Saturday, September 13, 2014

Budgeting the 50 - Part One

I know this blog ostensibly has nothing to do with finance, but as an accountant, it is a big part of my daily life. I've decided to put together a Budgeting the 50 series to merge my two interests.

One of the first things I did when I signed my job offer coming out of college was to draft a detailed budget for myself. While I think it's too intense for most people - even fellow bean-counter Eager Feet Mom seemed to think it was a bit over the top - I absolutely love it.

Because I'm tracking every dollar I spend and making sure I'm in the ballpark of my estimates, I'm free to use the remainder for my marathon travels, guilt-free. (I find this especially key in months where I owe a large bill, like my car insurance, for example. I set aside the money each month, but it can still give me a mini-heart attack when my credit card statement is way bigger than normal.)

But generally, once I get someone to understand that yes, running marathons is fun and no, I'm not purposely picking the "worst" states to do first, they want to know where I'm hiding the trust fund that must be supporting this operation. I'd venture to say most people seem to think this much travel is way out of their league.

What I've come to learn is that traveling to the 50 States involves prioritizing, just like the actual training for the races does. Several other new hires started at my company the same time as me, and a particularly nosy one revealed that we all make the same amount - but these people still constantly question how I pay for my races!

I could rant all day about this, but it drives me nuts when people do this and then whine about not having money. Most people in my town own one or more purebred dogs (you should see the looks I get when I try to explain I have a mixed breed cat), a boat (we're about five miles from a sizeable lake), a place Up North, and an oversize truck or SUV (for hauling said dogs and boats to those cottages).

None of these things are inherently bad - though my accounting office parking lot tends to look like a construction site with all those F150s running around - but I found the owners of these things then like to complain how much traveling costs. I won't lie and say traveling is super cheap, but it's no more expensive than all those extra costs. It's a matter of priorities!

I made the choice to live in the second cheapest apartment complex in town. (The cheapest is not an options - not only is it loud, but one of the units blew up in a meth lab explosion this past year.) I made the choice to drive a small car and carry a higher deductible on my car insurance. I made the choice to only go out to eat once a week (excluding special occasions, of course). I make the choice to rarely buy alcohol.

And this is what lets me do what I really want. Sure, it's more expensive to have Faramir than no pet, but he's the most amazing thing ever, and I wouldn't trade him for anything. I'm able to save aggressively for retirement, a new car 10 years down the road, and for a down payment on a home. And, when that's all said and done, I still have a large travel fund waiting for me.

Now, I won't pretend this easy. It's certainly not, especially when I'm surrounded by people making other choices. (Which, again, isn't inherently bad.) Just sometimes I want to throw my hands in the air and say "Screw making a full IRA contribution this year. I want to go buy crap too!" But then I realize traveling wouldn't be as fun if I had to watch my budget more when I'm out and about.

The moral of the story is to sit down and think about what is really important to you (an extra trip each year or that bigger car) and then proactively budget to make those priorities a reality.

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