Photo by Bianca Castillo via Unsplash.com
May was a rough month for me financially, and it left me feeling overwhelmed, as I discussed in my previous post. There were bumps in the road that were out of my control, but also a lot of small poor choices I made around my money. As I talk about in the post, I spent $100 more on my eating/drinking out fund than I had budgeted for, spending a total of $280 when I had only set aside $185.
Food/drink is always the biggest problem area in my budget. While I might go under in my miscellaneous or grocery fund, I always either spend every dollar in my going out fund or go slightly (and in this case, majorly) over budget. Of course, this budget accounts for food and drink as well as any ride sharing or parking fees that might come up when dining out or going to bars, so it’s a pretty broad range of expenses that can add up quickly.
My overwhelm in life depleted my self-discipline last month, and the results were tough for me to face. When June began, I knew I had to rehabilitate my money mentality and face my mistakes instead of letting them hold the power of shame over my head. I certainly wasn’t going to lower my base budget to “make up” for the money I spent. If I learned one thing from exercising and dieting for two years, it’s that associating shame with failing to stick to your plan, and especially punishing yourself for your mistakes, inevitably leads you to actually create worse outcomes and slow or halt your progress. The best possible thing to do is always just get back on track.
But how was I going to do this? My life is still pretty overwhelming. I’m still moving all my stuff twice while working part-time over the summer, travelling abroad in two months, taking on a new role as the Journalism teacher in a few months, and starting my master’s degree.
I needed a method to restore my financial health and my money confidence, and I remembered a trick I used to use when I started trying to spend less back in college. It’s surprisingly simple, and almost feels silly, but is a way to stay positive about my small wins throughout the month.
The method is (don’t laugh): I give myself gold stars on days I don’t buy food/alcohol. Seriously. I have a gold gel pen that I used to make a small star on my calendar, and I aim for a certain amount of gold stars per week/month. Right now, my goal is 4 stars per week, or at least 16 stars this month. It may seem like too few or too many stars for you; that’s why personal finance is personal. I use this amount because it allows me to go out over the weekend and allow myself the occasional day during the week. You can also choose to have some sort of reward in place if you reach your goal at the end of the month.
I don’t know exactly what it is about this method– maybe it’s just the use of reward instead of punishment, or the fact that I’m keeping track of not only how much I spend, but what day during the month I spend it. But for some reason it’s been a huge help this much in getting myself back on track and staying focused.