses. Here’s how I did it.

To find yourself in a difficult situation

Extreme circumstances forced me to keep a budget. It was like a heart attack, after which Dad stopped smoking.

I moved to another city, rented an apartment, bought new housewares and useful little things; spent a lot of money on communication with my husband, who temporarily stayed in his hometown. And then the money ran out. Physically: zero.

So I had an understandable motive to start keeping track of my expenses. The secret to success was exactly that: until I had a sufficient reason, attempts to keep a budget failed.

An argument with my best friend, a promise to my mother, a job change, a dream to buy a car – something different will work for everyone. A personal financial crisis worked for me.

Keep track of daily expenses

To turn a need into a daily habit, you need a handy tool. I asked friends, and I was advised a bunch of apps and services.

In the app, expenses are kept like this: you write down how much money you have and how many days you have to live on it. The app calculates the amount per day. Then you have to stick to that amount. That’s not so easy.

I have to make a habit of writing down all my expenses. In order not to forget to do this, I invented a ritual.

I always take the receipt at the checkout and put it in the shopping bag. I try to put the check on top, not on the bottom, so that it is guaranteed to catch my eye. At home in the kitchen I sort out my purchases and take the check out of the bag. If I have my phone handy and have half a minute, I write down the amount from the receipt in the app. It is enough only to write down the “Total”, there is no need to break it down by products. Once the check is written, you can throw it away.

If something went wrong, I put the check under the kettle. I always have tea and cookies before I go to bed. It’s an old tradition, an obligatory and indestructible end to the day. Now I don’t sit down to tea until there is at least one check under the teapot. I made a rule for myself: checks first, then tea.

Thanks to this rule, I stopped forgetting to write down my expenses. I didn’t have to rearrange my life, just added one more ritual to my existing one.

But then I wanted more.

Learning to save and save

At first I spent the entire daily limit for the day. I thought that’s what it was set for.

But once my sandals tore, I had to go into overdrive. Then the program automatically divided the balance by the remaining days and reduced the daily limit.

It didn’t take me long to get to $50 a day and barely made it to the end of the month on that money.

That’s how I realized that you have to save a little bit every day. Then the daily limit increases and urgent purchases do not cause irreparable harm.

Then I learned to look at the price tags and started comparing not the price per package or unit of product, but the value of kilograms and liters. They are always indicated in small print in the corner of the price tag. Now I buy all products in huge packages and bottles, because it’s cheaper that way. There’s no secret – you just have to start keeping track of it.

Compare the cost of liters and kilograms to save money

I save $5 on a five-liter canister of sunflower oil. The two-liter pack of liquid soap and the dispenser I bought on sale save the same amount more. At the same time, the dispenser looks much better than the factory disposable bottle with the logo and lettering. I buy potatoes in nets, sugar and flour in bags. This way works for me because I have a big kitchen. If you have a small kitchen, consider where you will store canisters of oil and bags of cereal.

Then I gave up branded cosmetics and perfumes: I replaced them with inexpensive local brands. To do this, I went to stores and pharmacies, picked up samples and chose the best combination of price and quality. I took the time to do it once, and since then I have been saving money all the time.

I started choosing things online and buying them offline. Often, because of the break in between, I give up on the purchase because I have time to realize that I don’t really need those new jeans that much.

I signed up for newsletters and started to follow sales. My latest achievement was a coat from a good store for $40. It turned out that such finds can be bragged about in front of my girlfriends and raise my self-esteem.

The month began to end with a balance. At first I used the money to buy unnecessary stuff. I became motivated, and the next month I saved even more. Then I decided that I could save for something meaningful.

At the end of September I’m going to buy fancy sneakers. And if all goes well, I’ll save up for an iPhone in October and November.

I realized that the secret was daily control. When you don’t keep track of your spending, every single expense seems acceptable. If your sandals broke, it was acceptable to buy new ones. If you found yourself hungry in town, it was acceptable to grab a bite to eat at a cafe. “I’m a reasonable person, I won’t purposely spend money,” I thought, and I did. But when each purchase began to turn into an application and my head began to work differently: now there is no abstract “acceptable – unacceptable”, there are clear cold numbers.

How to keep a budget

  1. Spend the money you earn only the next month.
  2. Write down expenses every day, stick to the limits.
  3. Keep track of the balance on the bank’s website.
  4. Saving on little things.
  5. Buy meaningful things at the end of the month.
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