It Feels Good To Be In Control

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At the beginning of June, I recognized that we had let all the habits that helped us successfully manage our finances fall by the wayside. My wife and I had a long financial discussion and vowed to get back on track. We even reviewed the actions we needed to put in motion.

Then along game a series of life events:

  • Grandma’s Marathon Weekend
  • Wedding Anniversary
  • 4th Of July
  • Vonnie’s Birthday
  • Family Vacation to Wisconsin Dells

It would have been fantastic to get our processes rolling in the right direction again before these events since they all required spending a significant amount of money. Unfortunately, the best of intentions don’t always equal action, and we rolled through another month of financial free-for-all.

I spent hours this past Thursday night and Friday afternoon figuring out exactly where we were at financially, and how to move forward. I created a detailed financial spreadsheet, then sat down at the table with Vonnie and went over all of it. Again. We created a completely revised monthly budget, a weekly spending plan, and even a planned monthly deposit into savings. When our conversation was over, I did something I hadn’t done in months.

For the first time in months I went to the ATM and withdrew our weekly spending money in cash.

That night, I put gasoline in both vehicles using the $75 weekly gasoline budget. I filled the van completely and paid the $49 bill with cash. I put the remaining $26 of the budget into the car. It only filled the tank to the 3/4th line, but I knew that it would be enough because we don’t drive the car as often.

The purchases were planned, purposeful, and paid for in cash. It felt good. I felt in control.

With the cars gassed up for the week, I walked up our stairs with $29 in my hand. First I knocked on my son’s door and handed him $16. Next I went to my daughter’s room, and set $13 on her desk. Allowance had been paid on Friday, as it was supposed to.

Saturday morning, Vonnie and I created a meal plan for the week. I entered the grocery store with the list in my hand, and the calculator ap on my phone open. Our weekly grocery and household needs budget is $150. When I rolled up next to the self-checkout terminal the total on my calculator said $146.10. After tax was added, the total on the terminal said $148.88.

My calculator had kept me under budget. I was in control of my spending.

All that was left was our discretionary spending money:

  • $38 for a fishing license to go fishing with some friends
  • $27 to buy pizza for my son and his friends for his gaming party

Total discretionary spending: $65

Our spending was well below our budgeted amount.

Sunday night, I counted out on the kitchen counter the money left over. Paying for everything in cash accomplished exactly what it was supposed to:

  • It kept us on budget
  • It made us evaluate closely every potential purchase

It seems like it’s been forever since our purchases were purposeful. It seems like it’s been forever since I’ve felt in control of our finances. It’s definitely been a loooong time since we’ve had money left over at the end of a weekend.

We’re back in control. We’re back on track, and it feels GREAT.

About Travis

28 Responses to “It Feels Good To Be In Control”

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  1. It’s easy to think once the hard part (in your case your large debt repayment) is over that things will be smooth sailing, but it’s like losing weight. Just because you got to your goal weight does not suddenly mean you can eat everything you want (I’m saying you, but I mean ALL of us!)! It’s not a cure, but it’s managed, and you seem to have gotten a little off track, but are back on track managing your finances again. What’s important is how quickly you recognized this instead of letting months go by.

    • Travis says:

      We can’t get lazy, we can’t get comfortable….otherwise we’ll go right back to accumulating debt. Keep doing what we know how to do and we’ll be just fine! It IS hard to remember that some times….but it’s the truth!

  2. Shay says:

    Love this detailed account!!!! I soo need to get back on this controlled, planned spending. Our budget went out the window spending on clothes, shoes, accessories, gas, presents, and decorations for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. Time to get back on track.
    Could you do a blog about your children’s allowance? We stopped doing allowances many years ago, because it seemed they had more money than us! My son only spent his money on candy. They had saving and giving too, but the amounts they were being given for just spend seemed high. We based it on their age. So a 10 year old would get $5.00 a week (being split between give, save, and spend). How do you do it?

    Thanks!

    • Travis says:

      Thanks for reading, Shay and I wish you success in getting back on track – I KNOW you can do it! As for allowance, we actually give them $1 per year of age. So, our 13 year old gets $13 a week. They do have a pretty extensive list of responsibilities that they need to do in order to earn it though. Sometimes it seems like they have more money they we do…..but they’ve started buying other things too. For instance, we haven’t taken our daughter shopping for clothes in close to two years. She doesn’t like shopping with us, and it’s frustrating for us because she never seems to find anything she likes. BUT when she goes with her friends, she always finds oodles of stuff. So…..she saves her money and goes shopping for her own clothes. Sounds like a win/win to me!

  3. Congrats on getting things back under control. We’re trying to slowly do that in our budget. I’m trying to find discretionary spending we can shave off here and there.

    We’re unfortunately not organized enough to pay for everything in cash, and I get nervous carrying more than $40 around in my wallet. So the cash budget wouldn’t work for us. But we keep a regular eye on the main account to keep track of our weekly spending. That’ll have to do for now.

    • Travis says:

      I generally don’t carry a lot of cash around either…I carry what I need for where I’m going. So, I do have our grocery money in my wallet when I go grocery shopping, but I go to the grocery store, spend it, and that’s it. I put the money in my pocket when I’m going to the gas station, spend it, and that’s it. The rest sits in an envelope in our kitchen drawer. Keep working on it, you’ll get the hang of it!

  4. Mackenzie says:

    Good that you got your finances back on track Travis. I am thinking about using just cash to pay for our groceries. It is just too easy to go over the amount you thought you would spend, when you are swiping the debit card. What’s a couple more dollars right? But it adds up. Those extra dollars could have gone into savings! If you use cash, once it’s gone, that’s it ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Travis says:

      Exactly, Mackenzie….grocery money is in my pocket when I hit the aisles. That’s why the calculator is needed, because I can only spend the money in my pocket! Great to hear from you!

  5. Congrats on getting things under control. July is a tough month for us too, with Independence Day (which we celebrated twice), our wedding anniversary, and both our birthdays. Holidays and events tend to bring out the excuses, but I think it’s time we started getting things back under control as well.

    • Travis says:

      I hear you, Gary……I know the feeling of “let’s just get through this” and letting the money fly everywhere. Planned, purposeful, and in the budget. I keep repeating those words….

  6. It’s constant work to keep a budget in control, there are so many things that can throw it off, just like getting a little lazy with your focus for a week or two and that snowballs into a month or two. Glad yyou and the family are back on track and in control!

  7. We are starting to slip on our $150 per week grocery budget, and my husband suggested buying groceries with cash to keep it visible and in control. After reading this post, I think it’s a great idea!
    I’m wondering something: Getting out of that $109,000 credit card debt was very motivating for you. Is there something that is motivating you now besides an overall desire for financial health? For me, the more vague the goal, the weaker the motivation. Just a thought (and I hope I’m not stepping over the line!)

    • Travis says:

      Oh, no overstepping, Prudence…anything is fair game here! The motivating factor is simple: FEAR. Fear that we’ll slip back into debt, fear that we’ll again end up in over our heads. I won’t let that happen…never ever ever!

  8. Michelle says:

    It is so important to recognize when you’re beginning to go down the wrong path and then making an adjustment. Good Job Travis!

  9. Great job! I like being in control too. Life can be crazy sometimes, but I enjoy being on top of our financial situation. It’s one part of my life where I really do feel like I am in control.

    • Travis says:

      I think I’ll always struggle to keep on top of things fully…..but I’m motivated. I just keep telling myself that I’m the leader of this family, and I’ve got a job to do. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Last year my finances were out of control as well. I turned to all cash to get things back on track. It’s amazing how quickly things can get out of control when you use debit/credit cards.

    • Travis says:

      I agree, Jon – using cash adds physicality to your spending. When the amount of money in the wallet gets less and less, it makes you really think about whether you want to part with a few more bills or not. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Great job getting back on track Travis! It’s so easy to let things slide when you’re busy or things are hectic and it happens to the best of us. Recognizing it and taking action is a huge part of being successful financially.

    • Travis says:

      John, I can’t tell you how many times I told myself, “Yup, NEXT budget cycle we’ll get back on track.” Time slips by, more money spent. Thanks for your comment!

  12. I like it! We’ve been on an “anything goes” approach to spending for a few years now. Every time we try to get on track, we seem to backslide. That was sort of (but not really) okay when there was an income, but we’re living on the proceeds of our house sale and it’s starting to drain quite quickly. This post was inspirational. I plan to get us on track tomorrow, kicking and screaming if need be. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Travis says:

      YEAH, get back on it, Kay! The sooner you get back in that saddle the better you’ll feel! I hope you’ll come back and let us know how you’re doing once you get things rolling in the right direction again. And hey, if you need more inspiration? Come back for that too! ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. We have been using the cash approach to dinning, entertainment, groceries, and aspects of our travel for about 3 years now. It really draws your focus to the purchasing decision when it is happening. In your case, if your groceries went over the $150 mark, and you had no other money in your pocket; you would have most likely put an item back. Talk about keeping it real! ๏Š No would have done that using a debit or credit card.
    I have also found that occasionally we have to cut some of our other expense back to zero, or at least to a new acceptable level. If we lose focus on our tracking those expenses, they tend to creep back and inflate in cost. It just shows that this needs to be a lifelong practice.

    • Travis says:

      That’s right, Bryan – that exactly why I have the calculator rolling while I grocery shop – I will NOT go over! I’m happy to hear someone else uses a similar cash only methodology…..it really works!

  14. AWESOME, Travis – good for you guys! Control is nice. ๐Ÿ™‚

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