The past two months have been quite eventful for me and my family, so I took a short break from blogging. Now I’m back, hopefully on a regular schedule! (Although I’m also attempting to complete a novel for NaNoWriMo, so we shall see about that.)
The most significant event to affect my financial life was one family member’s health crisis. Not only are we still waiting to feel the full impact of the hospital bills, but it changed our outlook on budgeting. Not significantly, but it’s made a substantial difference in our lives already. It’s a great example of how small adjustments can feel huge.
The crisis was at least partly brought on by exhaustion and stress. And even though only one of us was afflicted, we realized that all of us are overstretched at the moment. So the first time we adults had to really sit down together and think things through, we started talking about anything we could take off any of our plates to make our busy lives a bit less all-consuming.
We made some non-financial commitments to moving chores around, being less hard on ourselves and each other, and communicating more clearly about what we wanted others to do and when anyone felt they needed help. But I also admitted that some of my money management added a bit of stress to all our lives. I’m so focused on our larger goals that I can be pretty tightfisted about unplanned spending, even the kind that’s inevitable in anyone’s day-to-day life.
So for my part, I made a couple of financial commitments to my family:
- We have a hefty monthly surplus in our budget, and I used to jealously guard it so we could put it all to our big-picture goals. But we’re already ahead of schedule on our goals, and even if it took longer than the arbitrary deadline, so what? So I’m going to be more willing to pull some of the surplus out of my coffers and apply it judiciously to help alleviate some stress.
- I’m not going to gripe about the grocery budget going over by a few bucks every once in a while. We’ll try to stick to the spending limits, but if we go over, we go over.
- Healthy things like yoga are important. So when someone wants to do something healthy, I’ll pull money from the surplus.
- If there are little things someone in the family wants that takes money and we don’t have a specific category for it, I’ll pull from the surplus to pay for it. Examples include the occasional cab ride after attending a night work event with a long bus ride waiting at the end, things around the house that would replace something that doesn’t function as well as it could, clothing that needs replacing when the person doesn’t have enough spending money to replace it themselves, dinner delivery when everyone is feeling extra exhausted, etc.
- I’ve rejiggered my big-picture goals to be less strict about how much per month I need to come up with, exactly when I need to hit them, etc. I’m still going to track debt repayment and keep all my spreadsheets going; that would stress me out more to stop than to keep going. And I still want to achieve everything that we have planned for the next couple years. I just wanted a more flexible way to express and track them.
- I’m not going to get upset about whatever hospital bills are coming our way for the health crisis. Whether it’s $1,000 or $10,000, we’ll find a way to pay for it without making ourselves crazy. It was worth it for the peace of mind of knowing my husband is all right.
It’s been almost a month since I made these commitments, and I’m pleased to say that we’ve dipped into our surplus only minimally. Giving ourselves more freedom has not turned us into big spenders overnight. In fact, we find it’s even a little easier to stick to our desired spending limits because we’re used to it from all the years of being strict about it, but now we don’t feel like it’s another chore or obligation. We’re all on board with what we want for our future, so we’re not going to sabotage it with rash spending sprees.
I’m not sure there’s a specific lesson to be learned here, except that once budget control is achieved, it’s possible to lighten up without destroying everything you worked for, even if you had a terrible track record (ahem, like me) in the past.