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Learning to Live Until the End of the Month and NOT Your Money

by Diane Conlinn, November 6, 2000

Learning to live without debt is a process, and you can start today, but it will take a couple of months to get to where everything is working.

One of the big problems with people is making it to the end of the month.  I find this is because we don't a) know what our expenses really are b) have a realistically idea of how far money goes, c) we hate to take the time to do things we should and d) we do not have an immediately accountable barometer to know how we are doing.

A. We do not know what our expenses really are.
I have advocated this in other articles, and will continue to do so until I am blue in the face. Keep track of what you spend. Get a small book and record each expenditure you make. Make filling it out easy for yourself; do not just collect receipts. When you make a purchase, stop and take the time then to fill out a line in your book, stating to whom, how much, and generally what for.

For example:  80 cents, Candy, Vending Machine
                       22.25 Shell Station, 11 gallons
Or even          80.00 ATM machine, cash

As you can see, this need not be a complicated process.

B. We are overly optimistic over how much things cost, and we do as I do with diet drinks.

If I drink a diet drink, then everything I have with it has no calories, right??

Therefore, how does this apply to spending? If I buy a newspaper here, a coke there, a book here, some napkins, here, it does not cost any money.

What I just listed above could eat up $10 of your money.  And you just spaced out that you spent it.  That is why keeping a record is important. Other things we just do not think about are regular occurrences. Let me give you another example:

Okay, let's see I have $100 to last for the next week.  I spend about $8 to $10 a day on food.
That's $80.  Then I will need to refill my prescriptions this week, uh oh, that's three at $10 each for $30. Hmmmm. In addition, I need a tank of gas, that is another $23.00 Uh Oh.  I am now up to $133.00.  Oh yeah, that's right, my parking pass is up on Thursday, I'll have to buy a day pass for Friday, that's $5.00.  That's now $138.00
Gee, I wonder if I forgot something else. Then you get home that night, and the cable TV company calls and says if you don't pay them tomorrow, the $35 payment they'll cut you off.

So... as you can see knowing what you spend your money on is necessary. In addition, dividing your money among the month according to your expenses is quite important.

This brings me to C. we hate to take the time to do things we should.

If you are filling out your expense book, then once a week making a list of what you spend your money on; at the end of the month, it is a simple matter to figure out what your monthly expenses really are, and more importantly when they come due.  I suggest making one day a week, your sacred time for this, and if it takes rewarding yourself to do it, I suggest you take your information to a nearby diner, ice cream shop, etc, or library, and figure out your stuff.

Another very easy way is to purchase a money-processing program, such as Quicken or Microsoft Money, both do equally fine jobs, and there are shareware programs out there. Alternatively, you can use an excel spreadsheet such as the one listed on to use to work this out.

Be sure to customize these plans to fit your own categories, and for goodness sake don't overdo it.
You don't need to have every category, and sub category on the face of the earth.  Just try to keep it simple. Don't make it so hard that it will take a year to fill it out.  Think about it. You never kept track before, so you are doing better now just by trying this new way.

Finally, D. we do not have an immediately accountable barometer to know how we are doing.

Short of carrying your pc with you, what are you going to do? Many people have been using a very simple method that works. They take their paycheck and get cash for various categories, and place this in an envelope, and take that envelope with them to do whatever it is they have to do such as grocery shopping, buying gas whatever. All purchases come out of that one envelope so you immediately know how much you spent.

If keeping two weeks of cash for groceries is too much temptation, keep one week's worth of cash, or if that's too much, keep a daily amount there. The only thing I insist upon is if you go to this system, take your check book, and your atm cards out of your wallet or purse, and leave them at home. Knowing these things aren't immediately accessible will help.

If you follow the above simple strategies, you will find that you will no longer have the problem of running out of money at the end of the month.

You will notice that I am not telling you how much to spend. I don't do that because I am not living in your situation. I had one woman tell me she spent $400 for a family of four. I think that's great, but in my particular circumstances, $800 would be more realistic.  Why, I live in Silicon Valley, one of the most expensive areas in the country, just groceries are much more expensive here, #2 I buy organic food, #3 I have a heavy commute time. I leave home at 6 am and get home at 7:30 or even 8:00 pm daily.  As a result of this schedule, I am lucky to pack my lunch three times a week with frozen dinners, and cook three meals at home in the evenings. Otherwise, we live on frozen meals, deli foods, and what I manage to throw in the crock-pot in the mornings.  In addition, we probably eat out more, and that adds up as well, especially when you need to eat at vegetarian places.

However, my choices don't have to be your choices, so I won't tell you what to spend. That's something you have to figure out. And...additionally recognize reality. Don't make wish lists. I tried that in the beginning. I decided that I should be able to live on $5 a day, not $8 a day. What that resulted in was me living on hot dogs for a few days.  Not the healthiest of eating. So when you write things down, be realistic, don't write wish-fors, but reallies.

I am not a lawyer, thus, if you have questions, about this please check with your attorney. Thanks.