A simple enough concept. But for some of us who procrastinate and are easily distracted by shiny objects, that concept can get lost; until the shut-off notice comes in the mail, or the guy comes to the door with a wrench in his hand for either payment or shut-off of the specific utility. In fact as I write this, I may lose my Internet connection. It's not something that I'm proud of.
So I created a budget spreadsheet.
I entered the net that I get paid, the estimated bills for the month, etc. I tied it all in with code and links and everything else the spreadsheet offered. And it looks cool. I used lots of color to show what is a utility, what is food, etc. And it has sat unused for months. It's like the life ring that gets tossed to a drowning man who then looks at it and says, “I'll use it when I need it.”
For all of you who are starting out life after leaving the nest, get a budget and stick to it! It's easier to track bills and what's left over each month. Planning is the key. I used to listen to Dave Ramsey on the radio regularly. I would fantasize about calling in to scream, “I'm debt free!” But you can't get there without a plan. That's my problem right now. I would think about calling in to relay my situation and ask for advice. But I've listened to him for so long that I know what he would say. So I don't call in. But I haven't followed through with what he would tell me. I mean... I make enough to live on. My wife doesn't have to work. So what's the problem? As the old saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
I have determined to drag out the old spreadsheet and start using it. It will be a bit painful at first because it will force me to see what is a need and what is a want. That's what's called “miscellaneous” in the budget. Our problem has been that we've been operating in the miscellaneous area. I'd almost liken it to the way the federal government is blowing our money. They can obviously get away with it. But my credit score is so bad I can't borrow anymore money. Nor should I. Plus I don't know anyone in China.
I have basically two major bills, totaling about $500 a month. Even with those bills, I would still be in the black by about $300 a month. So if I pay off those two bills, I'd have about $800 a month extra. This would allow me to prepare for emergencies, such as a $700 ticket for speeding and for no insurance. But because I haven't planned, a $700 ticket breaks me to the point where I have to make deals with utilities and my landlord. It's not right. It's not their fault. But they are affected by what I have done; or more correctly, what I haven't done. People talk about “social justice” and “fairness” and other such nonsense. Is it fair that I make the utility companies wait for payment of what I've used of their product? Is it fair that I make my landlord wait for the money I owe for living in his rental? Good grief, No!
Some things I could do with that extra cash? Give more to my church, start saving money for retirement, save up for a down payment on a house, save up to pay cash for whatever I want or need. If a car payment is, say, $350 a month for five years, why don't I save $350 a month for five years then pay cash for the car? Because it's been too easy to pay for stuff over time. And now that my credit score is shot, I can't even get a credit card. Which actually is a good thing because I know me... I would probably max it out in no time; justifying every purchase in my own feeble mind. Where are the Chinese when you need a loan? Oh wait... I'm not a government.
After filing for a bankruptcy in the past, you'd think I would have learned. As John Belushi used to say, “But nooooooooooo!” If I had learned, I wouldn't be living paycheck-to-paycheck. And it's no one's fault but my own. Not Wall Street, not Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, not Bush or Obama... it's me and me alone. I've learned that it's the responsibility of the individual, not the responsibility for government or anyone else, to bail me out. I hate being a grown-up because that means I have to act like one. Now at 52, I guess it's about time.
So now I must embark on the budgetary lifestyle. With spreadsheet in hand, I vow to live within my means and not short-change anyone. I vow to make sure the rent is paid on time. I vow to make sure the utilities are never in danger of being shut off. And I vow to keep my loving wife in Diet Coke so she never has to worry that she will run out. The bottom line, as Solomon said, is to fear God and honor the King. May I add:
Pay your bills.