Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Judgement Day: Did My March Budget Work?

[Day in the Life: Lunch Money by emdot]

Back on February 23, I set a goal for March: stick to an approximately $1000 budget, with a specific spending limit in each of my major budget categories. Last week, I was close to or over my budget in every category, but still clinging to my budget and under budget overall. By March 23, I was definitely playing chicken with the grocery store.

My complete March Budget:
Rent $625
Food $ 97.41
Wardrobe $ 75
Books $ 0, or $17.43 if I finish all my to-be-read books
Entertainment $21.45
Spa Treatments $80 (a decided luxury, but for now it's staying)
Prescriptions $40
Miscellaneous $100

Total $1038.86

Did I make it?


Food was the most challenging category. I depleted most of my staples and dug into the long-forgotten reaches of my cupboards and freezer. Last week, I spent $3.00 of my remaining $5.00 on vegetables. I then bought some milk for Dear R., depleting my last two dollars.

On March 29, I broke my budget by spending $25.00 on dinner for R. and I.

Why? Convenience. Exhaustion. Lack of cheaper restaurants open within walking distance. The knowledge that I didn't have anything very appealing at home--after a rather rough day, a cobbled-together meal of my last fish filet, steamed broccoli, and eggs didn't sound very appealing.

Our restaurant meal was good. Was it worth the $25? Probably not. I ate out a total of four times this month, and three of those times my hunger could have been just as well satisfied by some good quick home-cooked comfort food.

Wardrobe: I spent $38.00 on a pants-spree at thrift stores early in the month. It wasn't too challenging to stick to the budget in this category--partially because I bought tons of new clothes in November/December!

Books: I've recently become very aware of my information overload. I subscribe to about 125 blogs and read several books a week. I have a few dozen to-be-read books sitting on my mantel, creating a certain mental pressure to "work through" them. I wasn't at all tempted to buy any new books this month. Instead, I read several of the books I own but had never read and tried to limit the number of new books I checked out from the library.

Entertainment: I paid for our Netflix rental and bought a few VHS tapes at Sally Army. I didn't feel any real need to spend more on entertainment. I did go to the ballet--I bought the ticket last month. Most of my entertainment came from blogging, talking to friends and family, and watching addictive TV available on-demand on the Internet (Nothing But The Truth, lonelygirl15).

Waxing: One dollar under budget!

Prescriptions: $45, 5 dollars over budget because I failed to take into account my increased copay.

Miscellaneous: $60 on tax software for a challenging tax year. $10 on a birthday gift. $30 on a doctor's visit.

Utilities: The stealth category that smashed my budget. Our gas bill this month was $194.25.

Total spending for March: $1228.89

Lessons learned:
- It's worthwhile to spend a little extra on groceries in order to always have something appealing in the house. $5 of cheese or meat could have saved me that $25 restaurant meal.
- It's time to start budgeting for utilities. For several months, R. was covering our utilities because I'd paid for some major purchases in the past and he was "in debt" to me. That golden time is past.
- I'm surprisingly okay with not spending much on entertainment. I thought this would be a major challenge, but it turns out I have little need for a life!
- Miscellaneous expenses are often predictable. If I'd planned ahead, I could have anticipated all three of my miscellaneous expenses (and possibly saved a little on the tax software).

My next budget challenge:
I'm going to continue my all-time lows challenge, but in April I'll leave the update on my budget and spending until the end of the month. I have a new obsession with investing--terms like "correlation" and "asset allocation" are thrilling the heck out of me. Sometime soon, I'll talk about how I suddenly got interested in this stuff and how I'm planning to apply it. I also have a couple of ideas for ongoing series up my sleeve, which I'll launch when I come up with the right posts to start them off.

Keep up to date with Working for Rachel in April and beyond by subscribing to my feed.


Anonymous said...

It really can be hard to stay within your budget. I started off by breaking down my budget like you did but eventually just went to a cash system. I withdraw whatever amount of spending money per week. This money is for EVERYTHING that does not come in the mail as a bill.

Anonymous said...

Great lessons Rachel! For us, its that birthday/gift category that was always the killer. I learned just to build in $100 or so every month so that it didn't take us by surprise. And it was kind of neat to realize that we had people every month in our lives that we wanted to spend money on! I always figured that if no occasion came up it would be a gift to us or to charity...Keep up the good work!