This is how we created a budgeting keystone habit . While we have tried budgeting in the past, it was something that was done mostly independently and only for a short amount of time in any consistent way. Most of the time the budget would be forgotten because a major life upheaval would take place. That would include things like getting laid off, moving across the country or having to eventually refurnish an entire home because you only moved across the country with your clothes and personal belongings. That’s why a budgeting keystone habit is so important.
Anyways, getting settled into a more permanent living and hopefully life situation, it was time to revisit finances and make some changes so that in the future we can afford the things we want. Things like a wedding, a house to own, extra money to invest, more security in general, etc.
Nearly every piece of financial wisdom tells you to first make a budget. This was something that we had never really done together, or ever done that seriously either. Last month, we decided we really wanted to make some changes and decided to take this budgeting thing seriously. We found out how much money was being brought home, down to the penny and then budgeted for every expense.
Numbers Don’t Lie
Seeing everything all written down was somewhat eye-opening. Anyone can say, it’t not that expensive, it’s only $10/month. But, when you start seeing that pattern over and over again in your budget and realize that you have $120/month in these “small” expenses, suddenly subscriptions seem like a much bigger piece to your financial picture. It’s so easy to think about these expenses as insignificant, but they really do add up. Those $120/month add up to $1,440 annually. Are those things really something that you want to spend that much money on annually?
We thought about every expense that would come up over the course of the year like gifts, clothing, traveling, etc. Then we figured how much each would be annually and broke that down into how much it would be per month. This way we wouldn’t be caught off guard when buying Christmas gifts or booking an expected flight. Everything is budgeted for every month, so even if we don’t need to buy any gifts in January, the monthly money allotted for gifts in January can go into a savings account and be there for Christmas.
How Budgeting Created Other Good Habits
Making a budget makes you look at where ALL your money is going. That includes how you choose to nourish yourself or in other words, how much you spend on food. Look, we live in New York City, there are plenty of places to eat at, you can get delivery 24 hours a day and if you have ever tried to grocery shop in Manhattan then you know that it is often more convenient to go pick up a meal than try to get through the never ending line at Trader Joe’s. We never really got into the habit of grocery shopping after we moved here. The lines at Trader Joe’s were too long. And the corner grocery stores felt too expensive. Occasionally, we would pick up ingredients for dinner at a less crowded store but those would only last for one meal (and be super expensive) before we were back to eating out for every other meal again.
The Game Changer
This took the biggest amount of change, but is also what made the biggest difference. We had to start shopping at Trader Joe’s. There was no way we could grocery shop for an entire week within budget at a neighborhood store and going out for every meal was just not financially feasible. So, we started shopping for about a week and half of food at time at Trader Joe’s. We would bring a cart and go late at night so we wouldn’t have to deal with the crowds.
We have started to create systems so that we can easily stick to our budget. It includes running our dishwasher 2 times a day so that there is less of a barrier to entry when we want to start cooking dinner and so that we have clean Tupperware to pack lunches for the workweek. This system is otherwise known as clear to neutral.
We also learned very early on that the tighter the system, the better it ran. We eat the same thing for breakfast every weekday and the weekend is when we play around a little more. For lunch, we eat leftovers from dinner the night before and take full advantage of the free food offered at work events. Creating repeatable, simple systems that worked helped us keep a clean kitchen and keep a fully stocked fridge. Both which were ingredients to making sure that we were cooking at home and not ordering $40-$50 worth of delivery every night.
The Budgeting Keystone Habit
It helped that at this time, I was reading the book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. The book is fascinating and will help you identify the habits you have in your own life that you may have not even realized. One thing that he explains in the book is the idea of keystone habits. It is a habit that you start doing which then starts affecting the other habits. Sometimes there are habits that you don’t even know you have. Often times the keystone habit is starting to exercise. From this one habit, a person will probably start to eat healthier, drink less, wake up earlier, quit smoking and other things that have become trickle effects of the one keystone habit of exercise.
For us, we created a budgeting keystone habit. Once we started budgeting, that lead us to start grocery shopping and cooking at home. It lead to less going out. It lead us to start exercising, de-cluttering and being more discretionary with our time. Budgeting was the start of creating even more good habits within our lives.
While creating a budget, there was some friction. It can be hard to look at those numbers the first time. It just doesn’t seem to make sense and without actually knowing how much your spending on anything it can be hard to know just how much you should allocate to each section. Budgeting can also be scary, not knowing if spending a certain amount now will mean you are more restricted later when it comes to certain categories. Now, as we are reaching the end of February, the budget has made things seem much simpler. We have surpluses in a lot of areas this month. At the beginning, we were never sure if we would have enough for the future weeks. But, that turned out to be an unfounded fear. We followed the budget with success. This has made things more enjoyable because now when money is being spent, it is being done in an informed way, with the knowledge that, there is room in the budget for this which makes enjoying things so much easier.
Will it last? I don’t know. Probably not in it’s current form. But it’s a good start for now.
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