I'm finding myself in an unusual situation lately. With my husband deployed, and me working, we're meeting our 2009 financial goals without much pain. I know that I'm lucky to be in such a situation, but it still makes me uncomfortable. During the times when money is tight, I am great at squeezing the most out of every dollar. Now that we are managing to live comfortably, I'm finding myself getting lazy and spending unnecessarily. I need to get back to the basics of good financial planning and stick to them. Where should I start? Actually, it is pretty easy:
- Assess the current situation. That should be pretty painless, since I've been (trying to) use the monthly updates for my husband.
- Update our budget. We've used serious, down-to-the-penny budgets in the past. While I'm happy to round to the nearest dollar or even five dollars, it is hard to be successful without following some sort of spending plan. I've used everything from a simple sheet of paper with expenses to a complicated, Mary Hunt-style Freedom Account scheme, and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. However, in my current chaotic "let's just get through today" mindset, my idea of a spending plan is that I'm fine as long as I don't bounce any checks. That is really not making good use of our money.
- Pick your battles, focus on your priorities, and keep it manageable. There are a million ways that I could take serious control of our money. I could unplug every lamp and alarm clock when I'm not using it, I could make sure everyone showers at the pool so that we don't use any hot water at home, and I could make my own laundry soap. Realistically, though, none of those things are going to happen right now. So where can I make changes? There are lots of places to choose, but I'm going to try and focus on just one general area: food. I can start making menus again, to make sure that we use all the food we buy and that we aren't tempted to get Chinese because I have no idea what to cook. I can start making grocery lists again, so that I don't end up with 16 boxes of couscous but no soup. I can get the dust off my slow cookerand ensure that 5 pm isn't panic time. I can take the time to cut coupons and teach my kids to help. Why do I choose food? First, in most families, food is the second biggest expense, after housing. Second, I enjoy saving money on groceries. I love the thrill of a good triple coupon extravaganza. Third, having meals planned is good for my family's health and brings us together at the table regularly. (Priceless!)
Keeping your family on financial track isn't painless, but it shouldn't be drudgery either. Keep your eye on the goal and figure ways to make it fun, and you'll be successful!