This month our topic is going to be personal finance.  When I say personal finance I really just mean budgeting.  Maybe one day we’ll revisit this topic and get more in depth about investing, stocks, and bonds and other foreign concepts.  Right now, we “ain’t got time for that” –  learning about things we currently have no use for, so we’re going to stick to a bottom-line budget.

Why We NEED to Budget

My life right before I utilized a budget:

I had just moved into a neighborhood that was constantly referred to as “the hood.”  At the time, it was laughable because I had lived in much worse neighborhoods growing up as a child (in adulthood, I also lived in a city that had a murder capital worse than D.C.’s).  For now, we don’t need to get into how I got to this point, as there were quite a few factors, but that I was a jobless, single-mother (at this point with just one toddler) living with my disabled mother and sister (who was also jobless).  We were living off of my mother’s fixed income, having all just relocated from our various corners of the universe, trying to start over.

It was an endless cycle of getting paid, picking and choosing which bills to pay, using what was left for public transportation in search of jobs (that were never to be had), paying people in the neighborhood for rides to get us to places we couldn’t get to by bus, pawning what little we had around the house.  As far as food went, groceries came from the dollar store, food banks (and the like), as well as people close to us willing to help out of the kindness of their hearts.  It was a full-time job trying to coordinate all of the rides to various doctor appointments, job hunting and interviews, then to come home to figure out how to make a meal (or get a meal) out of nothing.  At the end of every month, the checking account was in the negative.

At this point in my life, I had a decent concept of budgeting, but would get overwhelmed by the numbers, mainly the negative integers, and thought budgeting was for people who actually had money and that this was just the way it was going to be – forever!  But eventually, I had had enough of it.  Something, ANYTHING had to budge.  Turns out that it was me who had to change.  I handled the finances – my mom’s disabilities and my sister’s lack of life experience left us with me as our only option for money manager.  I had to put my big girl britches on and accept the responsibility and be willing to go to any lengths to find a way out of this mess.

My life with a budget:

Today, I live with my husband, 3 (soon to be 4) children, and my mother in a lovely, HUGE (compared to anything else I’ve ever lived in) townhouse in a tiny rural like suburbia.  We shop at “normal” grocery stores, have 2 cars, and even get to splurge on things like movies and Starbucks.

I know what you’re thinking – jackpot with the husband, right?  Well, in some instances, yes (he’s quite wonderful), but financially speaking let me break it down for you:

He came along with his own set of financial problems – debt and bills.  On top of that, we accrued 2 more kids together (twins in fact!).  If you’re a parent, you may understand the term “’nuff said” if inserted here.  If you are not a parent, you may be unaware of the fact that it costs approximately 12-14k annually PER CHILD!  Check out Huff Post Parent for all that updated info.

So if you add my husband’s 3k monthly salary along with my mom’s (about 4k), and subtract the minimum expenses of 3 children, well, there goes the husband’s salary right out the window.

So how do the 6 of us survive??

1.  We make a budget
2.  We set a budget goal
3.  We stick to the budget

It’s only been a little over 2 years since I began implementing a budget, and it has provided results beyond my comprehension.  We still have our worries, especially with a 4th child due in September, but we definitely breathe a great deal easier than ever before.  We have gotten a lot of help along the way, but I can guarantee that without a budget in our lives, all the help in the world wouldn’t have made a dent concerning our financial insecurities.  Budgeting is the most essential tool that everyone should have in their toolbox for life (it’s as important as common sense).

So as I get my next post ready – it will focus on how to make a budget – I want you to prepare yourself.  Motivate yourself and tell yourself you will commit to making a budget by coming up with a budget goal.  My first budget goal: staying out of the negative.  To me, I felt that if we could get through to the end of the month without our balance reading negative, we’d be okay.  It seemed a bit far fetched at the time, but it was a starting point.

I also made sure to choose a short-term goal to focus on.  Thinking too far into the future about money, for me, gets a bit grandiose and/or overwhelming.  Stick with something attainable within the next few months.  Let it be a positive goal you can track.  Let the goal represent moving forward financially versus taking something away.  “Staying out of the negative” isn’t saying “cut back on dining out,” although that may be a requirement to ensure the checking account stays in the black, you can’t really track the fact you decided to eat at home all month.  You want to choose a goal that at the end of the month you can see the progress being made, like the negative number in the account is less than last month’s negative balance.

Once you’ve come up with a goal, or at least an inkling of one, breathe.  Breathe a sigh of relief because relief is coming.  I promise that whether you have the experience of making a budget before or never learned how to, you CAN and WILL reach your goal if you keep going.  NEVER GIVE UP!!!