Fallen off the wagon

(Some days you’re the passenger – some days you’re the donkey.)

The title of this post is true in so many ways.

Recently I’ve fallen off the wagon about limiting my spending; I’ve fallen off the wagon by way of keeping track of my spending and I’ve fallen way off the wagon in terms of writing this blog.

This happens to me sometimes. I get so overwhelmed with trying to keep everything pushing forward towards our goals that I seem to burn out and have a mini rebellion against myself. It’s like I’m a two year old and my inner voice just says, “I don’t wanna” to everything. (Feeling a bit raw about 2 years olds this morning. Had to try and get a toddler dressed and ready on time when she didn’t want to, and I feel I’ve aged 100yrs in the process. It’s not even 8am yet…)

So, yeah. I just sorta…stopped. Everything. We went on holiday for a few days which was lovely but seems to have derailed me because by the time we came back I couldn’t get back into the swing of things.

Maybe I’m just trying to push forward on too many fronts. I read somewhere that it’s a tested fact that people have a limit for willpower. Like you have a tank and once it’s empty, there’s nothing. So it doesn’t matter how good your intentions are to meet a goal, if you’re also spending the willpower elsewhere – you’re gonna fail if you rely on willpower alone. There’s not enough to go round.

This rings true for me. Often I’ll decide that I need to have a ‘life overhaul’ and rather than focus on one thing to change, I try and change EVERYTHING. Which obviously doesn’t work and when one thing fails, I just give up on it all and things go back to the way they were.

So trying to focus on tracking my spending, limiting non-essential spending, paying down our debt, finishing our house renovation, focusing on a career goal at work, blogging in my free time and addressing various personal issues outside of my financial goals… Plus juggling a demanding full time job, with trying to see my kiddo and partner enough…. Yeah, I’m starting to see where it went wrong. All of that’s doable as long as I’m in a high energy mood but the moment I’m feeling a bit tired or low – it all feels too much and I drop everything but the essentials.

So I’m trying to slowly pull myself out of my funk and identify those areas where I think I can focus some energy, while leaving some to spare. I’ve started tracking my spending again and gone back and updated my tracker spreadsheet. I’m still probably spending too much, but keeping track of where it’s going is the first step for addressing that. Plus I was starting to feel like I was constantly depriving myself and that always leads to a spending splurge for me, so I need to ‘treat’ myself a little from time to time. (I’m talking, buying some new makeup or a chocolate bar here and there just coz I want to – not splashing on a Cartier watch or anything!)

And I’m going to start writing stuff here again if I can.

Mostly I think I need to focus on getting our house renovation done to a point where we can actually move in. Because we haven’t had our own home since Dec 2016 and it’s starting to get to me. Enough is enough!

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What kills your money saving?

Snooze button

(Ah snooze button. My nemesis! We meet again…)

What is your number one enemy in the ‘you vs. money’ fight?

For me – it’s organisation. Now I don’t just mean keeping track of my finances and control of my cash. That’s super important too but I’m actually not too bad at that. I keep a spreadsheet and I quite enjoy plugging in all the amounts I’ve spent – makes me feel in control and I can see where I’m at.

No, I’m talking day to day organisation and life planning. For me, this is the number one thing that leads me to spend unnecessary money.

If I’m honest I think it’s probably going to be something I always struggle with. I’m that irritating person who is always 10 minutes late to every personal appointment or engagement. I just can’t seem to leave myself enough time to actually get to where I’m going. I’m always squeezing in one more thing to do before setting off.

Interestingly I don’t do this at work. Different priorities maybe? I don’t know. Either way, it’s not good.

I also procrastinate. A lot. Something that could be done now, almost always gets put off until later, and then probably squeezed in at a point when I’m actually supposed to be going to do something else! Vicious circle right there.

Vicious circle(Grrrr – a vicious circle. Sorry, sorry. Couldn’t help myself)

And boy do I pay the price!! I’ll give you an example:

On a good day I’ll get up at the planned time, get dressed etc. and grab my pre-made lunch from the fridge before going to catch the early train. I’ll park in the free spaces and walk to the station. Then, once in London, I’ll walk to work. No spend. If I walk back from work as well, I can easily have a no spend day without even thinking about it.

On a bad (read, normal) day I’ll hit the snooze button too many times. I won’t grab my lunch, either because I’m in a rush and I forget it or because I couldn’t be bothered to make one the night before and thought I’d have time in the morning (see: procrastination). I’ll have to park at the station because I don’t have time to walk from the free spaces (£), and once in London I’ll have to get the bus because I caught the slightly later train and don’t have time to walk (£). Later I’ll have to buy lunch (£) because I didn’t bring my own.

And there. In a few easy, barely even registered steps, I’ve actually spent quite a lot of money. Parking is about £8, bus £1.50, lunch about £5. Total cost for not getting up 15 mins earlier: £14.50. Ouch.

If this was every day I’m down nearly £300 over the month. £300 just for hitting the snooze button! Jeez. That’s an expensive habit.

And sadly this is often too normal for me. It’s improved a lot though since I started tracking my spending and realised just where my money was trickling away to. I genuinely couldn’t work out why I was always sinking into my overdraft – I wasn’t buying anything! There were no lines of lovely Jimmy Choos in my closet as evidence of where my money was going.

It was both enlightening and depressing to see just actually it was just being whittered away on mundane, normal life. Nothing special. Nothing to show for it. Just hundreds being burned each month on stuff that could easily be addressed.

So yeah. I now do make an effort to make lunches. And to try and catch the earlier train. It’s a rare day when I don’t walk to work, either there or back – if not both. But I’ll be honest, life is pretty crazy right now what with house renovations and a less than ideal living situation, and the moment things get stressful I do find myself falling back into bad habits. And that costs.

So here’s to a new month, a new pay cheque and trying to hit the snooze button just one time less… See you bright and early in the morning!

Working your money muscle

Money muscle

(Oooh – check out those money muscles!)

Ugh. Money muscle. Sounds really gross – sorry ’bout that. It’s the best analogy I can think of.

At the beginning of this year life was proving majorly stressful. We had to move out of where we were staying really suddenly with no notice, and relocate to somewhere that was absolutely tiny (we’re talking two rooms and a bathroom basically) with all of our stuff and no parking. With a toddler. And a dog.

It was chaos.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so completely stressed out in my life. I generally resist change and love a settled routine. It felt like there was nothing I could cling to that grounded me – like I was in a free fall spiral. Weirdest feeling. Not pleasant. Like if one more thing went wrong, I would crack. So I joined a gym.

I am generally a gym’s dream member. I regularly sign up, pay my monthly fee on time every month, and then never ever go. And sadly it has proved thus this time as well. But for a few weeks/months I did use it and I really really needed it. Mostly I’d just go and do 30 minutes of yoga on a mat in the corner. It was the only place I felt I could escape and regain some control.

So yeah. Now I’m focused on my money goal (eliminate my debt), that monthly fee really hurts me. It’s like a kick in the teeth each time. But it’s hard to regret my decision to sign up – it was a complete lifeline at the time and allowed me to cope.

Anyway – that was a whole rambling intro to what I actually wanted to say and that is, that dealing with your personal finances takes commitment. A bit like the gym. The more you work at it, the easier it gets. It becomes a habit and then you can think about it less.

The other side to this is that it can also be really easy to fall off the wagon. To become complacent.

I’m thinking about this today because it’s nearly payday 💰💰💰 (tomorrow – yay!) and I find that my steely resolve to control my money really weakens towards the end of the month.

I start off at the beginning of the month with a brand new monthly spreadsheet, and I begin by tracking my spending meticulously. But by this point of the month I’m slipping a bit. It’s like I think that this bit doesn’t count – like I’ve done so well up until now and, hey, if I’m only a little into my overdraft then that’s pretty good and it’ll all be wiped away shortly anyway when my pay cheque comes in. Cha-ching!

Bad, bad money brain. It’s the same bit of me that flakes in the face of committing to exercise. If you allow yourself to start saying it doesn’t matter – that you’ll have today off but get back on it tomorrow – then before you know it, it’s all fallen apart.

So I guess I’m saying – don’t be like me. Commit to keeping track of your progress and know that if you do start making excuses, you’re only hurting yourself. But it’s easy to get back on the wagon.

Oh – and don’t sign up for a gym membership unless you will use it. Or you really really need it.

Spreadsheets are sexy

Spreadsheets

(O.M.G. – look at that sexy spreadsheet! Phwoar.)

Ok, I’m lying. Spreadsheets are not sexy – except perhaps to a really niche audience. I do not recommend bigging up your Excel skills by way of a chat up line. Not gonna work.

But spreadsheets are, nevertheless, a vital part of the money mission. To push this analogy to its limits, they are the Spanx of the money world. You need a decent robust spreadsheet underpinning everything and keeping it all together so that you can swan through life looking all sexy and money savvy. Ergo, spreadsheets are sexy.

Step one for me wrestling back control over my finances was to set myself up with a spreadsheet. Now I’m no Excel master. I’ve wrestled with many a table and graph in my time, and rarely do I win. But I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way and on a good day I can plug in a simple formula. This is helpful – it speeds things up. But it’s not vital. A calculator will do the trick too.

Basically the idea is to track your money. Some people call it a budget but actually I think that’s the next step up on the ladder. If you don’t know where the hell your money is going then there’s little point in setting unrealistic limits on what you spend. You’re just gonna blow straight through your budget without even thinking and then give up. Sadly I speak from much experience.

So step one is to track your spending. For a long time I told myself that this was pointless – I can see where the money is going from my bank statement. So why do I need to do the job of the bank and log it all separately myself? Waste-a-time.

Nope. This is your bad money brain talking. Truth is, it is nearly impossible to keep track of all your spending via your bank statement. Particularly if you are hiding from that statement at various points in the month (i.e a week before pay day, right?). Plus a statement doesn’t categorise spending so how are you gonna know just how much your coffee habit (or – because we’re millennials – avocado habit) is actually costing you a month? You might have a guesstimate in mind but chances are it’s wrong.

So: You need a spreadsheet.

There’s a ton of suggestions and pro-formas online for tracking spending which can get you started. I initially started out with one from the ‘Frugal Living’ forum on Money Saving Expert.com, but that was really aimed at setting an annual budget and didn’t really allow me to see where the cash was going each month. So I changed it and made it my own.

I set up a number of categories in columns along the top (which will be entirely personal to you) and put the days of the month down the side. Then I plugged in each item I bought. Yes – each time I bought a packet of crisps or a toy for my kid (or an avocado 🥑🥑🥑) on it went to the spreadsheet.

Now your spreadsheet has to work for you. Mine doesn’t happen to include household spending because my partner and I sort that separately, but it captures all my personal spending, which is the bit that was out of control. Obviously yours can include anything and everything you need.

And then you keep a running total of how much you’re spending in each category along the bottom. And voila – you promptly die of shock at JUST HOW BLOODY EXPENSIVE LIFE IS and that is the best realisation you will come to. Ever.

Because it is not possible to spend mindlessly when you know you have to remember how much a thing cost, in order to plug it into a spreadsheet later. And you become very aware of just how much you’ve already spent in that category this month and, who the hell knew that it all added up to so much anyway?? Jeez!

So, yeah. Spreadsheets. Track your money. Don’t worry too much about budgets just yet. It sounds a bit tedious and it is, but it also becomes mildly addictive. You start to see how you might actually get control of this situation one day and that feels great.

Just don’t expect it to be a great conversation piece at parties, that’s all.