I just posted my 2012 budget on the side bar. Putting it together made me think really hard about my spending on a macro scale. It also made me realize that thoughts and deeds are very different things. I want to save $200/month on my car (for an upcoming timing belt change). I want to put at least $100/month into savings and build up my emergency fund from my end of 2011 decimation (and I’ve elected to do so slowly, a little at a time, to avoid delaying paying debt any more). I want to save money for a big international trip in 1-2 years (as I haven’t on an airplane since 2001. I also WANT to pay at least $700 towards my SBA loan every month (in addition to my car payment, my only other debt). What I want and what is happening are distinctly separate activities.
Rent and car payments are set and not open to change. My other bills are pretty set in stone. I don’t have cable, just internet. I don’t spend frivolously on shopping sprees (um, just don’t read about my February spending, that, uh, was an anomaly, truly). I don’t want to reduce my spending on food. I’m happy with the quality of the foodstuffs that I buy. I don’t want to purchase crappy packaged meals, or commercial-grade meats, lower quality produce, or things with preservatives, fillers, corn syrup, you name it. I buy good quality foods and I’m not budging on that point. Basically, I’ve reviewed and rehashed my spending for 3 years now and I’m unwilling to make any further reductions or changes from where it’s currently at. I’m not acting with gazelle intensity, but I’m happy with my current plan.
I have a little leeway with buying alcohol, and a gym membership, and I am going to cancel Netflix after this month (I don’t use it enough to justify the online $9/month service – Hulu Plus is enough). However, all of these things tally less than $100/month! The biggest thing that will be affecting me in the next 6 months is exercise-based activities. Hiking and biking. I’ve already purchased an expensive new bike. I have a few paraphernalia items I need to get: a $20 multi-tool to adjust it, a spare inner tube at $5, a bike rack ($25) for a pannier ($50-$100 for a single one) so I can do longer rides and carry a jacket, extra water, and lunch, and then finally an electronic device to track mileage, revolutions per minute, and speed ($60-$120). For hiking, I don’t really need much, but each trip costs about a half tank of gas or more, depending on how far I drive (often 1.5-3 hours each way). If I want to do a road trip for photography, that is at least 1.5-2 tanks of gas, possibly a little more. Basically, most of my spending is for leisure activities, having to do with my wellbeing, my mental health, and my creativity. I’m not sure I want to compromise in any of these areas.
What I’m realizing is that my goals are in conflict. I’m 40, I’m used to being relatively comfortable (I don’t want to eat pbj and ramen for meals), and enjoying activities in the wilderness (which cost a certain level of money to perform). I want to create artwork – if I don’t then I’ll just be someone with an art degree that does nothing with it (and what a waste that would be!). I also have realized that my “extra” spending of $200/month is just not enough to cover my bike purchase AND my minimal other spending. I can’t not buy clothes or shoes, or $20 to start up an herb garden at my new place (which I just did this weekend), or avoid getting an annual permit to enjoy the wild areas of the pacific northwest ($30 for a recent discovery pass to go to state parks). Maybe I can for 1 month, but definitely not the 6 it will take to pay off the bike. Something’s gotta give.
I mentioned at the start of this post that the genesis of all this thought and reflection had to do with my 2012 budget. When I was putting it together to post I realized that my savings and debt payments were not allowing me to budget in line with my wants and desires. I can’t scrimp for 6 months like I mentally think I might be able to. So instead, I’ve reduced my savings by $75 ($50 from my car mini fund and $25 less towards my EF) each month. I am also going to reduce my debt repayment by $50-$100 each month. This will give me enough slack to still pay myself first and pay down debt, but without sacrificing my quality of life. I’ll still be able to hike, enjoy my new bike (as I pay it off in 6 months), and take photos (and spend the money to process, print, and mount/frame for shows as needed).
Being able to go hiking and do a roadtrip or two or three to take photos is completely worth extending my debt payments by an extra 2-3 months. I can delay a big 3-4 week trip to France/Spain until 2014 and do it right.
It’s all about compromise.