Why You Need To Step Back From Your Finances And Look At The Big Picture

A few days ago, I talked about how frustrated I was with my job hunt. I was feeling really down and dealing with a lot of negative feelings. I even felt some of that old trapped feeling that I felt when Crystal and I first realized we needed to start making real progress towards bettering our finances. That feeling got worse Monday night and Tuesday morning, when my car started making a bad noise when it was cranked — I thought the starter was going bad, and the thought of a $200-300 car repair was literally making me sick.

The starter turned out to be fine — it had merely broken loose and needed a new bolt to secure it back in place. Including a timely oil change, the repair bill was only $60 — still an unexpected expense, but one I paid with a huge sense of relief.

Last night, Crystal and I sat down with YNAB and took a look at everything.

And Everything Is Going Well!

This month, we brought Crystal’s student loan down to less than $9,000. Mine is one payment away from just under $12k.

We’re a whopping $155 dollars under our grocery budget for the month — I’ve had some great couponing deals fall into my lap over the last few weeks. I’ll probably pick up groceries one more time this month, but I expect it’ll be a small trip. We’re pretty well stocked.

We’re almost $80 dollars under our utilities budget. Fall weather means we aren’t running our window air conditioners. We have a small space heater that we use sometimes, but it’s very energy efficient. We are doing a little more laundry (because we’re wearing more layers for warmth), but our new high efficiency dryer doesn’t use as much power as our old one.

We’ve spent a grand total of $0.00 on restaurants — in past months, that was totaling almost $60 a month.

Between my writing and Crystal’s plasma donation, we’ve also earned $180 extra dollars this month — and will probably earn another $100-200 before the end of the month.

I was so frustrated because the last week had been so tough, but November has actually been our best month yet.

I was so focused on the bad things that had happened in the short term that I didn’t stop to look at how well things were going overall.

The need to replace our dryer and that unexpected $60 repair on my car still leaves us with a shortfall this month, but it’s the first month our shortfall has come from unexpected events, not our everyday spending habits.

And that feels really good.

Good Records Let You See The Long Term

I wouldn’t have been able to look back at our spending this month and realize how well we’re doing if I didn’t keep a record of every penny we spend. That may seem silly to some people (and sometimes it does to me — it’s amusing to note that we’re also a totally negligible 20 cents under budget in our fuel category).

But with YNAB and our online banking, it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to add every transaction we make into the system, and YNAB handles all the calculations for us. It took us some adjusting when we first started using YNAB back in June, but I wouldn’t go without it now — and I actually feel a little lost if we haven’t updated it in a few days.

It doesn’t really matter what kind of spending tracker you use — we did fine with a simple spreadsheet for a long time before we decided to spring for YNAB. But a categorized record of your spending is a vital tool that provides you with a long-term picture of your family’s finances. It shows you what you’ve improved on and what you’ve struggled with. It lets you identify areas that you need to put in more hard work to improve.

So, if everything seems like it’s going to hell in a handbasket, take a second, step back, breathe, and look at the big picture. What victories have you made?

Posted in Our Personal Finance