Money … that’s what I want. Lots of money.
Having money can make life more comfortable, but it also can make life more difficult. There is a reason there are so many famous songs about money, including “Mo Money Mo Problems,” “Money For Nothing,” “It’s Money That Matters” and “Money Changes Everything.” These songs may be really catchy, but they also are rooted in truth.
Over the years, my relationship with money has taken on different forms. I thought I had a good grasp on spending when I went off to college, but when my paychecks only went so far during the month, I had to make changes. That was a hard lesson to learn, and the changes didn’t happen overnight.
I had to make a budget and stick to it. I can’t count the number of times I failed at that. It felt like no matter what I did or what I changed, I still struggled to keep up. After an unexpected change happened in my life, it made me reevaluate a lot. While I hope it doesn’t take losing someone to jumpstart you, for me, it did. One of those changes was to tighten my purse strings even more. I came up with an envelope system that has worked for me for the past four years, and it has changed my perspective and relationship with money.
Changing spending habits isn’t easy. It takes determination, dedication and discipline. You have to want to make the change, like everything else in life. No one else can make you change unless you want to for you. This is a hard lesson, and sometimes I slip, but I give myself grace and get right back on the path. If I want to achieve things in the future, I have to be willing to make the sacrifices now.
The first thing I did was make a list of the things I want to achieve — future goals I’ll only meet if I keep up with my budgeting plan. Some of those include: paying off my student loans, paying off credit card debt, having six months of savings, buying a house, building a house after my first house, starting a business, etc.
The next thing I did was make a spreadsheet budget of all of my bills for each portion of the month. Because I get paid twice a month, I split them into the first half of the month payments and the second. If you get paid weekly, I’d suggest breaking it into weekly buckets. After I pay the required bills, I take the rest of the money left over and split it into savings and spending money. Depending on the period of the money, the savings may or may not be a bigger or smaller amount. The spending money doesn’t change unless I have specific plans.
I split the spending money into three categories: groceries, gas and extras. Groceries and gas are easy enough to explain. Part of saving money is not going out to eat as much as we might like. I love trying new restaurants, but I also can make delicious food at home for a fraction of the cost. I’ve also started meal prepping and planning what I want to make for the week. Having a grocery list keeps me from buying extra items at the store.
The extras category includes going out to eat, going to the movies, shopping, etc. This change wasn’t easy. Running through the drive-thru to get an iced tea or getting a quick bite is so easy, but it also adds up. Sometimes I’ve looked back at the month of receipts and said to myself “OK Melissa, you could have done better,” and then the next month I strive to do that.
A big part of making the envelopes work well is that I use all cash for my spending. I know, in a world where swiping a card is so easy, going back to the stone age seems weird, but it really makes a difference. I go to the bank twice a month and pull out specific amounts, breaking it into two-week periods. I have the envelopes in my wallet and when I go to a specific store, I pull out the respective envelope to pay. If I empty that envelope for that period of the month, that’s it.
It wasn’t perfect at first. I had to make adjustments in order to make it work. Sometimes groceries ran over so I borrowed from gas. The first few months were trials to see if I could make it on the amounts I planned on spending. I adjusted until I found what worked for me so I was still making strides in my savings, able to live comfortably but also making changes to make a better future.
Some of the things I’ve been able to do since making these changes have been to pay off my car, pay half of my student loans, pay half of my credit card down and I was able to buy my first house. I still have a ways to go for some of my goals, but I’m worlds ahead of where I was or thought I could be.
This system isn’t for everyone. I’ve shared this and my spreadsheet with friends and family who have asked about it. Some have used the ideas, others haven’t. For me, it works. Although I’m still dependent on money to survive (as we all are), I have created a different, better relationship with it. Money is a vessel for the future, and it no longer has a stronghold over me. It works for me.