I'm Not Going To Let My Family's Strict Budget Get Me Down

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
family budget
TomeK K. / Shutterstock

Our family has always needed to stick to a seriously tight budget. I can’t complain, because although we can’t afford a lot of extraneous stuff, we have everything we need. But like many families, we live paycheck to paycheck, and there is very little wiggle room for anything outside our immediate needs — overspending even just a little bit could push us into debt, which we are really careful to avoid.

This summer, I decided to get real fancy and got an app for my phone to track every single dollar of our family budget. I figured if we were really careful, we might be able to actually save some money — or at least do a better job paying off our car payments and student loans.

And honestly, I thought it would make the task of budgeting a little more fun. Everyone loves playing with apps on their phones, right? I’m a sucker for that kind of crap.

So I installed the thing, connected it to my bank account (a very handy feature that pulls up every damn thing you spend in real time), and then basically had a monthlong heart attack.

For the next month, I felt happy as a clown anytime I was able to save a dollar, but super-duper stressed anytime I thought we’d go over our budget.

For example, we were in the middle of a big heat wave here. There had been so many days of intense heat that the weather people were saying we were living in a “heat dome” or some such shit (but seriously, it really was that hot). When we moved into our house two summers ago, we never got an air conditioner for our bedroom because there always seemed to be a breeze in there even on the hottest days, and a couple of fans worked just fine.

But after two weeks into the “heat dome,” I just could not deal. I woke up one morning in a sweat and decided we must go to P.C. Richard and buy an air conditioner. But when we got there and saw how much those suckers cost, I started to sweat even more. My little budget app flashed through my mind. I saw the numbers move down, down, down.

Now, I know that, for some families, even buying an air conditioner is a luxury they can’t afford. Sweating it out for a few nights is just what it is. I’m grateful that even though it stresses me out to make purchases like these, we have enough savings, credit, and family help that we are able to do such things.

I almost didn’t buy the damn air conditioner, but I really wanted to, and I could, thank God. But it wasn’t without a couple of days of continually losing my shit out about the budget.

Thankfully, it turned out that the air conditioner purchase didn’t put us too far back, but as the month was ending, I saw that my husband withdrew $100 from our bank account — $100 I didn’t expect him to take out. At first, I freaked out on him, interrogating him about what on earth he needed another $100 for. It turned out that the money was for taking our clothes to the dry cleaning place and buying our kids the inflatable pool we’d promised them, both of which I wanted to spend the money on — and again, I realized how privileged we are to be in a place where we afford such luxuries.

After I took a few breaths and seriously counted my blessings, I realized that I really needed to CTFD about our family budget and my cute little blinking budgeting app. How was the stress worth it for anyone?

Yes, budgeting is totally important for families who are living on a fixed income and don’t want to snowball into debt. It’s really eye-opening to see how quickly your money gets burned. And if you track things carefully, you’ll start to question your purchases, and probably will end up buying less useless shit.

But the downside is that you have the potential drive yourself totally crazy. (Or is that just me?) Being a tight-ass about money is just being a tight-ass, and everyone’s butt cheeks could use a little more breathing space when you think about it.

Our family budget for that month ended up in the green, after all. I’m not sure yet if it was worth all the stress I caused myself and my poor family. But I am going to keep on using my little budgeting app, at least for a while. I think it’s good for our family to be faced with the hard truth about how much we spend, and for us to consider our purchases more carefully. I hope it will eventually just be part of our routine and not a constant stressor.

But let me just say that it totally sucks to need to stick to a tight-ass budget. And as much as I sometimes compare myself to families who don’t have to clip coupons, scour the sale racks, and go without a lot of the time, I am thankful for what I do have, which is a whole lot more than some other folks.

And thankfully, I know I’m not alone. Anytime I bring up the stress of money and budgeting with friends, there is nothing but head nodding and camaraderie. In fact, as stressful and embarrassing as it can sometimes be to admit how difficult managing money can be, I think we could all use a little more openness about our struggles, commiserating…and complaining.

So, yes, stick to your budget, work your ass off, drive yourself a little bit crazy, but vent all you want. Personally, I wish I could just hide my head under the covers all day, and then drag myself out of bed and blow all my money at Starbucks and Target. But I can’t. Adulting totally sucks, you know? Le sigh.

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