Rainy Days and Rookie (budgeting) Mistakes

Your Money or Your Life states very explicitly that it is not a budget; in fact, it is anti-budget, so for the past two years, I have been operating without a budget, just tracking the money in and money out of my life. (sometimes diligently, sometimes sloppily). I can’t say that it was wrong not to have a budget–I paid $14,000 in student loans in around a year and a half without a budget and I’ve survived on income that’s wildly fluctuated from penny-pinching camp summers to lush law offices and my current situation. And for the most part, I’ve always made it. I’ve always paid my bills even if it meant that my net worth decreased.

But YMOYL hasn’t been cutting it for me lately–I haven’t been as attuned to my spending (see last month) and I haven’t been good about regular tracking. And when I was tracking, it wasn’t affecting my spending; I still felt fine about my grocery bill, my restaurants, and I thought i was saving more than I actually was. I looked at my lush savings account and thought, this has to be more than enough money for my taxes, a swell vacation with my grandmother, a fully-filled Roth IRA (still to be set up), and any other expenses that might come up.

Enter You Need A Budget (YNAB). Actually splitting up that savings account into separate categories: taxes, vacation, retirement, emergency fund showed me in no uncertain terms that I don’t actually have as much as I thought I did. Sure, I have enough to pay my taxes and enough to take a nice trip with my 87 year old grandmother this spring, but retirement? An emergency fund? Those categories were fighting each other for scraps.

The act of budgeting even money I already had made me feel broker than I have in months. It felt good, like diving into a frozen lake–terrifying and invigorating. It felt like I was really looking at my money again, in a way I haven’t for some time, really seeing the tradeoffs I was making. Money matters more again and I am glad for it.

It came up in a big way today, my tradeoffs. I took my car in to the shop because it has been making a funny noise and with my family coming to visit, I didn’t want to drive them around in an unsafe vehicle (real reason: I didn’t want my mother to nag me about the sound, so I did what she would have wanted without the nagging). In the first of three phone calls from my mechanic, he told me that my clutch was worn out and would need to be replaced at $1100. Having recently created a budget, I can tell you that, I had nothing in my “auto repairs” category of rainy day expenses. I didn’t even have anything in my “emergency fund” because I was still deciding if it was more important to fund emergencies or retirement, so all the money was in the “retirement” category today (it takes just a click of a button to adjust my budget based on my circumstances, but this just proves that I wasn’t ready). The thought of paying $1100 for my car ruined most of my day. I couldn’t even bear the thought of driving it any more–too expensive. Biking now and forever, I swore.

The second call from my mechanic lifted these glum thoughts. It was a hose, not the clutch, and $350 instead of $1,000. I’m never happier to pay a bill than when it is significantly less than what was expected. Sure, I still didn’t have a rainy day plan, but at least I wasn’t blowing everything. Call #3 was to let me know my car was done early.

And here’s where I have to jump slightly off topic to say that my mechanics are really great guys and I trust them completely. I suspect I am paying more than I would if I went somewhere else, but Robert’s Auto takes complete care of me and knowing that my silly little car that I probably can’t really afford but still need is in good hands is worth what they charge. I know I’m not being ripped off, I never feel like I’m paying an ignorant-woman’s-tax bringing my car there, and they pick me up and drop me off.

When I got home, Hillary Kitten had a vet appointment. Also not in the budget, but she has a little sore on the back of one of her paws that isn’t healing up, so she had to go. And again, like with my mechanic, I am so grateful to have a vet that I like and trust. She’s on antibiotics for the next two weeks, and the appointment and medication was $100 and change. Not in my “budget” yet, but I can make that happen.

So now I’m home, and I’ve written my blog post. I’ve kissed 3/4 times and we ate dinner together. My present to myself is a donut from across the street and a cup of hot cocoa and an episode of Gilmore Girls. The donut wasn’t in the budget either (who can afford $0.85 of sugar when you have no retirement was my “logic”) but I raided the change jar and made it happen. And honestly, an $0.85 present is heaven.

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