I’ve never been very good at budgeting. I didn’t work in high school, apart from the occasional odd or summer job, so when I got a job in college I was stunned to receive this “enormous” check every month. With no car payment and no real bills, I enjoyed liquidating my assets every month on whatever pleased me: trips to downtown Athens, CDs, movies, and eating out. Little did I know how dangerous my habit would become.
When I eventually did acquire some bills, it was a little unsettling to see the fun stuff fall by the wayside. But the year after graduation, I opened a new checking account after moving, and the bank just gave me a credit card! I couldn’t believe my luck; now I could pay my bills and have fun. It was like boarding my very own party boat!
Over the next few years, even after I married, the party never seemed to stop. We had two incomes, of course, and no rent (thanks to my wife’s college housing jobs). Movies every week, eating out all the time: It was like the rowboat was upgraded to the SS Party Hearty.
If you have a head on your shoulders, and even a smidgen more common sense than I had then, you know what happened next. “Life comes at you hard,” an ad campaign once said, and it does. We got pregnant, got an apartment, and starting getting bills. Before we knew it, the realization that credit is not free money poked a hole in our sweet ship, and I found myself at a pity party below decks, with the water rising.
Fortunately, we found our way to shore with the help of a fellow named Dave Ramsey. His Financial Peace University woke us up to the dangers of credit, and helped us make a plan to build a raft back to Rational Land. I got on the personal finance kick and really started hacking away at our debt.
And that’s where the problems started. I’m a computer and graphics guy, so Dave’s forms really bugged me. In a word, they’re ugly and simple. At the time, I thought they were simplistic. I was sure something like Money or Quicken would be better solutions. After all, they were bigger, cooler, and far more powerful. So I bought Quicken and dug in. It was great at first, and I thought I’d found the key to my financial freedom.
In the words of Jim Bakker, “I was wrong.” Like many people before me, I found that software is not a solution to money woes, no matter what Bill Gates says. I went back to Dave’s simple spreadsheets, and just rebuilt them in Excel. It satisfied the graphics guy in me, and allowed me to spend a lot less time with my bills spread out on the kitchen table.
Now I think I might have found a “solution” that will help me get to the next level. I came across a link to Pear Budget on another blog. It’s simple and straightforward, has a nice green color scheme (hey, it’s money, right?), and was created by a Christian fellow. See what you think.
And whatever you do, start tracking your spending now. And if you don’t know how to begin, read this.