Step 4: Cutting Costs

When My Spending Freaks Me Out

Sometimes I can’t bear to look at my spending. When I look at the line that notes I spent $500 on rent, in an area whose norm is $1600 and up, I’m confident and excited. But when I look at the line that shows my “car fuel” line jump from $42/mo to $135/mo, I get super squicky. I feel panicked, ashamed, and stupid. Ouch!

Pretty amazing what putting our reality in writing can do, hey? It’s what puts so many of us off of tracking. We prefer to “see no evil.” We certainly prefer not to feel panic and shame.

There are three main approaches I take to resolve this emotional maelstrom:

1. Spend less. I usually head over to my online financial forum and ask for ideas. “How can I reduce my child care costs?” Or, “Is there a way I can get free internet?” I pick the ONE tip that’s easiest for me to implement, and do that. Score!

2. If the spending is absolutely necessary, I look for a resource that will cover it. Will my child’s homeschool agency cover the cost of home internet? (Yes.) Will the federal government give me a grant to cover tuition? (Yes.) Will the women’s agency provide bus tickets to its program? (Yes.) I apply for the resource.

3. If the spending is absolutely necessary, and I have not located a resource that will cover it, I change the picture. For example, if renting in a rural area saves me $1100/month, but increases my driving cost by $93, I fudge it. That is, I add the fuel increase to my rent line. Suddenly, my car fuel line shows $42 again, and my rent line shows $593. I merrily return to knowing that my spending rocks.

In other words:

  • My car fuel line would continue to show $42/mo, because that’s what I’m going to spend regardless.
  • My rent would newly show $593/mo, which is still obviously awesome.
  • I would easily see the wisdom of my spending, and feel positively about it.

Some of us entrepreneurs rename our “coffee” outings from “recreation” to “office space.” Legit? If $3 in coffee gets you free internet and heaps of productivity, I’d say so! If that works out $12/day cheaper than a coworking space, you’re rockin’ it. If I find my “coffee shop office” starts adding up to $150/month, I might reassess and consider coworking after all. (A catch is that the feds are unlikely to accept my coffee receipts as a write-off, but for a lot of us, the difference in tax savings isn’t worth the additional cost.)

If a special medical diet in Alaska makes your grocery line wild in comparison to your neighbours in the midwest US, designate the difference as “health.” If hypernutrition keeps your neurological symptoms at bay, allocate the difference under “mental health” or “neuro health.” Doing so can encourage you to continue spending on things that help you thrive, and limit spending on nonessentials, rather than cutting costs to the point of compromised functioning.

Now, we can’t start renaming everything as essential or therapeutic. But an honest assessment of where spending saves you money—or brings in more, or makes all the difference to our health—can help resolve the despair we feel when a given cost is above our frugal buddies’ norms.

What is your unique need that deserves a kinder budget line label?

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