Greetings! My name is Penny Wise and I have an embarrassing confession to make. I am 40 years old (for two more days), I have been a Simple Savings member for nine years - and never, ever done a budget. Why? Two reasons really, the first being it's all just too hard. I never seemed to find (or make) the time to get all that pesky paperwork together. I don't like spreadsheets, they're too complicated (or that's the excuse I make, probably because I am rubbish at using Excel myself so have always convinced myself I don't understand them) which leads me to the next point, understanding. I failed maths twice at school, therefore I have always believed I don't 'do' number crunching and am hence far too thick to possibly be able to understand a budget. But the main reason I have never done a budget is due to something else - fear. I am Penny, Queen of Ostriches. I don't want to know how little I have in the bank. I don't want to know where all my money has gone. I don't want to know what a rubbish job I've been doing or face all the silly mistakes I have made. I mean, who wants to be depressed? For many of us, just getting through each day is hard enough!
But you can't put off the inevitable forever. There have been many times this year I've just had to pull on my big girl Bridget Jones knickers and deal with things I haven't wanted to. Even so, I have managed to successfully put off doing a budget since I bought my house back in July. Little old me, a solo home owner! Still can't believe it! But jings, what a big commitment it is. I'm stuck with this mortgage now until I'm 70! I find that rather a daunting thought but I love my house with all my heart. It's mine - well, mine and the bank's - and I will do whatever it takes to keep up that mortgage and provide a secure roof over my boys' head. And that meant finally doing a budget.
I had planned to procrastinate for just a little longer - after all, January is Get into Gear month on the new 2014 Simple Savings calendar. Surely I could just wait until then and get stuck in to this budgeting lark along with everyone else? Unfortunately not, according to the bank manager. I gave in the other day and went to see her to ask for an overdraft - just a small one to get me through Christmas and the next couple of months. I didn't like doing it, I hate overdrafts with a passion as from experience I have learned that once you have one, you tend to live in one. But I wanted some peace of mind, just so I could give my boys a good Christmas. Hopefully I wouldn't need to use it, but at least I had it. I didn't even expect the bank to agree to give me one but they did - although it soon became clear to both me and the manager I had some work to do. 'I've got so many bills, there's just no end to them!' I wailed. 'There's this, and that, and then this happened and I need to pay this...' 'OK so what's your income?' the bank manager smiled, preparing to punch in the figures. 'Er... not entirely sure, around this much?' I told her. 'OK - and what are your outgoings?' 'Er...' I replied. Where did I start? I had no idea! All I knew was there were heaps! 'Penny my dear, you need to do a budget', she laughed. 'OK, I'll go away and do one and bring it back to you', I offered. 'Not for me - for you!' the manager replied. 'You can't just keep treading water and crossing your fingers, you need to know what you're dealing with. It doesn't take long', she said, 'just use the one on our website'. 'You have a budgeting tool on your website?' I said. I had no idea! 'Yes we do, it's as basic as it comes but it will give you an idea. Have a go, when you get home'.
So I did. And she was right, it didn't take long, even with the mountain of bills I had to put in. Thanks to Internet banking the paperwork was minimal and I was able to track down all my monthly, weekly and fortnightly bills in minutes. Then I hit 'calculate', held my breath and waited. It came up that I was $200 a fortnight short of where I needed to be. I wasn't too phased by that, I had been pretty conservative on my income and some of my predicted expenses (she said it was better to underestimate income than overestimate) so I was pretty confident that the difference would make up the shortfall. What was a concern was that I had still left out at least another $600 worth of bills - all unexpected or leftover expenses from the house buying and selling, rates and so forth. I knew I was going to have these expenses for the next three months at least. And that was without any other expenses - no sooner had I finished my budget there was a knock on the door and the school bus driver presented me with a bill for $140 which he needed paying as soon as possible. I hadn't been expecting that for another month - all of a sudden I was very glad of that overdraft!
OK, so my first budgeting experience didn't exactly leave me wanting to throw a party. In fact it made me cancel my planned birthday party as I obviously couldn't afford it! But there was no point getting down about it. I couldn't help any of these bills and they weren't going to go away. There was only one person who could deal with the situation and that was me. I was proud I had finally faced my budget phobia and while it showed I was far from being in the black, at least now I knew for certain where I was at and what I needed to do. I now know that it's going to be a good few months before I start making any headway whatsoever and I'm prepared to deal with it because it's not going to last forever and I'm going to feel good about every single bill I clear. It also made me take a good look at where I could cut expenses such as my mobile phone and insurance by getting in touch with them and asking about how I could get a better deal. All in all, it was a very positive experience and I'm glad I finally did it; I won't be scared to do it again. My boys have both got summer jobs starting next week and that's going to be an enormous help now they'll be able to afford their own clothes, petrol and so on. Guess we've got an early start for Get into Gear Month! I may be late joining the legions of savvy SS budgeters but for anyone else like me who has been putting it off, or sticking their head in the sand, bite the bullet and just do it! If I can do it, anyone can!