This is my first month using my Social Security Retirement Benefits Debit and MasterCard from Direct Express. It is very different from what I had been doing before, which was only carrying the money I had budgeted to spend. Using a credit/debit card for everything seems to make it easy to go "off budget" and spend more than you wanted to. I have done it several times already and I still have several weeks until there is any more to spend. This is not a good thing!
I wanted to try it this way for the first month to see how it worked. I am already working on a new plan to try with my next payment.
I probably need to confess that this is not a normal month for me, I have two events to buy gifts for and haven't figured out that part of my budget yet. Normally I can't afford gifts so I rarely get them for anyone. I will give food items sometimes, like cookies, candies, or specialty foods. Sometimes I will try to create a gift, like handmade crafts or personal service coupons. Sometimes a card is all that I can afford. There have been times when I didn't even have a stamp for a card. Naturally, because I have some income, I wanted to buy a gift this year. I just didn't have an amount figured out in my budget plan.
I suppose this is the reason so many are in debt beyond their means...it is so easy to spend too much with a card. If I had a credit card, I wouldn't have much to keep me from buying the best thing I could instead of what was planned in my budget.
Keeping to a planned budget is just as hard. In the past, when I would only carry the cash that I planned to spend on certain items, I would get to the store and discover item I needed on sale at really good prices and want to buy them, and sometimes the item I wanted wouldn't be in stock. The budget would get changed and the original plan, the thing that didn't get covered, would have to be refigured in a future budget.
I think Dave Ramsey is popular right now, but every generation and class and income level has their own "guru" of finance. The envelope method Ramsey teaches has been around a long time, too. It is simple, and visible, and seems to work for lots of people. I think it works because you see that each dollar is committed to a specific need, it isn't just waiting to be spent on something you see in a commercial. It is important to note that envelopes don't have locks...we still have to develop the discipline to get through the mistakes in spending we make. I suppose the easiest example would be the food budget :: once the food budget is gone, you don't buy any more food...you have to find a different way to get through the month.
Budgets are a major challenge for low-income households. Getting past rent, utilities, and food is often impossible, but laundry still needs to be done, and you need laundry detergent to get your wash clean...like you need shampoo to wash your hair, and soap to wash your body. Everything costs money and there is only so much you can buy with a limited income. This is why community resources are so essential for poverty households. They help fill in the holes of a budget that can't meet the basic needs of life.
I have to find a way to control my spending if my budgeting is going to do any good...and I need to work out a reasonable budget for the amount of money I have. I guess I will have some time to get that done...my card is almost down to zero.