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Budgeting Sucks (but Works)

Happy tax-month! Here in the US, April is tax time, and like a good little citizen, I did our taxes this weekend. Our income goes up (nominally) every year, and so does our tax bill. Thank goodness we have our mortgage interest and property taxes to deduct, or it would be even more painful.

In any case, it was slightly less painful this year as far as actually getting it done goes, because I managed to keep better track of my business (publishing) finances last year. And I could have written a lot more expenses off, but I didn’t, in order to claim a (very small) profit so the government won’t be tempted to downgrade BSB to a hobby (which would mean being unable to write off expenses for it ever again). Going along with everything I’ve been discussing for the past few weeks, this just underscores the fact that my business has been just sort of floating along while my head was all screwy, and now that I’m back to a much better “normal”, I really need to up my game and start promoting my books (not to mention publishing new stuff) so I can bump that income up, and at least break even with the business expenses (I’m not right now, obviously).

Stuff to work on. Better mental clarity seems to have helped with both motivation and self-control, so I’m feeling pretty good about being able to work on building BSB this year. And writing/publishing more books.

After I finished the taxes (Turbo Tax is awesome, BTW), I forced myself to go look at the budget I’ve been largely ignoring all week because I was very aware that I’d overspent. The interesting thing is, since I’ve started budgeting, I’ve noticed that even when I overspend, I still have money to cover it, and it’s just a matter of moving things around from one category to another. I have more flexibility, and I’m also less likely to overspend *too much* – I’m far more conscious of where and how I’m spending, so my indiscretions are less damaging. That was an unexpected side effect of budgeting (though it does make sense), but a very helpful one.

I still don’t *like* budgeting. It feels confining and while every budgeting guru out there will tell you that it’s “really not that much work”, for me, taking the time to sit and actually allocate my dollars and then taking more time to actually check in with the budget and reconcile my accounts *is* definitely a lot of work. Mainly because I have about a million other things I’d rather be doing than that. But as restrictive as it feels, it’s actually giving me a lot more freedom to be flexible and allocate dollars to things that I want to make priorities, like debt paydown and investing. Yes, I know. Today was not a good day on Wall Street, but that’s why I’m a long-term investor (and our penny marijuana stocks did just fine during this crash, thankyouverymuch).

Days like this make me think “flea market – yay! Let’s pick up some cheap stocks!” Then of course I sound like my mother when she says she bought a shirt off the clearance rack that she might wear one time because it was “only $2, and you can’t pass up a sale like that”. *sigh*

But I digress.

We were talking about budgeting, and how it sucks, but it works, and like most other humans on the planet, when I learn (or take up) a new trick, I tend to apply the philosophy to *everything* for awhile (until it gets boring). So, given that budgeting has helped with my finances so much, I’ve started “food budgeting” (read: menu planning) too.

I’ve tried just about everything when it comes to menu planning, and nothing ever works, because inevitably, I get to those days where I don’t feel like eating whatever I planned, and then I go “rogue” with the menu, and then the rest of the week is shot and there’s no point in planning the next week since I’ll just do the same thing…

Yes, I know.

I’ve tried pen and paper, calendars, digital planners, online menu planners with recipe books, and none of it ever “sticks” well enough. I think it’s mostly because I love grocery shopping (I know, who doesn’t, right?), and I love food, and I hate buying off a list made from a menu because I’d much rather keep a well-stocked pantry/fridge/freezer and be able to make whatever I happen to feel like having that night.

Only what tends to happen is I’m tired, or rushed (lunches especially), and I spend more time making the decision than actually cooking/eating. Therein lies the rub – I want my decision-making time back…or at least limited to the weekends.

In any case, budgeting money gave me the idea to try “budgeting” with my food. Which is backwards from most menu planning advice. Instead of deciding what to make and then buying the ingredients, I decided to just shop like I normally do, and then “budget” the food I got out over the week (or two weeks, or whatever). The main goal being, of course, to *use* all that lovely fresh produce I got before it goes bad, and also to use up what I have before buying so much new.

I’m only on the first week, and the second day, but so far, I’m feeling pretty good about it. I bought a menu magnet/board to put on the fridge, and made a menu for this week (lunches and dinners) after I shopped, keeping the fresh produce and stuff that’s been in the freezer longer than others in mind. We’ll see if I can keep it up, but last night, I actually remembered to get meat out of the freezer for dinner tonight – a meal we wouldn’t be having if I had to defrost meat right before, and also one we wouldn’t be having on a random, unplanned night, because it takes more time than normal (but I get off early on Tuesday nights, and earlier still tonight due to a dentist appt).

So, budgeting money, budgeting food…who knows what I’ll decide to budget next? I just hope that some of it sticks past the point where I’d normally be bored. That’s the true test of whether or not it’s a good system.

Are you a budget-er? What are some things you budget with besides money? Inquiring minds…

Challenges & Choices

I wasn’t actually sure I was going to survive last week. Everything that could go wrong pretty much did, and not just one or two days, but every day. On top of that, doing the poem-a-day workshop took up a lot of time I didn’t have, which means I didn’t get to bed on time any night last week (including this weekend). That means I didn’t get any reading time, or enough rest. Which put me behind today (Sunday, as I write this), because I slept late, and just a little bit ago I finally sat down to look at last year’s bookkeeping for the publishing business to see where I left off.

As far as I can tell, I started updating my financial program last year, decided I didn’t have enough time or energy or whatever, gave up, and just added up my sales reports for the total income & used my bank statements to calculate my expenditures. Which is absolutely fine/accurate for taxes, but now I’m two years and 2.5 months behind on bookkeeping for the business, and because I didn’t look at this earlier, I’m going to have to do the same thing this year. Which is way more work than actually clicking the button in the finance program to generate a sales/loss report for the year to plug into my tax program.

It’s also a lot more work than just keeping my finance books up to date once a month. Seriously.

Yet another thing in my life that I really need to just get control of and keep control of. It’s not hard, it’s not mysterious, it’s not something I need to “learn” how to do…I just need to do it. Because it will make my life exponentially easier, at least once a year.

I have no idea why I have such a mental block about taking care of finances, but there’s got to be a way to get past it and be more responsible in that area.

In other news, the poetry challenge has been both negative and positive. As I mentioned earlier, I really didn’t have time to do that, and I still don’t, and my sleep and reading/relaxing schedule was completely shot (not to mention any knitting/crochet time i the evenings). I really need to figure out some other way to keep up this week, because I can’t do a whole month like this…I’ll go insane.

On the other hand, I’ve discovered that poetry is a great warm-up for writing prose, and I’m actually enjoying writing poems far more than I thought I would. It has also increased my prose output just due to having that extra deadline hanging over my head, and I’m finally getting back to a reasonable per-night word count again. I think after the month is over, I’ll keep writing poetry…though at a much more moderate pace (say, one poem a week or so).

I’ve also discovered that I really like writing by hand on my cell and/or tablet. I have Samsung Note devices (cell & tablet) with the SNote program, which makes it easy, and I’ve found that handwriting first drafts and notes, and then typing the manuscript back in is a great editing tool.

Another boon is that it’s making me think more about word choice and sound in my prose, which is exactly what I was hoping it would do. So definitely worth it, if I can just regain some balance this week. Thankfully taxes aren’t due until the 18th this year, which gives me next Saturday to actually fill out the forms (yay TurboTax!), but I’ll have to calculate my profit/loss numbers working in the evenings this week. My eyes are already squinting at the thought of all that extra screen time.

This week is going to be all about collecting/calculating the business info I need for taxes, and also figuring out how to fit my poem-a-day in with my regular writing and still get to bed on time so I can read and recharge the brain before sleep (and getting enough sleep).

Next week, after my taxes are done and filed, it will be time to figure out how I’m going to get the bookkeeping all caught up, and keep it up to date from now on. *sigh*

And someday, maybe I’ll be rich enough to pay someone to do my accounting for me, right? (Don’t worry, I’m not holding my breath either.)