If you've been reading this blog at all this month you know that for March I decided on a "No Spending Challenge" to help with my budget. I undertook it because expected this month to be very tight financially. In truth, it really would have been a crunch had I not changed my tax withholding. Because of the withholding though, it turned out much better than expected. The Challenge was a good thing for me to do on many levels. Not only did I save quite a bit of money, I also learned a lot about myself and my shopping habits. For instance, it really hit home to me how often I buy things that I feel like I NEED right now. This month I spent a lot of time asking myself, "Is that something I have to buy today or can it wait a month?" You know what? most times, things can wait. That's when I realized that I have a lot of money tied up in pieces and parts of projects I am going to do "someday." This month taught me a good lesson - I need to focus on purchasing when I need something - not when I feel the need to shop!
I also got a peek into my emotional buying patterns. I didn't realize how often I buy things, namely food, out of an emotional need. This explains the chocolate cravings, the wanting a high end coffee, being tempted by bottles of wine, good cheese - that sort of thing. When I am stressed/happy/angry/sad/tired/well rested/contented/you name it, I feel that I deserve certain things. Sometimes it is a reward for hard work, other times it is a balm for my weary soul. I am not sure that this is always a bad thing, but for me it had become a habit. I am still a believer in treating yourself now and again, but swearing off doing it for four little weeks should not really be a problem. It was for me. That makes me think that I need to be a lot more conscious of how I spend... and why.
I'm thinking that I need to make No Spending Challenges a regular part of my life. Not as an every day thing, but maybe one week out of a month or perhaps one month per quarter. If I go that route, my next No Spending month would be June. I felt the Challenge changed my focus and cleared my mind, while at the same time helped my budget. I also think that I was really helped this month in some ways by the fact that I was so busy. That made not shopping a lot easier. It would be interesting to try this again when I had a lot more leisure time.
Now, let's look at the numbers, shall we?
Utilities - Overall this has been an area I have been working on since I started my budget. These bills fluctuate a bit. This month, for example, my water bill was higher than it has been, but my gas bill was lower. I have installed cfls and have worked on cutting the heat - whatever I can do to trim these bills. Total savings from the budget - $33.89
Auto Fuel - My spending on gas was a little higher this month than it has been in the past few months - all that driving around took its toll. However, since gas dropped from $4.00 a gallon down to under $2.00, I've been coming in under budget for months. Last June I set this budget at $150 - and was regularly spending $130 -$140 in gas. This month I spent $66.66. Savings from the budget - $83.34 (I plan on adjusting this line item to reflect current prices when I redo my budget in June.)
Groceries - I spent more on groceries than I expected. When I started the month, I had a pretty well stocked house, however, I was involved in a couple of different gatherings where I was expected to bring something. In one case I was able to pay for that with money from returning bottles (.10 return here in Michigan), but in others I ended up buying things to make dishes to pass. I also had a house guest for several days. Rather than eating out for every meal, we made a few dinners. They were a bit more elaborate that I would have made for myself, so the bill went up. My house guest picked up the tab when we did go out, so the expenditure was probably the same for both of us. While the savings was small - $14.21 I am still pleased. My grocery budget is $125 a month, and this is one of those categories that is very easy for me to go over in. Coming under budget is great.
Dining Out -This too was higher than I expected, though I still came in under budget. I shouldn't have been surprised though! As I have mentioned, I spent a lot of time volunteering this month. And what do you think a bunch of volunteers do after working hard night after night? They go out afterward! I only went out 3-4 times, but that adds up, especially when you add it to the little lunches with friends I plan on each month. Still, I should be happy, after all, the places we went give me credit in my Upromise account! Total savings- $22.21.
Entertainment -I give myself a $50 entertainment budget, though I almost never use all of that. This is used for seeing movies, plays, going to museums, etc. When I made my budget, didn't want to cut those things out. Most months I don't use the full $50, so this is another number I may tweak come June. The only thing that came out of it this month was my $5.29 ($4.99+ tax) Netflix account. Total savings- $44.71.
Home Improvement -I am really, really proud of myself here. This is one of those lines on my budget that ends up over budget regularly. As I have said many, many times - I love home improvement projects! However, I made it my goal not to buy anything I didn't immediately need. The benefit? Of my $50.00 budget, I only spent $2.69 on a dryer vent. I even happened to have a coupon for it! Total savings- $47.31.
Mailing, Shipping, etc. -This is where I categorize the cost of selling items on eBay, Half and Amazon. It is kind of a mixed blessing that I came in over in this area. On one hand, my shipping fees were low, as were my eBay fees - on the other hand, that's because I wasn't selling very much! Total savings- $56.54.
Charitable Donations -Another category that is a mixed blessing. Normally I try to donate $15.00 a month to a charity I support. This month I was so busy it slipped right by me! I forgot to donate! Of course, if you count the hours that I put in volunteering, well, let's just say it was worth a lot more than $15.00! In addition, as mentioned under grocery, I spent well over $15 in buying food to prepare for nonprofit events, so I don't feel too bad about it. Still... depending on how money looks next month I might try to donate $30. Total savings- $15.00.
Misc. -This is the third in the "Usually Over Budget" trinity. This is where so, so many of my impulse buys wind up - under the "Misc."category. However, this month I spend a grand total of $7.90! That amount was for materials to make thank you cards for my fellow volunteers, and because I handmade the cards, I still have plenty of materials left to make many, many more cards for other events. Total savings- $42.10.
Almost every month I have budget categories where I come in a little under or a little over - this was the first month since creating my budget in June that I have ever come this much under! Looks like it was a successful challenge all the way around.
It isn't something I could do every month though. Let's face it - some months I am going to have bigger home improvement projects. I'm going to want to use my entertainment fund. I am going to remember to donate to charity! Plus there really were times that I felt deprived, and that isn't what I want. I made the choice sometime ago that I would rather work a little harder at earning money than cut out all the things I love. There were times when the No Spending Challenge was enlightening, but there were also times when it was kind of a pain. I love the quote, "All things in moderation... including moderation." What I think I would like to do is try to apply the lessons I have learned this month to the next couple of months, then revisit the Challenge. This summer, especially July and August, might be great months to go back to this, since I don't have a lot of extra income lined up for those months yet!
With the $359.31 I was able to shave out of my budget and the $736.08 I was able to bring in, my $900 goal for the month was covered and then some! Looks like March didn't turn out to be such a bad month after all!
Photo by: jpre86. I love this colorful piggy bank!