February 17, 2015

The Kinda-Budget: A Budget for People Who Don't Want to Budget

So if I didn't lose my blogging license when I admitted that I don't like yoga, this will definitely seal the deal: I don't have an actual budget.

Now, I'm not "Real Housewives" absurd with my money or anything. I pay off my credit card in full and I have a predetermined amount of money automatically withdrawn and placed in my savings account every month. But other than that?

I mostly buy what I need, sometimes what I want, and don't think a lot about it.

So when I looked at my credit card bill this weekend and thought, "This seems like a lot for someone who spends most of her time at work. I should stop that," that's about as much as I could do. Because frankly, I had no idea where my money was going so I had no idea how I could stop.

Now, I wanted to just pay my bill and forget about it but I know that it is my responsibility as a blogger to self-analyze and report on as many aspects of my life as possible. Which is what led me to spend an hour Monday afternoon breaking down my last credit card statement and another 20 minutes making this somewhat unnecessary chart:

Although it took a bit of time, I'm glad I did this for a few reasons. One, I got to make another pie chart, which we all know I can't get enough of. And two, it gave me at least somewhere to start with a new (and first) budget.

Luckily, my spending is already pretty close to the 50-30-20 guideline: 50% of your income goes to "fixed expenses" like rent and utilities; 30% goes to "variable expenses" like groceries and entertainment; and 20% goes to "financial goals" like retirement and savings.

(As you may have noticed, I have a fourth category on my chart, "long distance loving". That category is somewhat unique to me and my unfortunate 1,000+ mile long distance relationship. However, if you prefer to go by the books, you can just add that to "variable expenses.")

Although I'm not doing as badly as I thought, I did notice a huge problem with my spending breakdown: almost 10% of my income goes to groceries alone. That's absolutely absurd and 100% the result of living close to a Whole Foods; running to the store after work for a "few things" adds up when those "few things" include unnecessarily organic pretzels and mermaid-sweat sea salt.

So besides outright denial, my only real option is to change my habits.

The thing about budgets is that they're a lot like diets: you can't just go straight from cheesecake to celery because you'll never stick with it. So instead of a whole budget overhaul, I'm going to go with a "kinda-budget" instead.

Although my grocery bill is a bit embarrassing, at least now I know where my biggest weakness is... and hopefully, how I can fix it. My strategy right now is to start slow; I'm going to make a grocery list at the beginning of the week to try and eliminate my weeknight grocery runs (and avoid Whole Foods as much as possible).

I'm also going to try cutting back on frivolous purchases (a random bottle of nail polish, a Vitamin Water at lunch, a gloss-bound copy of Newsweek at the airport) for a few months and see if those savings make up for the gaping hole overpriced magazines leave in my life.

And if that doesn't work? Perhaps I'll start going naked to lower my "merchandise" spendings. Hopefully that won't be until after the last 2015 arctic front though; I'm not sure any budget is worth frost-bitten nipples.

Questions for you all: Do you have a set budget? Do you follow the 50-30-20 guidelines? What tips do you have for a budget noob like me?