Troubleshooting spending – Money Stupid Anonymous


I overshot my budgeted spending allowance this week.

The damage is not severe (I am only a mere $20 over my spending limit) but I’ve decided to treat this seriously and ensure I stay more on track during the coming weeks. It may not seem like a big overage but I’m trying to pay off debt aggressively. The only thing I can do besides increase my income (which I have been doing) is to control my spending.


Step 1. I don’t get paid again until Friday, which means I won’t be paying myself my spending allowance until then. As of yesterday I began a strict no-spending week. This should actually be fairly simple. I have a full fridge and a full tank of gas, so barring an outlier event there’s nothing I need to buy this week. The no-spending week will end Friday (so I suppose it’s a no-spending business week, then). I’m at work all week so there’s less free time to slip up anyway.

My second step is to assess what went wrong, so I can avoid breaking my budget in the future. I’ve done what many of you suggested in comments on previous posts and started tracking my spending. In fact, I track in such great detail that it’s become a family joke. My mother was so offended by my writing down the $2 I spent buying her a coffee that I haven’t heard the end of stories about how “cheap” I’ve become. (It’s not about counting the squares of toilet paper I use, it’s just about knowing exactly where my actual money goes. That way I have some data to look at and see how specific decisions are affecting my macro situation.) I’m glad that I’ve stuck to my guns, because tracking my spending has highlighted some key behaviours to fix.

For the last week I’ve been working late and feeling under-the-weather. The result has been that I’ve cooked and cleaned less. In the morning I’ve been sleeping until the last possible millisecond. These factors have led me to hit up Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s on the way to and from work far too often. I felt okay about each of the purchases because I was never spending more than five bucks at a time. The fact that I had slack room in the overall budget lulled me into feeling OK about the fact that I had gone over my groceries/household limit (this is the category in which I record all food purchases). I bought gas and, after entering the number, I realized I was over my total budget for the pay period.

This is no justification for over-spending, of course. I’ve just realized that when I’m feeling sick or tired I get lazy, and when I’m lazy I spend. Since the 18th of January I spent $30 on coffee and fast food (I’m sure my heart and my waistline are suffering as much as my wallet), so I wouldn’t actually be over my spending limit if I had just stuck to eating the groceries I purchased in accordance with my budget.

Besides taking steps to rectify the problem (going $20 over my budget), I need to adopt some new behaviours to prevent recurrence of the same issue. On one of my days off every week, I will — from now on — cook two freezer-friendly meals. If I do this I won’t have to rely on preparing food before or after work, just in case I don’t have the time or motivation. Also, I will limit myself to $4 per week for coffee. This way I am not denying myself Timmies entirely, it’s just a lot more reasonable than blowing money on coffee at the rate of $520 a year. (Oh god I just used the latte factor.)

Now, what to do about the $20? Well, thankfully it seems I have over-budgeted the amount I need to pay fixed bills each month, so I have extra cash in the bank. There was no overdraft or credit card being misused here. I’m not going to let it slide, however. I knew there was a possibility of having some extra money left over every month, but the plan all along was to put any surplus toward debt. Therefore, on Friday, I will take $20 from my spending allowance and put it straight onto my Visa card.

Wish me luck on my no-spending week!

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19 Comments… Share your views

  1. I tried a no spend January and I rebelled against myself and became a junk food addict and blew most of money for the month in the first ten days. Cereal for breakfast and toast and peanut butter for supper a lot this week as I wait for the month to be over so I can buy some food.

    I have decided to spend more mindfully in February. No self denial just some self control and moderation in my life. I am trying to get out of debt and I am not having much luck increasing my income so I need to cut as much as possible.

    • Oh no! A month is way too long to go spend-free. Thankfully I’m doing less than a week, which is pretty easy considering. Honestly, the best thing you can do is track your spending. I know it sounds like a ton of work but if you do it then you catch yourself before you go too far past budget.

      I think it’s great that you are giving yourself some moderation without self-denial. It’s the only way to go if you don’t want to crack under the pressure of budgeting.

      Good luck in February!

  2. Hi Sara
    I’ve been enjoying your blog posts on tracking your spending and reducing your debt. I’ve been undertaking the same activity myself of late and I think one of the reasons is that you’ve provided some useful comments.

    Glad you mentioned freezer-friendly meals. I was going to suggest that, if you haven’t already done so and can see a way to do it in your current regime, to purchase a small chest freezer. Mine’s a life saver. When bread goes on sale at $1.99 a loaf or slightly less, I scoop up at least 6 loaves and they go in the freezer. I will also, from time to time, buy bags of rolls, also for the freezer. I make my lunch religiously every day so having the bread and the rolls around already comes in handy. I also purchase large cheese bars and packages of cold cuts when they are on special. Again, for the freezer (yes Sara, you can freeze cheese….just cut it up into regular sized chunks, put it into 3 or 4 baggies, and into the freezer….yes, it might get a little flakey but it is still good for sandwiches and for grating over spaghetti sauce or chili con carne). I also make up batches of things (spaghetti sauce, chili con carne, sometimes I even go mad and make beef stew or even soup). These are made is sufficient quantities that I can eat some as a meal the day of cooking, and then portion out the remainder into plastic containers…for the freezer. Take ‘em out as I need ‘em and I don’t have to think too hard or work on cooking things up when I get home from work.

    These methods mean I don’t have to shop so often. I buy milk, eggs and yogurt probably every 2 weeks. I will get fresh produce once a week or so, depending on what’s cooking for supper.

    Good for you on your new regimen. Hope the debts come down as fast as you want them to.

    • I’m so glad that you’ve been following along and finding my posts useful!

      The chest freezer idea is a good one, though unfortunately I don’t have the space. I like to make casseroles and soups and divide them up into single-serving pyrex storage containers. That way I can mix up what I’m eating and everything can go from freezer to microwave (after defrosting, of course). My big problem is getting distracted on days off and lazy on work days, so I just need to kick myself into gear on the weekends and get it done!

  3. Wow – you seem to have come a very long way in a very short time, well done! I completely understand about laziness equaling spending. When I have to work late, I usually end up with awesome sandwich ingredients that are expensive, but fast and delicious.

    • I absolutely LOVE eating out! I enjoy cooking, but I really have to be in the mood, especially because I loathe doing dishes. Too bad everything quick is expensive, right? lol.

  4. Slip-ups happen, but at least you have identified the mistake and you are planning on rectifying it. There is nothing wrong with being meticulous about your spending, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Good luck with getting back on track!

    • It’s better to be mocked than broke! I’m sure I will cool it with the tiny notebook I keep in my purse eventually, and just track in excel. I’m just really bad at keeping up with my tracking, so for now I do it for every time, right away. Guess my mom will just have to deal with it.

  5. That sounds like me during the last week of the month. I’ve usually overspent somewhere and usually have to tighten up so my budget doesn’t get totally turned upside down. I have to say that I’m impressed with Sara’s Iron will and resolve, I admire that and have to really get myself mentally to that point! -J-

    • Lol, well my iron resolve is aided by the fact that I put pretty much everything relating to my debt and spending habits online for the world to see. It keeps the pressure on for sure!

      I actually budget bi-weekly, so if I do go over it’s easier to catch up, perhaps that would help with your monthly woes?

  6. Hah…I enjoyed this post!

    “blowing money on coffee at the rate of $520 a year.”

    Latte factor is a force of evil, but it mostly irritates me when someone takes the miniscule daily savings, annualizes it, then assumes it is invested at 12% interest for 40 years and has no taxes on growth–to make their point about how much a small treat is costing them. Without assigning any value to the happiness that latte may bring them while they are young and healthy (and over the other 40 years). ARgh. I really do hate use of the latte factor.

    For spending when feeling stressed, I can relate to this. I worked every day from December 26th to January 26th because of year end. I often worked 12 hours or more during the week, and at least 6 hours a day on the weekend during that time. Ask me how many meals I cooked at home during that month? Not many. I also have treated myself to orders and the like (Good Old when I have returned home, exhausted and needed to shop. Did I overspend on take out and online shopping? Yes. Will I likely be promoted and rewarded with a bonus for all this extra work? Almost guaranteed. So I figure it is fine to reward myself, the pay off will be more than the expenses by far. And luckily I always manage to find time for a solid workout daily to beat the stress and fight the health affects of eating out too much.

    I’ve never tried a no spending week or month. I just try to make sure my spending aligns with my goals and interests where possible.

    • lol what REALLY kills me about the latte factor is that every calculation seems to make two ridic assumptions:
      1) The person has a latte EVERY day of the week (although you, working 7 days a week, deserve / may consume that)
      2) It’s always a latte, and an expensive one at that, rather than a $1.50 cup of coffee at Tim’s

      I was pleased to see Sara’s calculation of $10 per week, or 1 extra-large coffee from Tim’s, taxes in, each business day. That’s pretty much my consumption when I’m working. But I’m not trying to pay off a large amount of debt, so I think the utility I derive is unassailable except for the insane caloric intake from a 700mL double double. In Sara’s situation, where she’s digging out of debt, one or two coffees every day is definitely costing money that could go against her debt. Cutting back is a reasonable step to reigning in her spending, especially when the discrepancy is $20 and could be resolved by simply cutting out some of her consumption not all. But after it’s paid off, I hope she joins me in decadently guzzling all the dbl dbls she wants.

      • Double double?? Never! I’m a black one sugar gal in the morning, or a single cream in the afternoon.

        I’m definitely not going off Timmies forever, especially when work gets busy. That’s why I’m aiming for two a week. I like to go swimming a couple of times per week in the morning before work, and don’t have time to come back home and make coffee, so those will definitely be Tim’s days.

        I really just need to watch that category altogether. It’s not so much that eating out is a problem, moreso that buying groceries and then eating out anyway kind of ate up my cash for the week. Perhaps the solution will be going to a cheaper grocery store and keeping Timmies in the budget… I just have to make sure that however I spend the money, I’m not going over the $50 per week I’ve allotted myself.

        • I hope you’ve switched your shopping to grocery stores like NoFrills, FreshCo, Food Basics, and Wal-Mart. If not, then you should and write about it!

          • I have noticed that WalMart is NOT necessarily charging better prices for its groceries and household products, etc. than anywhere else, and avoid using it for those kinds of products when I know I can find more reasonable pricing elsewhere (like No Frills, Fresh Co, etc.).

          • If it’s not in their flyer, then I agree. No Frills et al are probably cheaper. But they’ve got such a massive array of stuff that it’s really one stop shopping meaning saved gas and time and they do have some great flyer deals. Finally, they always have $0.97 bread at the Super Center and it’s usually fresh-baked so we stop in to get that.

          • I save money by not using a vehicle unless I absolutley have to (which is rare); Walmart therefore becomes a last resort not only because they’re product and prices don’t come up to the mark with me, but also because they’re a major hassle to get to; same with Superstore. By the by, .97 bread….their flyer this week shows 1.98 bread. I buy the best that I can at the most reasonable prices that I can find and also watch/protect my health into the bargain (no bun intended).. .. .. nonetheless, I find I achieve great success and savings that suit me, as I’m sure most others do while trying to watch and stick to their budgets in what can be some very trying economic times!!!

  7. Being labeled “cheap” is something that wealthy people probably experience pretty often, and it’s not a bad thing. I believe that the primary factor in getting finances in order is mental– our mindset and our approach to money and spending HAVE to change, otherwise we risk falling into the same bad habits that got us into debt in the first place. Not wanting to “be cheap” is self-destructive thinking, because most of the time it is used to justify an unnecessary expense and has nothing to do with being cheap.

    Most “cheap” people aren’t being cheap, they’re being practical. Good luck on the no-spending week!

    • The funny thing is regardless of whether or not I tracked the $2, I SPENT it anyway! I think people just relate “cheapness” with someone’s relationship to money. Because I thought about the two dollars after I spent it, I’m cheap. Had I spent the same $2 and not written it down, it would have gone unnoticed. I don’t mind though, my family pokes fun at each other a lot. It’s all in good fun.

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