Moratorium on Micromanaging Money

I celebrated my 46th birthday this week and I celebrated it in grand style! I took the day off from work. I had almonds in my oatmeal instead of walnuts. I went to the grocery store and found a mango on the clearance rack…in a bag of organic apples, no less! I picked up my free treat from Starbucks and gave it to my mom (which made her very happy). I watched a short documentary on stuff, went for a brisk walk in the cold, and worked on a puzzle with the love of my life. I even had my favorite dinner – pizza – and a big slice of homemade birthday cake for dessert. It was epic and I’m not kidding.

You see, I connect with simple in a way that defies explanation. The fact that my mom wrapped my gift in a piece of paper that she saved from a gift she received two years ago, the fact that she took nearly 3 hours to scratch bake me a yellow cake with chocolate icing (my childhood favorite), the fact that Angie ordered our take-and-bake pizza without cheese so I could put my own non-dairy cheese on it and she used a coupon, means more to me than any elaborate birthday celebration ever could. These little things show that my family gets me and if that’s not a gift, I don’t know what is.

Now it’s time to start getting myself.

Besides taking the day off, I decided to give myself another birthday gift. I decided to call a moratorium on micromanaging our money. In looking back over the past few years, I realized that I had inadvertently given money a more powerful position in our lives than I had intended. I was spending an inordinate amount of time playing with Excel spreadsheets, envelope systems, and budgeting apps; but more importantly, we were side-hustling part of our time away and investing our income in companies that thrive off the very things we are trying to remove from our lives. This hasn’t set well with me for a long time, so I decided it was time to take some steps to reconcile it.

Thus, the moratorium. Which does not mean that I plan to be oblivious to what’s going in and out of our bank account. That would be irresponsible. It simply means that I don’t intend to obsess over money – chasing it, spending it, or saving it – until I know where it fits into our life.

To make sure I don’t break down and break out the budget apps, I’ve set all our monthly expenses to auto-draft and have allocated $510 per month for personal cash, gas, groceries/household goods, and entertainment. This will be ALL the flexible spending cash we receive, so in a way, I suppose we’re also doing a version of the no-spend year (though that was not our main intention). There will be no income-generating side hustles this year. I moved all our investments into two vehicles – our personal IRAs and U.S. savings bonds. No matter what the market does, I do not intend to manage these accounts more than once or twice this year (instead of weekly like I was doing when we owned individual stocks and ETFs).

What do I hope to accomplish by this hands-off approach to personal finance? Peace of mind. A better connection to the world outside of money. Greater resourcefulness. The pride that comes from being able to figure things out without throwing dollars at the solution. Increased contact with real people. Better bartering skills. I believe the possibilities are endless; and for as much as spreadsheets once excited me, the idea of living without one is even more exciting.

Do you have ever feel that money management plays too great a role in your life? Do you ever struggle to align your spending with your personal beliefs and values?


Less time balancing finances means more time to concentrate on what’s really important.
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A Look Inside Our Monthly Budget

Last week, a reader asked if we would be willing to share the details of our 2018 budget. Sure, I have no problem with that. We’ve shared our budget several times over the years as we’ve worked toward various goals. With that being said though, every budget is unique to the lifestyle and income of the individual or couple and ours is no exception. As you read this post, please keep in mind that the financial choices we have made, may not be right for you (and vice versa).

A few years ago, I read an article called “The 50/20/30 Rule for Minimalist Budgeting”. At first, I was excited. I thought I’d finally found a definitive guide to help me – a minimalist – create the perfect budget. Believe me, I tried to follow the rules:

  • 50% of your income for essentials
  • 20% to savings
  • 30% to personal

It wasn’t long though before I realized this budget did not fit our lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, the 50/20/30 rule is a great guideline. I highly recommend starting with these percentages if you are new to budgeting or are having trouble getting your discretionary spending under control. For us though, 30% of our income seemed a rather large chunk to allocate to personal choices, even with our love of travel and fancy dark roast coffee beans included.

Trying the 50/20/30 rule led us to an eye-opening discovery though. We found that we could successfully live off approximately 65% of our (then) income, without compromising our savings or our personal goals. This was all the permission we needed to spend less time working.

Today, we are a single-part-time-income couple (with a cat). After taxes, insurance, and other standard deductions, we will bring home $29,778.72 this year (not including any proceeds from side hustles).  Our current budget is based on this income and follows more of a 72/18/10 rule:

  • 72% of our income is spent on essentials (rent, utilities, insurance, groceries and gas)
  • 18% is directed to savings, investments, and charitable giving
  • 10% is spent on fun (Netflix, baseball games, movie nights, etc. and funding our travel account)

Our monthly budget looks something like this:

Here are a few things to note.

  • Rent is our single biggest expense and that’s not likely to change this year. We’ve accepted that in order to have a safe place to live within a reasonable distance of my mother’s house (we moved here to care for her), we have to pay a higher rent. Believe it or not, this is the mid-range rent for our area. Other apartments start at $1079 and up for a one-bedroom. Who knows what next year will bring though!
  • I have 5 payments left on my last student loan. Woo-hoo!!
  • This budget shows a “zero sum” but sometimes we have a carryover balance between $40 – $160, depending on our actual electric bill and our flexible spending categories (gas, groceries, entertainment, and cash). It is a rare month that we actually spend $80 on entertainment since most of our favorite pastimes are either free or cheap. Any money left at the end of the month is allocated to general savings.
  • Side hustle income is not counted in our budget because we don’t always want to work a side hustle. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s a hassle. When we are saving for a specific goal, like a vacation, we hustle, but only up to the point in which we reach our goal. Our side hustle income has been about $4,000 so far this year, which is unusual for us, but it has allowed us to cover some unexpected expenses, like vet bills.
  • We use an American Express Bluebird card for groceries and household spending. This is a prepaid debit card that you can pick up at Walmart for $5. There are no annual fees or usage fees. We have $250 debited from our main checking account to the Bluebird account on the 15th of every month. This has been extremely helpful to us in staying within our grocery budget.
  • Our non-IRA investments include $5 per week in micro investing via Stash. Stash allows you to purchase stocks and ETFs (exchange traded funds) in increments of just $5 or more. Since 2016, we’ve earned a little over $110 on our micro investments (plus we’ve learned a lot about investing in general by reading their weekly tips).

For better or worse, this is the budget we created for the year and the one we are trying to stick to. It’s subject to change at any time though, as we’re always challenging ourselves to find new ways to live with even less.