Budget Busters: Areas For Improvement

I sat down tonight to review last month’s budget, and I overspent in a few categories. Why? Primarily, I’ve been this month and I never took that time to really look at how much money was “slipping through the cracks” in my system. Here’s my personal list of areas for improvement, and how I plan to avoid busting my budget in the future:

Problem: I spend to much for convenience store items: Bottled water, power bars, sodas, and snacks are way more expensive at the gas station than they are in the grocery store.

Solution: I need to do two things: One, I need to stop eating junk from the convenience stores and I need to put a couple of bottled waters and some fruit in a small cooler and keep it with me in the car for snacking. I’m on the road quite a bit, so a little forward-thinking would help out a lot.

Problem: I spent money to have my car washed at one of those drive-through car washes.

Solution: I need to stop being so lazy and wash my car. (Is it possible to be both too lazy AND too busy, at the same time? If so, that’s my life for the past six months.)

Problem: My electric bill was fifty dollars more than I expected it to be.

Solution: I need to remember to bump the air conditioner up a bit when I leave the house, turn off the lights when I leave the room, and adjust to the fact that it’s summer-time and the house doesn’t have to be sixty degrees all of the time. (Side note: I live in Georgia and the heat has been brutal for the past few weeks.)

Problem: I like to have my shirts and pants dry cleaned. This past month, I had several important meetings, and my dry cleaning bill was much higher than I expected it to be.

Solution: I can schedule “less formal” meetings, I can simply wash, dry, and iron my own clothing, or I can shop around for another dry cleaner. (Does anyone know if dry cleaning an article of clothing makes it last longer? If so, is there some way that I can convince myself that dry cleaning actually SAVES money, in the long run? Please, let it be so!)

Problem: I spent more on gas (surprise, surprise) than I initially intended. My wife has been off for the summer, so we’ve taken a few more trips, gone to a few more places, and driven a few more miles than we normally do in a month’s time.

Solution: Getting back to our “school schedule” will help, but we have begun to think about car pooling. Also, since we own a small car and a minivan, we need to plan to use the car on longer trips, because it gets better gas mileage. (The one major area where my No Credit Needed philosophy hurts “just a bit” is that I do not use cash-back credit cards. Since most major gasoline chains offer rebate cards, I “miss out”. But, our local grocery store also sells gasoline and they offer a loyalty-card discount of $.15 per gallon and that helps out a bit.) Of course, I keep the tires rotated, balanced, and at their correct air pressure.

Problem: I talked on my cell phone more than I should have and I went “over” my minutes.

Solution: I had to make a choice: Use fewer minutes or upgrade my plan. After analyzing my cell phone bills for the past six months, I made the decision that I needed to upgrade my plan. My wife and I share a family plan and she lives on the phone. My wife has been super-cool throughout this whole “personal finance upgrade” process, and using her cell phone is her “thing”. Instead of arguing over 200 extra minutes, I simply upgraded the plan. There are times when frugality must (and should) take a backseat to practicality.

We all have our struggles, areas where we find it hard to save money and be frugal. I never want to come across as the guy who’s “figured it all out”. I’m just like most people. I have my strengths and I have my (many) weaknesses. I have learned to be a better organized, somewhat forward-thinking, person, but I still struggle with controlling my day-to-day expenses. Hopefully, this post will inspire you to examine your budget so that you can determine your own areas for improvement.