Making a Living, Breathing Budget Is Hard


After about 13 months of listening to Dave Ramsey’s podcasts on my iPhone telling people that their first, very first, problem is that they don’t have a written budget, we’ve finally done it. Every morning when I’m making Kristin’s sandwich and making my eggs, I hear him tell people to sit down at the beginning of the month and “give every dollar a name” until you are left with zero for the month.

It’s seemed impossible all this time. It would take me 5 pages to describe how our monthly expenses are out of control unpredictable because of medical expenses, primarily. In any given month, we could have $75 in co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses and then the next month it could be approaching $1,000.

Here’s what we did yesterday on our dreary, rainy 5th of July:

  • We sat at the PC with Excel open and wrote down our estimated income for the month. Since Kristin has 2 paychecks and we try to take out the exact same amount from my business account every month as my “paycheck,” we used those numbers.
  • Then we wrote down our fixed expenses for July. Here is where it got really weird and we ended up having at least a 45 minute discussion on whether this needs to be July or August expenses: 90% of the fixed bills were due on the first and were paid for with my June paycheck at the end of the month. In the end, we decided July was July for everything.
  • Then we wrote down all of our adjustable, but potential expenses and filled in what we expected to spend this month until we hit “0.”
  • We got out the coupon book and put an index card with each adjustable expense in each slot with how much we are starting with this month. Next month, we will add the same amount to what is left or use the adjusted amount in accordance to August’s needs.

I need to head over to Barnes and Noble and sit with his book The Total Money Makeover for a while to read some particulars about what to do with things like periodic expenses that leave your budget fine in some months, but overdrawn on the month they are due, because I don’t think this system is supposed to average the cost out.

Things that surprised us (well, sometimes me, because Kristin is so darn smart with money):

  • Our fixed expenses are more than we used to make when we got married (ouch!).
  • We really can’t cut anything out except doing what Ramsey says, “live on rice and beans and beans and rice.” If you cancel one part of the cable/phone/Internet, it ends up costing more. I can’t eat any less food and we already buy sale items.
  • The biggest movable force in our table is my income, which is both awesome and scary at the same time. It’s time to go for it and see where we can be in December.
  • Dang! This is going to be a lot of work, but I’ve heard that at least 500 times on the podcast, so it’s time for me to man-up and do it anyway.

In the end, we were glad to have gotten through hours of what is (to me) very stressful and tedious work without having a fight or any semi-major blowup. In hindsight, I distinctly remember being quite calm in my most frustrated moments because I honestly didn’t know what the right answer was, so there was no reason to get mad at Kristin. Now we know we have enough for her to go buy a purse and me get a new wallet this month…

… and that brings financial peace. One. Step. At. A. Time.

  • Cysticgal

    My dad is a Dave Ramsey guy. I'm a Suze Orman girl. I find she has more helpful tips for those of use with varied contract income, like mine in theatre. But both have some similar philosophies like protecting yourself first, rewarding yourself last. I make a MEAN medical spreadsheet by now, and I don't even *really* believe in Math! I like the AA philosophy as applied to medical bills, “The first step to paying your medical bills, is admitting you have medical bills.” I've mastered that one, and the rest has been remarkably easier because of it. Sounds like you and Kristen, together, mastered this as marrieds – congrats!!

  • http://www.cffatboy.com/ Jesse Petersen

    I think the next book I need to read is Ramsey's “More Than Enough” book on
    being happy with what we've got. I'm always looking a the next thing to get,
    but we've had to learn to go months without indulging in those. We were
    still able to take a whole week to go on vacation, but with a budget,
    something has to give somewhere, and that's what we are still learning.
    Kristin has been more than patient with me, even when she hasn't been
    patient. 😉

    I'll check out Orman – maybe pull it up on iTunes first. I've seen her books
    on the stacks at B&N, too, but I didn't know enough of her philosophy to
    pick it up to look.

    The nice thing about medical bills is: you don't have to pay them right
    away. We were even able to settle one at a discount immediately by saying
    “it's an awful lot of money to shovel out at once.” They took off 20% on the
    spot!