Creating and Sticking to a Budget: Mistakes we have made along the way

by Melody on March 21, 2012

And there have been a few.  We’re still making them, even though we know better.  Every time I try to “beat” my own system, it ends up backfiring and I just frustrate myself.  As long as we plug away with what we know works, we stay right on track.  When we try to get all fancy and think we are smarter than the budget, that’s when the train goes off the track.

Throughout the budgeting series, I have talked about all the “rules” we follow and how we pay cash for everything.  The majority of the time, we follow these rules to the letter.  However, there have been times we’ve slipped up and I want to share these with you for a few reasons.  I want you to know that they may happen to you so you can recognize them and get yourself back on track right away.  I also want you to know that we have never been perfect in this budgeting journey.  We have been tempted and sucked in by the “Buy it Now” or “Spend it Now” phenomenon.  Not very often, but it’s happened and we have regretted it.

My main point in sharing is to impress upon you that if you do make mistakes or “fall off the wagon”, do not give up.  It happens to everyone, just find a way to get yourself back on track.  I know how easy it can be to just throw in the towel when something goes wrong, but you can get yourself headed back in the right direction even after a slip-up.  DON’T GIVE UP.

These are just a few examples of things we have done in a not-so-Dave-Ramsey way.

Using our Emergency Fund for a Non-Emergency

Ever since we started the Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, we have had an Emergency Fund of $1000 set aside in a savings account. Obviously, from the name, it is intended for emergencies only.  Not an I-need-a-new-pair-of-shoes emergency, but an actual honest-to-goodness emergency.  There have been a few times we have needed to dip into it, but the first thing we do is fill it back up with any available cash that comes our way.  The point of this fund is to avoid having to use a credit card if something truly does come up.

A few years back, I crunched some numbers and realized we were a stone’s throw away from paying off our last student loan.  We were so close, I could smell it.  About $1000 away.  Guess what I did?  I figured I’d just cash out our Emergency Fund, pay off the student loan to avoid paying that whopping 2% interest rate and we’d be able to save another quick $1000 in no time.  Guess what happened?  It took probably six months to fund that darn thing again.  Appliances started breaking, weird mechanical stuff started happening with our car, you name it.  I was so embarrassed that we used the fund, I refused to tell anyone.  Never, never again.

Going crazy with our grocery budget

Over the last six months or so, our grocery budget has been doing some crazy things.  We have been switching to a less-processed, more organic diet and have seen it in the numbers.  We have increased it a few times, but I haven’t been as diligent as I should be about keeping a close eye on it.  I have been waiting on some rebates to come in the mail, so my cash has been low and for some reason, I thought it was a good idea to pull from other funds from the month.  Ugh.

Things got convoluted, I forgot to keep track of things, I really didn’t have any control over my grocery budget and my weekly spending.  Do not do this.  One of the main reasons I blew the budget last month and am now attempting to stay within a $17/week grocery budget.  Lesson learned.  I will change my spending habits from here on out, making sure that we pull out only the amount of cash that is truly available for each week.

Using our credit card for vacation

I posted recently about why we even have a credit card at all (for gas purchases only), but last summer I didn’t plan ahead and ended up using it as my crutch.  We were taking a last minute trip to Seattle with my husband’s coworkers and I just didn’t make the time to set aside some money or pull cash out of the bank.  My husband and I decided to put the necessary expenses on our credit card and pay them off when we got home.  Bad idea.

We both have a card and did not manage our purchases at all.  We were at a Mariner’s game, which makes it nearly impossible to stay within budget if you aren’t careful.  We fell right back into the trap, how easy it is to swipe a card especially when every restaurant and kiosk takes them.  Not only did we significantly blow our entertainment budget, I then had to do the walk of shame through our receipts and credit card statement and pay off things we HAD ALREADY BOUGHT, EATEN AND USED.  Yuck.  It is much easier to plan ahead, set aside an estimated amount of money and make intentional purchases.

So there you have it, my frugal/budget-minded friends.  Although I may talk a good game and play it well most of the time, we do fail.  We do fall back into unhealthy spending habits and try to skirt the rules.  Why?  Budgeting is tough.  This really isn’t an excuse, but it is the only reason that really makes sense to me.  We always get back on track, but hopefully this will be a reminder to some of you of the possible pitfalls and temptations lying out there.

If you are willing to share, please let us know what you struggle with the most in budgeting?  Maybe others can offer insight or just maybe it will feel good to get it off your chest like me.

In case you missed it:

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Brenda March 21, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Oh, Melody!
I love this post, thank you for being brave enough to share your whole story! It’s sounds funny, but I find it comforting. It’s easy for me to assume that these sorts of things don’t happen to other people, that I’m the only one that isn’t smart enough to figure out a budget. The fact is, everyone makes mistakes, just learn from them and keep moving forward. My trouble usually is the emergency fund. Having a 13 year old car, money pit house and 2 teenagers makes me feel like every week is an emergency. I have started to funnel more money into the car fund and house fund, but it will take awhile to get enough there to feel comfortable. I’m very impatient so it’s easy for me to want to give up, but I’m learning that building a budget slowly and steadily is what it takes. I’m even more determined to get a handle on this as my 2 girls are getting older. I need to figure these last things out, so I can show them.
Thanks for this series, it’s really helped me to focus on the trouble spots I was having with my budget!


Krystal March 22, 2012 at 5:38 am

Love this series! Thank you for posting! Your stories and udates are motivating and help keep me on track!


Trina March 22, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Melody, thank you for baring yourself so much in this post. In the whole series, really. It’s so helpful to know that you’re so real, and not “perfect” as we too easily think online personalities are. Thanks for writing this series!


Lora March 24, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Love this post! We have gone off track plenty as well. Like you said, you just learn from it and get back on track as soon as possible! One of my weaknesses is buying clothes. Mostly for my kids. It’s hard when there’s a really AMAZING sale to only use my budgeted amount for that month. Still working on that one.
I also can relate to the grocery budget doing crazy things. We’ve gone gluten free and try to do organic when possible. Yikes! Still trying to get a handle on it!
Thanks for sharing and for your honesty. You’re nearly perfect but it’s nice to know you’re still human. Makes the rest of us feel a little more normal! 🙂


Em April 5, 2012 at 6:32 am

I found your bolg today and tried to see your $17 a week grocery link and it brought me to a page about plumdistrict deal.


Melody April 5, 2012 at 6:55 am

Yikes, obviously wrong link! I just updated it, but here’s the correct link. Thanks for letting me know!


stephanie April 26, 2012 at 11:28 am

i’m desperately trying to get started. borrowed all dave ramsey books from the library to start the envelope system. can’t wait to start saving! trying to figure out how to start couponing and how to work from home. it’s time for a change! your site has been very inspiring and your honesty in sharing your personal stories are awesome! thanks for sharing, it is very helpful!


Peggy February 28, 2013 at 3:46 pm

I have found your site and want to thank you so much for sharing your story. I too find your honesty comforting and hopeful. I am learning every day and just wanted you to know that you are still reaching and helping people!


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