Thursday, January 7, 2016

Austerity measures (aka Living Within One's Means)

I started budgeting almost a year ago, using YNAB. (The chain of events that led to my decision to start budgeting are described in this earlier post).

At first, it didn't make much difference, to be honest. I started tracking what I spent. I developed a better sense of how much money was in my bank accounts and what was racked up on my credit cards, which made a change from my usual frantic checking and hoping. 

But for a long time, my spending behaviours did not alter. Not in the least. I still spent more than I was taking in. I didn't save up for coming expenditures, like the quarterly misery of filing my HST, money that I had collected from clients but which was mysteriously spent rather than reserved. 

Then, somewhere in the last month of 2016, I had a few epiphanies: 
  • It's actually better for me not to spend money I don't have. 
  • Many of the things I think of as necessities are actually luxuries.
  • I want to get my home set up this year more than I want to do most other things.
  • Getting my home set up without a lot of debt is going to mean saving every cent I can.
As a result, I have stopped spending money. Almost entirely. This makes me think of Augusten Burrows' wonderful "self-help" book: This is How. In it, there is a chapter about how to lose weight that basically says: All you have to do is want to be skinny more than you want to eat pastries and chocolate bars.

That may never happen for me, but something has clicked in my head and I actually want to create a home for myself more than I want to go out and have a good time or go on a trip or even help someone else out (which is not to say that I didn't give to charity this year. I did, I just did it within my budget).

And so, the booze budget is struck to zero. The entertainment budget, the junk food budget, the restaurant budget likewise (well, after a couple of mandatory post-holiday get-togethers with friends this week). The grocery budget is leaner – no treats, no shortcuts, just good, wholesome, prepare-from-scratch food. If I want sweets, I have to bake them.

It's been an absolute revelation. It used to be that when I wanted a restaurant or fast food meal, I just bought one. Now, when I think to myself, I don't want to cook, I want to grab a slice of pizza, the next thought comes into my head is I don't have that in my budget. When I want to grab a Coke and a chocolate bar, same thing. It hasn't even been that difficult. It's weird. It's like I suddenly grew up and the little bratty kid who wants everything right away is being reasonable and quietly nodding her head while I explain: You're going to have to wait, darling. Right now we can't afford it. She's not even being pout-y about it (at least, not often).

I think it helps that I know I don't have much money coming in this month or next. These are lean times.

But, wonder of wonders, I actually have my money ready to pay my HST at the end of the month. And I'm working on saving for my income tax. I've stopped using one of my three credit cards entirely. The other two are at about one-tenth of the amount they were this time last year.

This all feels like good progress in the right direction.

And every cent I can scrape together will go toward my house fund.


  1. Wow, all of that sounds terrific. I love it. Set yourself up for success not failure. Are you going to allow yourself anything for fun? By the way What is HST?
    Good Luck. I'm pulling for you.

    1. Thanks, Trevor! For entertainment, I have some movie theatre gift cards that I got for X-mas and that will probably be it for a couple of months – except for the free fun of visiting with friends, quilting, hanging out on social media.

      HST is Harmonized Sales Tax – I have to collect it for the government as a freelancer and then remit it. Don't you love the way they stuck "Harmony" into something utterly unharmonious? Bastards.

  2. Every week I go to the bank teller and ask for CASH in 10 dollar bills, then I go home and put the cash into various envelopes intended for ALL the purchases I need for the following week. Turns out I am horrible with credit cards, and despite not racking up travel points I am ahead thousands of dollars by the end of the year :)

    1. That feels so hardcore to me, Carol. Wow. I am in awe. I have heard of this system but never heard from anyone who uses it. Glad to know there's a Plan B if I can't manage my money in the digital/virtual sphere.