Wednesday, September 9, 2015

How I failed my first budget challenge

What happened when I set a financial goal for myself and failed.

In recognizing our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to spending, Adam and I have noticed we spend more money (and calories) than we’d like to on eating out. So at the end of July, we decided to challenge ourselves to one month of not eating out, as we saw this couple do. Spoiler alert: We failed — miserably. We ate/drank out in some way an astounding 16 out of August’s 31 days.

Our first problem was lack of clarification. Adam did not consider stopping for coffee as part of the deal, and I did. After the first weekend, when our friends got married and we stopped at a bar before the reception for drinks, we weren't sure if alcohol counted either. The couple in the article didn't count it, but in the end I decided it did count because it can take up a substantial portion of our incomes. 

There were days when one of us would have a packed schedule and be forced to either skip meals or eat out, which often resulted in eating out. Then we had a couple of friends who moved unexpectedly and wanted to have dinner one night — obviously we weren’t going to pass that up. Adam’s mom came to town one weekend and wanted to eat out, so we did. Then the Iowa State Fair happened — that was really poor planning on our part — and we couldn’t just not eat at the fair. Two times I had to go to different bars for columns at work, so that counted against us. One date night at Zoo Brew cost us dinner, although we held back on drinks — a small victory.

But the main problem I noticed were the inadvertent, easily avoidable dinners here and there. When I started my new job at Versona, I was putting in 13-hour days with no time to eat dinner at home, so I would pick up something on the way home at night. Other times were weekends when neither of us had stocked our kitchens or we just didn’t feel like cooking. That’s what really got us — laziness.

So we failed our challenge. But the fact that we started it in the first place made me much more aware of my spending in that category, even if I was mostly watching the numbers go up. I highlighted every dining-out purchase I made in red on my monthly budget, and it really trained me to see those as bad purchases. We realized that cutting something out cold turkey doesn’t really work for us. But I really think that if we set a realistic, attainable budget for eating out in the future, it will help keep us and motivated to do better and fix that weakness.

What's your biggest budget weakness? Have you ever tried the no eating out challenge? 

P.S. Big Girl Budget 101 and how to be productive

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