My budget is currently sitting at $294.13 in the red. A year ago, when I was just starting to work and I was trying to dig myself out of nine years of medical school debt, this would've caused me to panic. Or more realistically, I never would've gone $294.13 into the red. I would've eaten rice and beans and said no to get togethers with friends to keep myself from ever going over budget.
Now, I barely notice. When I hit a positive net worth, my stress level about money dropped, and I have gradually gotten less and less worried about money as my savings have climbed. Slowly, I've reintroduced things into my life that I've forgone over the past two years: fancy drinks in restaurants, expensive cheeses, clothing of any sort. And it feels really nice.
I'm not entirely sure what to do about budgeting at this stage. Even with being over budget, I'm saving over 2/3 of my earnings, so I am more than meeting my financial goals. I don't really have to budget anymore; and yet, there is part of me that doesn't want to abandon budgeting altogether. Part of it is for the reasons I outlined in a long ago post about why I continue to be relatively frugal. But it's more than that.
I think a huge part of me worries that I'll go back to my terribly consumeristic ways if I stop budgeting. Before I started budgeting two years ago, I had developed an almost instinctual habit of buying whatever I wanted. Whether I was shopping for clothes or eating in a nice restaurant or ordering books online, I would simply buy whatever appealed to me in the moment with the knowledge that it was going on my line of credit and I wouldn't have to pay for it until I was an attending*. I would take whatever boredom or loneliness or exhaustion I was feeling and try to spend it away. Always unsuccessfully.
Starting to budget made me much more mindful of my spending. It made me realize that I often wasn't looking for a new thing when I went shopping, but rather for some feeling that I was missing. A lot of the time, the best thing I could do when I felt like buying something at random was to just go have a nap, as I've been chronically tired since my first day of medical school in 2006. It also made me focus on non material ways of being happier, rather than on buying a new pair of happy socks. (Although I really love happy socks. And am now searching their website thinking about placing an order. Well done, me. You've clearly learned your lesson.)
I guess what I'm looking for is some way to be intentional with my spending while not feeling constantly constrained by my budget. I want to take advantage of the fact that I'm earning ridiculous amounts of money for a single woman with no dependents, without thinking that I can somehow buy happiness. Balance. The endless search for balance.
*Thank you very much, past me. You are an asshole.
To update you on my habits from a few weeks ago, I've been doing surprisingly well with them. I have completely resisted the cans of Coke in my fridge, and I've passed on pop multiple times in restaurants. I am allowing myself to have pop in mixed drinks (something I decided to do in the beginning but didn't mention in my previous post because I was lazy), but in total it's been about one can of pop since I started. I almost always put my things where they belong when I get home, which has made leaving in the morning much more efficient and peaceful. I've also started putting my keys/wallet/phone in specific spots in my bag (my bag has about 8 different spots, so searching for something can be frustrating), and that has also been a huge improvement. Finally, I have planned out my weekly schedule every Sunday night, and it has given me a bit more awareness of the week and a big more structure. It also saved me from missing dinner with a good friend this week (I thought it was on Thursday, but it's actually on Tuesday), so that is also a win.
Well done, me.