Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Financial Freedom Warrior

I don't know where it came from, but I have recently decided that I am going to get control of my finances. Scratch that...I know where it came from. I wrote a check that I failed to account for and I ended up having a scary week not knowing if I was going to have gas to get to and from work on Monday and Tuesday. It was then I decided I was not going to begin my thirties still behaving financially as though I were only 17.

The first thing I did was to decide that I was going to get a good grip on my checkbook. Not only that, but I was going to figure out how to keep my checkbook on the computer so it would be readily accessible to both my wife and me. No more losing the checkbook, no more transactions getting lost in the shuffle between who carries it out of the house. Also, if I recorded something incorrectly, when I go to balance my checkbook, I can simply edit the incorrect transaction and it corrects all the math for me! I know this may sound like I've just discovered how to use fire to some people. But this is my story!

So I got my checkbook set up using a simple app for Mac called--what other than--"Checkbook." It's really simple and therefore really great. I started looking for budgeting software next. That proved to be a bit more difficult. There were lots of programs out there. Lots of seemingly great programs that had cool little features and widgets and gadgets and bells and whistles and tassels and fuzzy tails and...well...none of it felt like home to me. My problem with them all was that they all had too much going on. I wanted to enter transactions and see a graph or pie chart and that's it. But they all wanted me to categorize transactions using these uncomfortable categories or--I don't know--just lots of little things about each program that made each whole program just not fit.

So I got ultra simple. I broke out Numbers and made up my own little spreadsheet. I entered some simple formulas and wrote down twenty or so categories where I spend my money. Now I record each transaction as it happens, and the spreadsheet keeps a running total for me. At the end of the week, I save the spreadsheet as a PDF to keep as historical data and begin a new week. This is the tracking part of the budget.

I have not started the planning part yet. That's my next task. I've made a lot of progress with the low hanging fruit. The hard part is going to be a few months down the road. After I have gotten good at keeping my checkbook balanced, planning a budget, and tracking my spending, I am going to have to work really hard to shave expenses everywhere I can. What's really great is that I have begun exercising impulse control when it comes to eating at work or grabbing a bag of chips or a candy bar off the impulse rack at the store. The hard part here is going to be later on down the road when it comes to making decisions about what in the house needs to be fixed--and how and to what level of quality--and what we can make work the way it is.

But I know I am going to be willing to make sacrifices. Last week, all week I knew I was going to have to get a haircut for drill. I was dreading going to sit and wait at the barber shop, sit in the chair for half an hour, then pay 15 bucks for a haircut that isn't that good! (I MISS MY MILITARY BARBERS!)

So I said !@#$ it all...I'm going to shave my head. So I went on down to Sally Beauty Supply and picked out a reasonably good quality set of hair clippers that came with a close trimmer they called "the peanut". I spent $60 for the set. That will pay for itself in four months. Probably sooner, if you think about gas, waiting time, and the fact that I can cut my hair more frequently if I want to.

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