It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was the main problem when it came to our finances. When we started dating Ms. Blue Ribbon was working at a shoe store and substitute teaching (Slightly different from me working as a software developer). She was naturally frugal by habit and necessity. Making all her meals at home (noodles and tuna salad sandwiches mostly). She occasionally treated herself to Culver’s once in awhile.
I on the other hand rarely made things at home (other than frozen pizza and cereal). The only frugal thing I did was bring my lunch to work. I had more money than I knew what to do with so when we started dating I just spent money on us.
Dinners out every weekend, big birthday/Christmas/anniversary/Valentine’s gifts. You name it.
Sharing Bad Habits
When we moved in together we both rubbed off on each other. I cooked more and I convinced her to buy shit we didn’t need (you know all the good with the bad).
Fast forward 4 years later when we started getting our financial lives in order, I realized I was the instigator. While she was scrolling through people.com I was scrolling through deals websites looking for stuff to buy (Of course I thought she had the bad habit).
Amazon boxes were a common sight in front of our door. They were filled with books (we never read), movies (we’ve watched once or never opened, even stuffed animals (that sat collecting dust). We were what everyone in the personal finance world would call, “normal.”
It took me a long time to figure out why our spending was as bad as it was but knowing the real reasons makes it so much easier to overcome the problems. There was a shatter that happened in my mind as the problems became painfully obvious.
The three problematic points in our budget were the groceries, eating out, and the “else” but there were two problematic people in our budget for different reasons.
I’ll go first since I was the worst. I can claim to the problems with eating out and the else budget. I am, like I stated before, the instigator. Many nights would go as such:
Ms. BR: “What do you want to do for dinner?”
Me: “…pizza or Chinese?”
What I should have said was some quick and easy meal we could throw together from our long list of recipes. I was always suggesting going out and Ms. BR only would do it occasionally. Would I rather get fish and chips at the local pub……DUH…. but that is a treat for us and should be treated as such. We were able to lock this down by switching to a cash budget. This lasted us over a year and a half before we could finally trust ourselves and move back to using our credit cards to pay for meals.
It Is Only A Deal If You Need It!
My other big issue was the else budget. I love a particular deal site (I’ll withhold the name to protect you) so much so that I was on it multiple times a day to see what was on super sale. I would convince Ms. BR that we NEEDED these things and what great utilities they would provide (oh so wrong). These purchases would add up fast and blow our budget which would lead us to try to compensate for the next month’s budget and the current (rob Peter to pay Paul).
This took some extra work to keep us from falling into the trap. Step one was canceling our Amazon Prime membership. It was just helping us spend money on the things we really didn’t need. After we had canceled the membership we switched these items to the cash budget too, which helped make us more diligent about our spending but still, the biggest problem was me. Every time I went onto one of those deal or shopping sites I had to remind myself that what I’m looking at on this screen isn’t important and close the tab. It slowly got easier but it still lingers. Thinking back I can’t remember the last time I was on the site and that makes me feel really good.
Even The Frugal Have Their Vices
Ms. Blue Ribbon wasn’t perfect either, she had the bad habit of impulse shopping. Oh yes, the one that gets so many people adding things to the cart that were not on the grocery list.
This was mainly due to having so many options to choose from. We would go to the grocery store and have our list in hand and as we were walking up and down the aisle Ms. Blue Ribbon would notice something that she thought we needed. It would start off with just something simple like a bag of flavored potato chips even though it wasn’t on the list and something that we shouldn’t have in the house. Not only because of how unhealthy they are but because we are horrible at impulse control when it comes to eating junk food around each other.
Slowly as we walked through the store more and more things would end up in our cart. The more choices there were the more temptation. It was especially difficult because Ms. Blue Ribbon would try to say things that would justify the purchase and I just went along with it.
What has really helped with overcoming this over shopping was to limit the number of people who went to the store. When it is just myself I can’t convince anyone else that this is something that we should be buying. It has also helped for us to go to a Target that has a small selection of groceries as opposed to a Super Target which has everything. When we have fewer choices our impulse control goes down.
It doesn’t matter how much you stare at your budget unless you know why it is broken. You won’t know why it is broken until you reflect and figure out your own bad habits. It took us a long time to see ours and now it is painfully obvious.
Do you know what your bad habits are when it comes to spending? How do you overcome them?