How Tracking My Budget Has Changed My Life

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By Amy Lancaster. Originally published in the October 2018 Issue of the Milborn Newsletter.

Like most people my age (I'm assuming), most of my 20's have been less about financial freedom, and more about stressing about where my next dollar was coming and going. My adult life so far has been filled with nights of staying home, dodging plans, and not getting any sleep, rather than going out, partying, and traveling. Even more so, there were no saving habits to be found. Being almost 30, I knew things had to change.

Budgeting was something I knew I had to do - and wanted to do - but it wasn't until I started working at a financial firm and seeing the ins and outs of money and investing that I became truly interested in fixing my financial situation. From only two months of keeping track of my spending, I've managed to not only finally open a savings account, but I've tucked away over $700 that I just assumed I didn't have lying around otherwise. Here are a few more things I've discovered since tracking my budget:

1. I spend way too much on eating out. Lattes, sushi specials at the market, an alcoholic beverage or two - it adds up, and quickly. I'd always defend my eating out habit with "Well, I can spend $100 a week on groceries, or I can spend $5 a meal three times a day for seven days, which comes out to be the same amount." Oh Amy, you are so naiive. I'm still struggling with this, but being able to see how much I do spend on eating out (and so far, it's been 2 for 2 on being more than groceries a month) helps me curb this habit and see that I could be putting that amount towards something way more necessary (say, a new computer. I'm tired of living this USB keyboard life since my laptop's keyboard broke).

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2. I discovered automated payments I didn't even know I had. The very first day I started tracking my spending, I noticed a $40 monthly payment for a resume website I used once. Immediately I canceled it, and thanked myself for tracking my spending, otherwise who knows how long I would have paid $40/month for something I didn't even need or use. 

3. My financial goals are more tangible. I haven't had a car since February of 2017. While I've been able to mostly get around and have had wonderful people in my life be so gracious to give me rides or loan me their car, I do miss the freedom of having my own vehicle. Now that I am tracking my budget, I can stop thinking "One day when I graduate and have a high-paying job I can finally get a car", and start putting away x amount every month and physically seeing my money grow towards that goal. That trip to Japan that I've been wanting to take for years? It doesn't seem so far fetched of an idea anymore.

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4. It makes me excited for the future. One of my biggest fears for a while now has been being a financial burden on whoever my long-term partner ends up being. It's hard to admit, but in order to fix yourself, you need to admit what your problems are, and be candid with yourself. Now that I'm with that person, the last thing I want to do is put myself in that situation. I don't need to earn more than him (let's be real, I probably won't, He's a scientist, and I will brag about that at every opportunity), but rather have us spend our money on something for both of us - a spa day, a dream trip, our future home - than have him spend money on bailing me out of a bill or loan or a debt situation. By fixing my financial situation now, I can guarantee the future will be better for us - and it makes me look forward to it in a way I never have before. 

5. I can sleep at night. If that isn't financial freedom (or at least freedom from stress), I don't know what is.