Report August 2017: No-Judgment Expense-Tracking

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD2 = dear second daughter
  • DD3 = dear third daughter

Report for August 2017

For our total debt, here’s a reminder of where we started in June of 2012:

  • Consumer Debt – $21,400
  • Business Debt – $80,800
  • Mortgage Debt – $155,000
  • Total Debt – $257,200
  • Emergency Fund – Non-existent
  • Investments – Not happening (except for my automatic pension contributions through work)

As of August 2017, our numbers were:

  • Consumer Debt – $0
  • Business Debt – $0
  • Mortgage Debt – $69,000
  • Total Debt – $69,000
  • Emergency Fund – Full (to see us through 3-6 months without income)
  • Investments – regularly investing 15% gross income (including my automatic pension contributions through work)

My Discretionary Debt

I confessed two weeks ago that despite the great progress DH and I are making together, my own discretionary account has been in the red for the past year. As I wrote, “It’s the place where all of my old bad, chaotic, thoughtless patterns with money continue to reside.”

The number one piece of advice that I received was to track my discretionary spending faithfully. It’s exactly the advice I would have given – that I have given – to anyone struggling with debt. It’s what DH and I have been doing with our joint accounts for 5 years now. I have committed to tracking my discretionary spending many times, but I have always fallen off when I don’t want to face how out of control it’s become.

For the past two weeks, I’ve tracked faithfully. And it’s been a spendy two weeks! Ugh! I wanted to start off my fearless inventory with a really impressive account, but that’s not going to happen. Let me just say that there are times of the year when discretionary spending is high, and this is one of them – Back To School.  All 3 of our children will be heading to (post-secondary) class next week, and as a teacher, I headed back last week. Emotions happen at the end of every August. So does emotional spending.

Fearless tracking

Here’s how I’ve spent over the past two weeks. No numbers for now. Not that fearless yet. I had to push through a definite “this is out of control!” desire to stop tracking to make this account complete.

  • treated DD2 to lunch after we’d visited my mom in her seniors residence
  • treated DH to supper after he’d fixed my mom’s DVD player
  • dutch date with DH including lunch and museum (and about 50 km / 31 miles cycling)
  • supper with 3 childhood friends
  • flowers for the mom of one of these friends (whose health has become fragile)
  • lunch my first day back to work
  • treated DD3 to lunch when she came into work with me and helped me move furniture
  • treated DD3 and DH to pizza from a small authentic pizza place … because it just smelled so good when I walked past it (end-of-August emotions, people!)
  • hosted a Korean-dumpling making party with about 8 colleagues (I didn’t lead the charge – another teacher did. Hard work! So delicious.)

Looking ahead to September …

The good news is that for the first half of August, I spent next to nothing. These last 2 weeks therefore didn’t bring me deeper into debt. They did, however, bring me to within a dollar of zero – perhaps indicative of that old drive to max out. But for now, I don’t want to analyze things too much. My only commitment at this point to track with honesty. I’m dealing with a stubborn, stubborn issue here, and while I do want to get the better of it, the path of fierce willpower and resolve has failed me too many times. I’m taking the approach of awareness with no-judgment – one step at a time. And tracking is the first step.

“You’ve got to look at the month ahead,” DH coached me as September approached. “Think about what expenses there will be, and set aside money for those things first.” DD2’s birthday is in September. I’ll be hosting a wedding shower for one niece and buying her a gift. I’ll be buying a baby shower gift for another niece. “And remember,” DH cautioned, “we can take September’s discretionary money at the beginning of the month, but we won’t be able to give ourselves October’s allowance until you get your first pay – which will be almost mid-month. Plan for that.”

As I mentioned in my confessional two weeks ago, my personal debt was $1,669. After I took September’s allowance of $600, I paid $200 towards that line of credit, and it now sits at $1,479. (I am of course, paying some interest.) That leaves me with $400 for 6 weeks. Can I do it? Certainly not with the kind of lunch & treat frenzy of the past two weeks. But as I said, the past two “Back To School” weeks weren’t typical. Time to buckle up. I can’t promise victory, but I can promise honesty. Stay tuned!


I welcome your advice and insight (and even analysis). Feel free to offer it. Are there times of the year when you know you spend more?  


 

 

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  • Good work on tracking all the way through. Step by step and you’ll get where you want to go!

    July is the spendy month in our household. Aside from summer and Independence Day, there’s our wedding anniversary, my wife’s birthday, and my birthday all in one month. Our monthly budget tends to take a beating, but if we’ve been careful in the months leading up to July, it all works out.

    • Thanks Gary. That’s a lot of celebration in July! The trick is to be aware of it so it doesn’t “catch you by surprise.” I remember often being in denial of the expenses of Christmas – and I would always end up in holiday debt. That’s what the head-in-sand approach leads to. No more of that!

  • I track my spending using an app but it’s funny as my spending gets out of control, I somehow “forget” to track. 🙂 So good for you for being honest. I have no words of advice except to just try and make tiny tweaks to get back on track.

    • There you go, Tonya ! You do exactly as I do – “forgetting to track” when spending gets out of control. It’s a relief to know I’m not the only one. My app. is a pencil and notebook. So far, it’s working : )

  • I’ve often found that discretionary spending is where I like to lie to myself. For a long time I would tell people my expenses were only $500 a month. The truth was, about 7 months a year I’d spend $500 and the rest of the time I’d have random high expenses like a shoe purchase or a fix on the car. It was those purchases I wasn’t willing to really look at or track faithfully because I was so focused on that $500 expense number. We do that with a lot of things. I find people do that with home ownership a lot “I only pay $1500 a month on my mortgage.” But they neglect to mention that new septic tank/hot water heater/roof repair that came up this year. It’s really easy to hide things from myself but I find when I just get honest about the spending I can get on the path to recovery.

    • “get on the path to recovery” – I’m all for using the language of 12-step programs when it comes to debt reduction. It is so applicable. I love your straight talk about lying to yourself. That’s exactly what denial is. So interesting about getting hung up on the $500 number. Brutal honesty is definitely the most effective way to go. Thanks for stopping by, Elsie.

  • With so much of the discretionary cash spoken for with gifts, I wonder if an eating out fast might be in order.

    I like fasts like that because they give an extended period to remember that God is our greatest good and they can help develop other spiritual disciplines at the same time.

    Just a suggestion of course, but it could help to turn something that might be a time of deprivation into a time of reflection instead

    • It’s a great suggestion, Hannah. I agree that an eating out fast is necessary with all of those gifts to buy. I had already considered it in a kind of “deprivation” way. Your idea of making it an invitation to reflect is much better. Thanks : )

  • Nice work tracking and sharing your progress. As you said these two weeks are not typical, but if it was, seems like food and treating others are your spend trigger. Not sure I can offer much advice, but I like the look ahead of what’s up coming (gifts) and be aware of it as you approach the month in other areas. Good luck!

    • Those are certainly my “spend triggers”, Brian. I’m hoping that with an awareness of the expenses of the month ahead, I’ll be able to get the better of them. Thanks for the good luck wish!

  • For a long time I used cash paid to me for petsitting as my spending money. I realized this year that it becomes a black hole of wasteful choices, because it’s not tracked. I didn’t think about it before because it’s a relatively small amount ($5-10/two weeks over the summer) but it does add up – and more importantly, leaving those purchases out of my tracking is essentially hiding information from myself. I DO need to see that my takeout coffee is creeping up, because I know now that is an indicator of my overall emotional health.

    I think it’s awesome you tracked so diligently!

    • “($5.00-10/two weeks)” – Ah! If you are intent on being more disciplined with that amount of money, I certainly can step up and master the amounts I’m dealing with. I admire you for not letting anything slip by. And you’re right, your takeout coffee IS and indicator of emotional health. Same for my lunches, treats, and pizza. That brings to mind Hannah’s suggestion of using the times of doing without to reflect instead of to feel deprived.

  • Eating out is definitely hard to give up! We ate out quite a bit this summer for lunch and now that we are back in “school mode”, we are trying to rein that back in. I don’t have any advice, but I am definitely rooting for you, my friend! 🙂

  • Good start, and keep it up!

    I second the notion of looking ahead, and in fact, encourage you to expand to the full year ahead when you’re ready. I found that doing that gave me a much more complete picture of all our seasonal peaks in spending because we have at least one per quarter, and going monthly didn’t reveal that trend.

    • Thanks, Revanche. I think at this point, I’m doing well if I can look squarely at the month ahead, keep tracking, reduce my debt, and avoid further debt. I find that even in this first month, I’m taking note of what is to come – like Christmas for instance. I hope (and believe) that I will progress to the point where I’ve gained the whole-year perspective you’re talking about. I’ll get there!

  • I wonder if a “no spend” challenge would help create new habits? That strategy is not for me, as I can be on the other end of the spectrum, too tight with money, but I’ve heard they are great for people to break the cycle of spending. Tracking sounds like a great first, step though.

    We budget separately for gifts (birthdays, Christmas, wedding, showers). It’s not really “fair” that women have to throw and attend baby and bridal showers and men don’t! After all, it’s usually a gift from one family to another.

    • I agree! Last time I hosted a shower and bought a gift, it was all on me – but the wedding gift we went in on together. Hmmm…. My husband has definitely benefited from the shower gifts I received before we married, and I think this policy has to be revisited. Thank you, Kalie. As for “no spend” challenges, for me, they work if they’re very targeted and last for a limited time (like a month or two). Right now, I’ll stick to tracking, but I might give it a try once I’ve got a solid tracking record.

  • Oh, I’m glad you went with using $200 toward pay back instead of half. I think that’s more reasonable. And your husband gave you a bunch of good advice for the next few weeks.

    If it were me, I’d consider getting the gifts and setting aside money for the shower first thing, then divvying up the rest in weekly increments. Maybe that will allow for an impulse to scratch or two without going over.

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