For almost a decade, I paid my bills waiting tables. From corporate restaurants to private dining to wine bars, what waitressing lacked in consistency it made up for in tips. I earned enough of a living during this time to sustain myself through my undergraduate degree, nursing school, our wedding..both with roommates and without. I had to rely on a pretty specific system to make sure my bills were always paid, and always on time, since there were really good days for tips, and really bad days.
(And I certainly didn’t get paid if I was sick, needed to take a day off, etc.) I became pretty accustomed to my fluctuating finances and made it work.
Oddly enough, when I graduated nursing school and started to have a consistent paycheck automatically deposited into my checking account, I started to slip financially. I wasn’t used to not having cash on hand and I started using my debit card for everything. It didn’t feel like I was spending much, but every time I went to pay bills, there was never as much left over as I’d expected. (Sometimes by quite a lot..) Where was my money going?
The difference was so simple that it’s almost embarrassing. I could see my money before. There was never any question of how much was left, because I was literally staring at it. So, I decided to modify my old money saving habits to fit my current lifestyle, and it’s worked well!
When my income was mainly cash, I used an envelope system to keep track of all of my bills. I would literally take a stack of envelopes and write the name and amount of each bill that month. (One for rent, one for utilities, etc.) I also had an envelope for spending money and one for savings. While I don’t recommend this method as it requires you to keep all of your money sitting around the house, it was very effective for me at the time. I’d come home after each shift and divide up my earnings into the most important envelopes first. It made me think twice about taking that 20 dollar bill out for something frivolous because it was coming directly out of my rent money, or my car insurance, or money I had set aside for a beach trip.
Now that I have more stable income and our bills are consistent, I use this method to control monthly spending. Money for bills is never taken out of our checking, it stays right there. Same goes for savings. I’ve made a small stack of envelopes for things that I’d like to buy with anything that happens to be leftover. New boots, Christmas gifts, a night away with my husband. I can’t tell you what a difference it makes towards reducing mindless spending. (It keeps me from dipping into savings, too.) You will see a difference, even if it’s only five dollars at a time! I can make the decision to go out for lunch instead of preparing food at home, but I have to be ok with the fact that it’s going to set me back that much from those new boots I’ve been eyeing…
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